Empowering women is a necessity for Nigeria to be great, the Senate President, Godswill Akpabio, has said.
Mr Akpabio disclosed this on Wednesday at the opening ceremony of a two-day international conference on women in governance organised by the National Institute for Legislative and Democratic Studies (NILDS) in Abuja.
The Senate President, in a brief remark as the special guest of honour, said his presence at the occasion represents his first official engagement outside the National Assembly since his election as the President of the 10th Senate.
Mr Akpabio said he was committed to the issues relating to improving the conditions of women in Nigeria, including in political representation, the economy and governance.
“Those familiar with my antecedents will undoubtedly attest to my passion for promoting gender equality in all aspects of life, especially in the public sector.
“As a governor, I implemented a policy that deliberately favoured the appointment of women into key positions in my government. This was in recognition of the immense contribution that women make towards the political, social and economic development of any state, he said
He said the country’s approach to the challenge of women’s underrepresentation in governance must go beyond mere tokenism of positions to genuine representation in which women’s voices are genuinely heard, valued and integrated into government policies and laws.
”Tokenism might satisfy diversity quotas, but the authentic inclusion of women in political leadership will change the course of Nigeria towards meaningful transformation and sustained growth,” he said.
According to him, women’s empowerment has five components: women’s sense of self-worth, their right to have and to determine choices, their right to have access to opportunities and resources, their right to have the power to control their own lives, both within and outside the home; and their ability to influence the direction of social change to create a more just social and economic order, nationally and internationally.
He noted that women’s empowerment is critical, given the general contribution of women to the Nigerian economy.
According to the IMF, the informal sector accounted for 57.7 per cent of Nigeria’s 2022 GDP, making it a significant contributor to Nigeria’s economy. A 2021 World Bank report states that 80.4 per cent of Nigeria’s employment was in the informal sector.
The report further shows that 82.1 per cent of women in Nigeria were in the informal sector, which makes women the single most influential force in the country, and their inclusion in governance structures is not a luxury but a necessity.
Tinubu’s agenda on women’s empowerment
Mr Akpabio noted that the ‘renewed hope’ agenda of Mr Tinubu makes an allowance for women’s empowerment, saying that the policy document recognises that if Nigeria is to reach its fullest potential, every segment of the population must be given a fair chance to make their best contribution to the well-being and advancement of the country.
The Agenda, according to him, highlights the specific need for social inclusion and political empowerment.
He said that the President will work with the National Assembly to pass a law that promotes greater employment for women in all government offices, ministries and agencies to increase women’s participation in government to at least 35 per cent.
“The legislation, when prepared, will also mandate the federal executive to reserve a minimum number of senior positions for women and the private sector shall also be strongly encouraged to do likewise,” he said.
Mr Akpabio noted that President Tinubu has already achieved some milestones, with women constituting about 20% of the newly inaugurated cabinet.
Although this falls short of the 35 per cent affirmative action, he said it significantly improved from the previous cabinet, which had 15 per cent women representation.
“In the coming months and years, the National Assembly will work closely with Mr. President to achieve the lofty goals outlined in his Agenda.
“As you are all aware, the outcome of the 2023 General Election, in terms of the number of women elected into various positions, shows that more work needs to be done, and past efforts have not yielded the desired results, he said.
Regarding economic empowerment, he said the senate will work with Mr Tinubu to ensure that commercial banks support women-owned businesses through concessionary loans and incentive schemes.
Other areas of possible collaboration with the executive, he noted, include fighting domestic violence and abuse through specialist police units, promoting educational parity for the girl-child and improving the conditions of disadvantaged women through social intervention programmes.
He noted that these and other policy positions of the executive will be streamlined into the Legislative Agenda of the Tenth Senate with concrete legislative actions and timelines for achieving them.
“I wish to state that the Senate will work with all stakeholders to bring about the constitutional and statutory reforms required to advance women’s political participation. I welcome all suggestions, which should be submitted as Memoranda to my Office.
In his opening remark as the convener of the conference, the DG of NILDS, Abubakar Sulaiman, lamented the gross underrepresentation of women in governance at both the national and subnational levels in the country.
Mr Sulaiman, a professor, noted that the Inter-Parliamentary Union (IPU) ranks Nigeria in the bottom ten globally in women’s representation in national parliaments, saying the overall picture is worrisome, considering that women constitute nearly fifty per cent of our population and contribute significantly to the economy and political processes, especially elections.
At the executive level, he said, “The percentage of women in ministerial positions since the commencement of the Fourth Republic in 1999 has not exceeded 30 per cent (31.7 per cent under Goodluck Jonathan in 2011). Of the recently sworn-in federal ministers, only 19% are women.
The DG said the declining trend has continued despite the provisions of the National Gender Policy that 30 per cent of elective and appointive positions be reserved for women.
Numerous other official documents and statements of government and political parties set normative and policy frameworks for achieving gender inclusivity and equality in addition to the constitutions and manifestos of all the major political parties, including specific provisions on women’s representation.
He noted that recent legislative proposals to provide a legal framework for affirmative action and gender quotas failed to pass at the National Assembly.
According to him, the five bills sought to, among other things, provide 35% affirmation action for women in political party administration and reserve 15% of seats in the House of Representatives to women, expand the scope of citizenship by registration, extend citizenship to foreign spouses of Nigerian women and secure a reserved quota for women in Executive cabinet positions (ministers and commissioners).
NILDS’ contribution to deepening women’s representation in governance
Mr Sulaiman said the conference was in line with the mandate of the institute to deepen democratic culture and promote political participation and inclusion.
According to him, NILDS has been at the forefront of advocacy to deepen women’s participation in the country’s political process.
“We have consistently collaborated with partners, including UN Women, to advance this mandate,” he noted.
Since its establishment in 2011, the DG noted that the institute has undertaken a gender audit of the National Assembly and developed a Gender Mainstreaming Manual for the Nigerian legislature.
The institute’s Strategic Plan (2019-2023), he noted, outlines explicitly its commitment to promoting a gender-sensitive legislature in Nigeria and fostering gender equality.
“In line with this, we have generated and published numerous research studies that respond to women’s needs and interests in government structures, operations, methods and work processes.
“The Institute has also consistently invested in capacity development for women candidates, women members of the National Assembly and State Houses of Assembly and other women stakeholders. In the last two years, we have heightened advocacy for gender budgeting to ensure that public resources are used to increase gender equity.
Some of the dignitaries who attended the conference aside from Mr Akpabio were the Deputy Senate President, Jibrin Barau; Speaker of the House of Reps represented by Kafilat Ogbara; Minister of State for Labour and Employment, Nkeiruka Onyejeocha; ex-First Lady of Ekiti State, Bisi Fayemi, who was one of the keynote speakers; and former Senator, Abiodun Olujimi.
Also in attendance were female parliamentarians from Uganda, Kenya and South Africa, gender activists, and University scholars, among others.
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