By Chisom Onyekwere

Women and Political Participation

Why are women, who make up “49.6%” of the world’s population, deprived of the opportunity to equally politically participate for the common good?

Although there have been great improvements in women gaining access to the voting booth and participating politically, women take up only 15% of the Members of Parliament and less than 5% of heads of state across the world. This is disheartening for society writ large because, according to Mlambo (2019), equal representation of women in political decision making is directly proportional to an accurate representation of society and thus a legitimate and more democratic response to the concerns of all peoples

Though it is clear that women participating politically yield great mobilization and influence, their voices in the country continue to be met with silence and disdain. A lot of pressure to keep women from political participation stems from a lot of religious and cultural principles upheld by a majority of societies in Nigeria that hold limited views on what women can and should be doing, and vice versa. Scholarly sources report that socio-cultural beliefs, attitudes, biases and stereotypes are major barriers keeping women from engaging in political participation and leadership. These cultural values are so embedded in the socialization of men and women from their childhood years.

Religion and Culture’s Influence on Political Participation

According to Adamu and Para-Mallam (2012), views on women’s rights overall are seen to vary widely between and within religious communities, with some supporting and some opposing the realization of equal rights. However, Sarumi, et al. (2018) insist that religion is reported to have positive impacts on women decision-making and socio-political positions

Despite this, the patriarchal culture of Nigeria and the influence of religion limit many women from participating fully in political processes. For instance, women are still yet to receive basic human rights and be treated equally as their male counterparts in Nigeria. According to Uthman (2009), the Islamic Sharia law in Nigeria doesn’t protect women from sexual violence, assault and coercion, and the victims are usually charged with making false sexual accusation against their molesters. Additionally, women fall short of being bound by the Islamic religion only recognizing men’s authority over women

In Christian tradition, passages in scripture calling for women to “not teach or usurp authority over the man, but to be in silence”, keep silence in the church, and to “submit to their husbands” are used in society to keep women in submission and away from sharing equality with men. Because religion holds such influential power in the affairs of people in Nigeria, women’s roles being limited by religion keeps them from being fully free to engage in political processes and government decision-making arenas. 

Other issues keeping women from political decision-making and leadership are nepotism and cost. Just before the country’s previous nation-wide election in February 2019, women held only 7% of public offices, and less than 10% of the leading parties’ (APC and PDP) candidates for the national legislature in the February 2019 cycle were women. The poor numbers show how almost impenetrable it is for women to gain access to political participation and leadership without being drawn from or favored by Nigeria’s elite. For instance, since 1995 to 2015, the 46% of women elected to the Nigerian senate were either a wife or daughter of a prominent male politician. Another barrier keeping women barred from participating fully in political affairs in the country is cost. To be nominated for president, one must be ready to pay 5 million naira to express interest, and then provide 40 million naira to apply. A nomination for governor costs 22.5 million, with expression of interest costing 2.5 million; senate costs 7 million, with expression of interest costing 1 million naira;  a nomination for the house of representatives cost 3.5 million naira to apply, with expression of interest costing 350,000 naira. 

So, what can be done to break through the barriers keeping women from having more access to political participation and leadership? 

Gender Quotas: A likely solution?

Quotas continue to be recommended as the most effective factor in yielding more representation of women in the political decision-making arena.  Former government minister Oby Ezekwelisi asserted that gender quotas need to be instituted, unless women being represented in political offices will be a once-in-a-blue-moon occurrence for Nigerians. But is it enough? It is reported that the gender quotas used by other African countries are only implemented for show—to present to their donors a picture of a modern and progressive society. Specifically, Nigeria’s title as an oil producer and key partner in the regional war on terror gives it immunity from donors’ pressures. We should not stop at a finite number of positions for women in office and call it a day. Representation of women’s rights, interests, and issues, goes deeper. More representation of women must also mean more representation of women’s values, needs, and perspectives. It should mean more representation of our voices in every law, bill, policy, rule, etc. 

Thankfully, women’s organizations in Nigeria continue to push through the religious and cultural barriers prevalent in Nigeria and provide access for women to have their voices heard.


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