WOMEN politicians across the three dominant political parties in Osun and Ekiti states have kick started their strategies, weaved around a massive grassroots campaign, to ensure they get more positions both in their respective parties and government. “Our vision is to start from the ward congresses and fight our way up. We are going to use our bigger number to get more positions and get a bigger voice in pushing more women for elective positions,” Omowunmi Otunla, a People Democratic Party, PDP, women leader, Osun State, said.
As part of a deliberate effort to advance the cause of women in politics, their mechanics will focus largely on identifying and putting core women issues on front burner and striving to build consensus to push it through. While underscoring the girl-child as a major plank of their campaign, they resolved to float a neutral platform on which to reach out to women.
Critical amongst issues confronting the women is the country’s high maternal mortality rate which according to Bill Gates, former world’s richest man, ranks Nigeria ahead of only Sierra Leone, Central African Republic and Chad, making it “one of the most dangerous places in the world to give birth.” They also fingered girl-child education and the need to strike down the law of inheritance and widowhood practices which are unfriendly to women.
Rising from a two-day gathering in Ado Ekiti under the aegis of Community Life Project, CLP, with support from Ford Foundation, the women resolved to hone their advocacy skills and collaborate with other women in different facets to achieve their aim. They have also vowed to galvanise other women and other gender friendly forces to ensure the review of all laws that promote discriminatory practices against women. They also admonished that “successful women should mentor other women.” They reasoned that the elite and professional women must work in tandem with those at the grassroots if the drive should be taken seriously.
Drawn from the PDP, the All Progressive Congress, APC, and Labour Party, LP, the women similarly struck a chord to set aside their political differences and work as a collective to jointly push the interest of women at different levels. “We need to push for more positions and show that we can do it better. We have the time. We have the acumen. We are not clappers or singers. We need to sensitise our women that we are the light of the world. We only need to change the psyche of our womenfolk and use our bigger number to advance our interest,” Otunla said.
Reflecting on the view by Josephine Anenih, a frontline gender activist, that women need to get themselves into the National Working Committees of the political parties where the major decisions are taken, Romoke Edu Ogunlana, deputy chairperson, Labour Party, Osun State argued: “We need to understand that politics is an alternative to war and be prepared to engage with all the resources we can muster,” noting that “women who are opportune to get into positions should endeavour to push other women.”
The women were particularly irked by a “Fact Sheet on Women’s Political Representation in Nigeria,” prepared by the CLP which revealed that women representation in the legislature at the state and national levels that peaked in 2007, had been on the downward slide. From three women members in 1999 out of the 109 member Senate, to four in 2003 and a jump to nine, in 2007. This, however, dropped to eight in 2011 and seven in 2015. The total number of women in the House of Representatives which was 13 in 1999 rose to 21 and 27 in 2003 and 2007 respectively but took a nosedive to 25 and 22 in 2011 and 2015. The figures for the House of Assembly, are equally dismal. Although women membership rose from 24 in 1999 to 40, 57 and 68 in 2003, 2007 and 2011, it took a downward slide to 51 in 2015. Women representation from Ekiti and Osun states in the Senate and the Houses of Assembly since 1999 has also not been cheery. While two women won Senate seats in Ekiti in 2015, Osun has not voted a woman senator since 1999. No woman was voted into the Osun State House of Assembly in 2007, 2011 and 2015 while Ekiti got four and two respectively in 2011 and 2015.
Not too happy at the declining representation of women, Ayo Awolowo, a PDP adherent in Osun State, said: “We cannot afford to slip back from our gains. From 1999 and now, the men have failed us, we need to strategise on how to move forward.”
Bola Olayiwola, a Labour Party candidate in the Osun State House of Assembly in 2015 asked women to be “patriotic and show some respect in their engagement.” She also asked them to pay their party dues regularly while charging women to be bold and strategic and focus on their goals, advising them to take active part in party programmes. “We need to discuss and engage the women at the grassroots who say each time they vote for the educated women, they are usually neglected after their victory,” Olayiwola said.
Olubunmi Omowunmi Ogunlola, a contestant to the House of Assembly, Ekiti State under the APC in 2015 called on the women to build on the favourable laws that had been passed by the legislature in Ekiti. “We must exploit those laws to advance our campaign. Let’s try and be involved in the issues of women around our locality and not restrict ourselves to our high walls. Let’s speak out on women issues. We appear to be too complacent unlike women in South Africa and Rwanda that have been to war. Until we learn to say no, we’ll be dancing around a motionless path,” she said.
Alluding to the enviable pace set by Biodun Olujimi, a senator from Ekiti State, who had presented 13 women friendly bills since she got to the Senate and the glowing period of the late Dora Akunyili at the National Agency for Food and Drugs Administration Control, NAFDAC, Edu-Ogunlana, also a lecturer at Federal College of Education (Special), Oyo was of the view that “the success of women will inspire others.”