Between the 23rd and 24th of August 2023 in Abuja, National Institute for Legislative & Democratic Studies (NILDS) held an International Conference with theme: 'Women's representation in governance in Nigeria: Issues, challenges & way forward.' The parley was attended by parliamentarians from within and outside Nigeria, academics, practitioners and several other stakeholders. I was a valued participant.
Some of the participants are:
*Sen. Godswill Akpabio - President of the Senate
*Hon. Dr. Tajudeen Abbas (Represented) - Speaker, House of Representatives
*Prof. Abubakar Suleiman - DG NILDS
*Barr. Uju Kennedy - Minister, Federal Ministry of Women Affairs & Social Development
*Mrs. Bisi Adeleye-Fayemi - Co-founder, African Women Development Fund (AWDF)/Fmr. 1st Lady, Ekiti State/Keynote Speaker
*Hon. Agnes Kirabo - Member, Ugandan Parliament
*Advocate Olave Mogale - Chairperson, Commission for Gender Equality, South Africa
*Hon. Mbalu Jessica Kilo - Member, Kenya Parliament
*Mrs. Beatrice Eyong - Country Representative, UN Women
*Dr. Dayo Oluyemi-Kusa - Independent Conflict Transformation Strategist/Gender Specialist & Fmr. Director, Institute for Peace & Conflict Resolution (IPCR)
*Sen. Biodun Olujimi - Fmr. Parliamentarian, Nigerian Senate
*Prof. Shola Omole - Federal University, Oye Ekiti
*Ms. Ekaete Umoh -Country Director, CBM Global Disability Inclusion
*Jake Ekpelle - CEO Albino Foundation
*Hon. Mulikat Akande-Adeola - Fmr. Majority Leader, House of Representatives
*Prof. Olalekan Yinusa - Obafemi Awolowo University
In his address, President of the Senate, Godswill Akpabio said the 10th National Assembly is determined to promote gender equity. He noted that gender stereotypes and biases have hindered the desirable turnout of women in politics and governance in general.
DG of NILDS, Abubakar Suleiman said he shall continue to put programmes in place to deepen the democratic culture, while promoting gender-sensitive legislation. Let the DG speak for himself: 'In recent times, there has been growing concern in the public space about women's under-representation in governance. Despite accounting for 49.7% of the population, Nigerian women continue to be under-represented in governance at the national, state and local levels, compared to their male counterparts. Though the extant policy framework in Nigeria recommends 35% affirmative action in favour of women, their representation in governance remains below 7% as witnessed in the 2023 elections.' (Source: Conference brochure, pg. 10). For Prof. Suleiman, the conference was NILDS's contribution towards the effective correction of the anomaly of low representation of women in governance.
In the speech of the representative of the Speaker of the House of Representatives, she was indeed on the same page with the Senate President. She pledged that the Lower House would support the five Gender Bills rejected by the 9th Senate when re-presented.
In her illuminating address, the keynote speaker, Erelu Fayemi, made a passionate appeal to the Senate President to walk the talk as regards the vexed issue of the representation of women in politics. She would like to see more competent women in the political space, enabled by relevant legislation on affirmative action and gender equity.
In my many interventions, I broke down the concepts: gender equity/equality and affirmative action. I did this because the two different concepts of equity and equality were being wrongly used inter-changeably. Besides, I mentioned the fact that some of the discussants should be more kind in their remarks to paper presenters at the parley. The import of the discourse was to enrich the review of the various papers with their comments without 'putting down' the presenters. To be sure, some of the younger presenters/academics need to be encouraged rather than discouraged with rather harsh remarks. The point could still be made in a gentler and more accommodating tone...
On the whole, there were at least 21 parallel sessions, some of which are:
*The historical, conceptual & theoretical context.
*Women & the Political Party system.
*Women, elections & the electoral system/process.
*Poverty, women's empowerment & the SDGs.
*Gender norms & socio-cultural practices.
*Constitution, citizenship & women's rights.
*Girl child education & national development.
*Women in science, technology & mathematics (STEM).
*International gender protocols & legislation in Nigeria.
*Conflict & insecurity: The peace-building & gender dimension.
*Inclusiveness of women with disabilities in politics & governance.
*Cross-country perspectives of women's representation.
*Climate change & women's participation/representation in governance.
In conclusion, it is necessary for the few Nigerian female legislators to take a queue from their counterparts from other African countries who said they took some of their male counterparts to lunch in order to lobby them to support gender-friendly Bills! The discussion continues on the corridors and other spaces. The DG has emphasised the fact that this is not the last from the institution on this matter. We look forward to further engagements in collaboration with other stakeholders that would hopefully catapult women to where they should be...Kudos to DG NILDS and his formidable team for pulling off this remarkable and impactful conference...