Redefining the Roles of Nigerian Women in Politics -A case Study of Rwandan Women After Genocide By Adekunle Ayoola

Women are human beings just as much as men are, and they are guaranteed the same rights as men by the 1948 Declaration on Human Rights and other international conventions. Women are denied their rights and are frequently treated as second-class citizens, less than fully human. Ensuring that women can exercise their human rights is about justice for women. However, arguments for gender equality, for women to be able to exercise the same rights as men, are often justified by an economic rationale – promoting equality for women will increase economic growth – rather than as achieving justice for women.

Gender inequality is a violation of women’s dignity and a denial of the possibility for women’s development of their human capacity. Inequality is not the same as difference, though difference and inequality can and do coexist. The difference can be due to biological factors and/or choice. Inequalities are created and sustained socially by systemic arrangements and processes and by the deliberative actions of individuals and groups.

The Rwandan genocide left a profound wound. It not only decimated the Rwandan people but also destroyed the nation’s political and social structures. In 1994, after the killing stopped, women made up 70 per cent of the population. They were needed to lead Rwanda’s recovery. Rwandan women moved away from traditional roles and joined politics in unprecedented numbers. Twenty years later, the Rwandan Parliament has more women than anywhere else in the world. Political participation has meant that women in Rwanda have better educational and economic opportunities,

When women were in the committee of drafting the new constitution of the Republic of Rwanda, the desire to now start participating started right up at that time because that is when all the laws and the policies were put in the constitution to make sure that women have an opportunity to contribute to the government of their country.

It is amazing that women now are confident. We have women not only in the Parliament but also in the cabinet — we have more than 40 per cent. In the judiciary, we have more than 50 per cent are women. Women now can own land, girls also can inherit from their parents, but women can also inherit from their families. They have put in all the efforts to make sure that women are part and parcel of the government of their country.

Ironically, there are few women in political and leadership spaces in Nigeria. Currently, only seven out of 109 senators and 22 of the 360 House of Representatives members are women. The women need a lot of sensitization and opportunities to take up the political spaces in Nigeria, some steps need to be taken to ensure that there isn’t any bridge in that gap. Women should take up the responsibility of also supporting their fellow women who have shown interest in governance.

First, training is a crucial thing, women need training in the fundamentals of politics. They need to understand grass root politics and start from there. When people are unknown at the grassroots, they aren’t successful. Another way is networking and mentoring women, they need to see that politics is not all dirty, they need to see governance as what affects every member of society. Legislative changes are needed too and that is where affirmative action comes in. A quota system that reserves a fraction of electoral positions for women can be legislated. Financial support is also crucial, some Nigerian women can’t afford to buy party forms and when payment for forms is waived for women, they are often made to step down for the man who has paid. Women need financial support that will not impede their rights to participate or vie for positions. Women must also ensure that only women who are efficient and can lead are encouraged to vie for positions.

The media must change their attitude towards political coverage of women. They sometimes project women in ways that are not relevant to leadership, politics or election. The media must help educate people of the dangers of cultural norms and harmful gender stereotypes, and monitor fairness in elections. There are cases where election violence has badly and specifically affected women. The media have to report these and hold perpetrators accountable.

Undeniably, women have been playing a leading role in shaping our nation and this dates back to the pre-colonial era. In history, we have read about women, who played an active part in the administrative system and business. Women during the pre-colonial period were allowed to participate in the administration of communities. For instance, the exploit of Iyalode (women leader) of the old Oyo Empire has remained the reference point on how political involvement in women can engender a free society. Not only did they shape the political system of the period, but they also act as mediators in inter-ethnic rivalry. This can be seen in the exploit of Moremi during the Ife-Modekeke war. Also, Mrs Obi Ezekwesili left a huge landmark in the history of Nigerian politics. The late Prof Dora Akunyili, former Minister for Information, also performed credibly when she was the Director-General of the National Agency for Food, Drug Administration and Control (NAFDAC); she waged war against adulterated drug dealers, starting in her home state. Many other women in politics have done very well and still performing excellently well but we need more women to actively participate in politics

Advocating for affirmative action at the state and political party level is important. Political parties have been known to tell a woman to step down from the electoral process. This must stop.

The Rwandan women took up the state affairs because they had one voice and they stood together, if Nigerian women can also take a cue from them they would also take up top leadership positions in the country.


Adekunle AYOOLA

MA Politics and Society, Lancaster University and Polish Academy of Sciences

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