Wednesday 8 June 2016

Women in Leadership Puts Development at the Forefront

By Joy Ngwakwe

There is a global realization that women’s leadership and participation in politics is critical to social, economic and democratic development.  A realization that is much needed in Nigeria.  In Nigeria, women make up almost half of the population yet are excluded from contributing meaningfully in our national development through their exclusion from virtually all elements of politics and leadership.  

Despite a commitment to at least 35% representation, women are almost absent from decision-making positions in Nigeria. There are less then 10% of women in the Senate and only slightly more in the House of Representatives. This trend is seen replicated at both national and local elective and appointive positions in the country.

In Nigeria’s first democratic election of 1999, 3 of the 109 Senate Representatives were women and 12 of 360 House of Representative members were female. In 2003 there were 4 in the Senate and 23 women in the House of Representative. In 2007, we had 8 and 26 in house of representatives. in 2011 those figures were unchanged. Today we have 7 in the senate and 19 in the house of representatives - a decline in representation.
We have 6 out of 37 women ministers - about 16% down from the 31% representation in the previous cabinet.

We expect the president himself to set an example by adhering to the 35% target.

We are currently at the lowest levels since 1999 elections when we should be making steady progress to equal representation.  If we are serious about development, then we need to take action now to right this imbalance.

Nigeria is a signatory to the Convention on Elimination of All forms of Discrimination Against Women which calls on countries to ”take all appropriate measures to eliminate discrimination against women in the political and public life of the country”. 

This includes ensuring that women, on equal terms with men, have the right to vote; to participate in the formulation and implementation of government policy; to hold public office and perform all public functions at all levels of government.

In addition, CEDAW calls on countries to ensure women have the right to participate in non-governmental organizations and associations concerned with the public and political life of the country.

CEDAW notes that "...the full and complete development of a country, the welfare of the world and the cause of peace require the maximum participation of women on equal terms with men in all fields".

As a signatory, Nigeria commits to this maximum participation.

There are multiple implications, trickle-down trends and consequences of women’s exclusion from politics and leadership both for the women themselves and for the country.  The evidence in this imbalance can be found in feminization of poverty. This is borne by research[1] which shows that 65% of Nigerians - half of them women - live below the poverty line with very little access to basic goods, services and commodities. Nigeria’s deepening poverty profile puts an even greater burden on rural women whose issues are often left out of policy formulation because of their very limited representation.

Women are more likely to be unemployed, uneducated and have less access to resources such as credit.  And, even when they are employed, they have less opportunities for promotion due to their reproductive role. Women are most affected by the conditions of our health system as they are the ones most likely to need to access primary health care as they carry out their reproductive and care-giving roles. Indeed, the HIV statistics show women are more likely to be infected and affected.

Their status in society makes it difficult for women to make critical decisions regarding their health such as negotiating safe sex or removing themselves from violent relationships.
Women’s issues are not represented in policy formulation as women are not represented there. As women are primarily the caregivers, this has a real impact on the status of the family.

These statics clearly show that women’s exclusion from participating in leadership, politics and decision-making impacts on our national development. In the end, everyone pays the price as the country fails to harness the energy of half of its population.
But, as we can see, commitment is not enough: Without a carefully planned affirmative action programme that is implemented by different stakeholders at various levels - including national and local - it will be virtually impossible to create a gender balanced leadership in Nigeria.  

What should we do? As we gradually approach the 2019, we must act swiftly to ensure that women are not left behind on voting day. More than commitment, we need an action plan to provide various platforms for closing the existing gender-gaps.
These affirmative action programmes could include training on women’s leadership and political participation to ensure that women participate actively and effectively in party structures. 

We need to start early to identify women and match them to the opportunities out there.  Where possible, we must lobby for budget allocations to the issues that affect women in general, and specifically their participation in leadership and politics in the country.  

We need only look elsewhere in Africa, to Rwanda to see the real development benefits to the society of women’s participation in leadership.

Nigeria has an opportunity to harness the power of its women. We should not squander it.

Joy Ngwakwe is Executive Director of the Centre for Advancement of Development Rights (CEADER) in Lagos, Nigeria. She is an African Women’s Development Fund (AWDF) Fellow.

[1] Women and Poverty in Nigeria: Agenda for Poverty Eradication  Umar Shehu UsmanPhD Sociology Department, Nasarawa State University, Keffi – Nigeria Developing Country Studies                                                                                                                                          ISSN 2224-607X (Paper) ISSN 2225-0565 (Online) Vol.5, No.3, 2015

Wednesday 25 November 2015

Violence: From the home to the world

By Joy Ngwakwe 

Nigeria - Domestic violence against women is one of the most debilitating forms of violence as it happens at home - a space that ought to be safe for everyone. 
The word “home” often connotes a place of peace, comfort and safety.  Given that the world is made up of small units of families, the state of the world peace is often derived from what happens in majority of homes in a given society.    

Experts have stressed the importance of the home in shaping children into responsible adults.  In fact many cases of adult dysfunction are traceable to the home environment.  Testimonies of successful adults often point to the role their homes played in contributing to their success in the larger society.  In the same vein unsuccessful adults, including those that end up in prisons for crimes also trace their behavioral pattern and habit to the home in which they grew up.  

Of course this does not, by any means, justify bad behavior or crime as the court system ensures that criminals face the consequences for their actions.  Failure to tackle violence in the home, however, hinders breaking the violence cycle and dealing with the destructive impact of domestic violence against women as well as children.
Domestic violence against women has become one of the most pervasive forms of gender-based violence and violation of women’s human rights.  According to the United Nations, about 35% of women “have experienced either physical and/or sexual intimate partner violence or sexual violence by a non-partner at some point in their lives. However, some national studies show that up to 70 per cent of women have experienced physical and/or sexual violence from an intimate partner in their lifetime”[1] Domestic violence transcends cultures and social class, and cuts across continents, societies, formal and informal settings with its devastating consequences on women/girls in particular and the society in general. 

Whereas all forms of violence against women are very debilitating wherever they occur, violence in the homes, a supposed safe space, leaves very lasting impressions and consequences on both victims and those who observe the violent act such as children. Domestic violence against women is often perpetrated by significant others such as husbands/partners and therefore highlight issues of gender power relations and women’s dependency on the men occasioned by either societal expectations of women or poverty.  Societal expectation and economic status of majority of women are factors that often combine to make many women remain in violent relationships even in the face of certain death.   
In addition to the massive impact of domestic violence on women is its impact on children who grow up in homes where their mother is constantly battered by the father figure.  Research  by a Nigeria-based organization [2]conducted in Lagos in 2009 concluded that: “Children born in abusive and violent homes grow up with violent and abusive habits.  Frequently, men that batter their wives often confess that they grew-up watching their father beat their mother.  The family is the smallest and closest unit of every society and what happens at the family unit is a reflection of what to expect in the larger society.  When gender-based violence against women and girls is practiced in a large number of our families, the society becomes generally violent.”
This was confirmed by another research[3] which found that “Children who witness violence in the home and children who are abused may display many similar psychologic effects. … Child witnesses display inappropriate attitudes about violence as a means of resolving conflict and indicate a greater willingness to use violence themselves”.

The impact of domestic violence on women and children thus has very significant implications for the status of peace or violence in the larger society- the world in general.  The notion “From Violence in the Home to Violence in the World” has therefore become an issue that requires urgent attention from all stakeholders who seek to combat all forms of violence.  In an apparent understanding of these linkages the 2015 16 Days Campaign Against Violence Against Women is focused on the theme, “From Peace in the Home to Peace in World: Make education Safe for All”.  Conversely the 2015 theme may therefore be substituted to say: “From Violence in the Home to Violence in the World”. 

One of the most difficult factors in dealing with domestic violence is the culture of silence which makes it deadlier than other forms of violence against women.  Many suggestions have been proffered to counter the culture of silence but until the women are systematically supported and encouraged to report domestic violence they will continue to abide by this culture and thus embolden perpetrators of domestic violence to continue to act in impunity.  Breaking the culture of silence must also be juxtaposed with stricter penalties on perpetrators in order to encourage more women to report such violence 

Many countries, including countries in the global south have provided legal platforms for redressing domestic violence, however, these laws are often subject to personal biases of interpreters and enforcers, including security and judicial officers.  Greater efforts should be made to not only ensure that women receive the required legal aid but also that they are not shamed in the process of obtaining such services
Children born into violent homes should be given specialized counseling and help to re-orient them with correct information that violence is a criminal act and that perpetrators must face the consequences.  

Finally, as part of this year’s 16 Days Campaign Against Violence Against Women specific efforts must be made to secure the homes, and make it the safe space it should be.  The need to undertake specific interventions that seek to prevent, protect women and redress gender-based violence against women in homes cannot be overstretched. 
It is the very foundation on which a violence-free world may be built.
Joy Ngwakwe is Executive Director of the Nigeria-based Center for Advancement of Development Rights (CEADER) and an African Women Development Fund (AWDF) Fellow.

[2] Kudrat Initiative for Democracy (KIND), “Women in Peril: A Research Report on Women & Girls’ Experience of Gender-based Violence in Lagos State” ISBN: 978-978-901-453-8-2009- Research conducted and written by Joy Ngwakwe assisted by Peju Olaniyi
[3] Melissa M. Stiles, Witnessing Domestic Violence: The Effect on Children