Background to the Study
Every human being has the right to participate in decisions that define his or her life. This right is the foundation of the ideal of equal participation in governance among women and men. This right argues that since women know their situation best, they should participate equally with men to have their perspective effectively incorporated at all levels of governance, from the private to the public spheres of their lives, from the local to the global. Globally, women have been deprived of their right of participation in the decision making of the state.
The United Nations (UN) Women’s Conference in Beijing (1995:7) Report emphasized that women have the right to participate in decision-making of government. This is for reasons of equity, democracy and legitimacy, the empowerment of women and that the improvement of women’s social, economic and political status is essential for the achievement of transparent, accountable government and sustainable development in all areas of life.In addition, Miranda (2005), in (Beijing Platform for Action, excerpt from Mission Statement) says “equality between women and men is a matter of human rights and a condition for social justice and is also a necessary and fundamental prerequisite for equality, sustainable development and peace”. As the United States Agency for International Development (USAID2010:10) has observed “no society can develop successfully without both increasing and transforming opportunities and resources for women and men, girls, and boys so that they have equal power to shape their own lives and contribute to their communities”. Ogbaji (2010:1) corroborates this position when he states that “women all over the world suffer from and are faced with many, peculiar and complex problems. Many of these problems revolve around their rights within their different societies…exacerbated by the existence of several discriminatory practices against them”. Antrobus (1991) as cited in Ogbaji(2010:2), explains that “all women’s unremunerated household work is exploited, we all have conflicts in our multiple roles… we struggle for survival and dignity, and we share our exclusion from decision-making at all levels”.
As the United Nations Development Programmes (UNDP) Human Development (1995) Reports, “in no society do women enjoy the same opportunities as men…it is worthy of note that women shoulder the primary responsibilities for meeting basic needs of the family, yet are systematically denied the resources, information and freedom of action they need to fulfill these responsibilities” Similarly, the United Nations and the World Bank, (United Nation’s Gender Empowerment Measure (GEM) as cited in (UNIFEM 1999: 12) argue that “the absence of women’s participation in decision-making fails to account for the specific needs and aspirations of women, consequently further entrenching the feminization of poverty and continuing male dominance in nominal positions of authority”.According to the editorial comment of Women’s Rights Monitor (1995:5) as cited in Ogbaji(2010:5):
“the rights privileges, and opportunities governed by customary laws and statutes are largely inaccessible to women in real terms. It is pertinent to note that the struggle for the rights of women is a positive one which recognizes the quality of women’s contribution in every aspect of the community. In pre-colonial Nigeria, many women gained socio-political and economic prominence either through achievement or as reward as they become more involed in trade. Opportunity existed for women to take leadership roles in politics, religion, social and economic life”.
Fatile, et. al (2012), quoting the Nigerian Population Commission (NPC, 2011), notes that “women constitute about 56% of the total population, despite this fact, they are discriminated against in the decision-making of governance”. Afolabi, et al (2003), and Agbalajobi (2010), comment that, “while the Beijing Platform for Action seeks 30 percent share of decision-making positions for women, only 16 countries attained this objectives in the 1990’s”. Afolabi, et al (2003), and Agbalajobi (2010),further stated,“the data compiled by the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa (UNECA), indicates that four countries that came closest to achieving 30 percent women decision makers in 1997 were Seychelles (27 percent), South Africa (25 percent), Mozambique (25 percent), and Eritrea (21 percent), but 36 countries had less than 10 percent female representation in government.Recently,South Africa has increased women representation to 27 percent, Uganda and Rwanda have 25 percent and 28.8 percent respectively while Nigeria still remain at the low.
Similarly, as Albright, the Chairman, National Democratic Institute (NDI) (2010) observes: “every country deserves to have the best possible leader and that means that women have to be given a chance to compete if they’re never allowed to compete in decision-making of governance then the countries are really robbing themselves of a great deal of talent”. Similarly, Babatunde (2011), calling for Stronger Action to Eliminate Violence against Women says “we continue to believe that when women are healthy and educated, and can live free from violence and discrimination, they can participate fully in society and accelerate progress on all front”.
As Mukhopadhyay (2005:16) observes, “most Nigerian men (and perhaps other countries in the continent) claim that no matter the level of educational attainment of women, they are still inferior to men (all men) because they are women”. Without the participation of women at all levels of decision-making of governance, the goals of equality, development and peace cannot be achieved.Taking the conceptualisation of democracy by Diamond (1989:16), into cognisance, democracy provides the equal opportunity platform for political participation and fairness in such competition…” In a similar perspective, Onyeoziri (1989), conceptualises four indicative domains of democracy which include: “the domain of individual and group rights and freedoms; the domain of popular and equal participation in collective decision; the domain of accountability of government to mass publics and constituent minorities; and the domain of the application of the principles of equal citizenship in all spheres of life- social, economic and political”.The conceptual underpinnings of the definitions are freedom and equal opportunity for participation in governance that democracy avails both men and women. As Diamond (1989:16), further states:
“the running theme of these definitions is that any claim to democratic state must essentially embrace a high degree of competitive choice, openness, and enjoyment of civil and political liberties and popular participation that embraces all groups of the society, one that is not segregationist or discriminatory. Democracy cannot truly deliver for all of its citizens if half of the population remains under-represented in the decision-making arena”.
If democracy does not ordinarily discriminate on the grounds of race, religion or sex, then stifled opportunities experienced in the participation of women in the governance in the government of Akwa Ibom State in particular and Nigeria in general, suggests a level of artificiality and man-made imposition. Furthermore, Diamond (1989:16), states, though women often face daunting social, economic and political challenges, for democracy to deliver, women must be equal partners in democratic processes as activists, elected officials and constituents – a component part, as their contributions are crucial to building a strong and vibrant society. It is, however, believed that while the natural relationship between mother and her child may compel and confine her to sedentary activities, it is also important that such mother should contribute her quota to the development of her family and that of her society at large. Hence, the call for full incorporation of Akwa Ibom State women in the governance of the state.
InNigeria, the structure of the society, its values, traditions, and institutions all have an in-built discrimination against women. Women are regarded by everyone as weak, irrational, passive, and thus inferior. And even when educated, they are believed to share the same behavioural patterns and personality traits of their less educated sisters, simply because they are women, Nwekein (WIN, 1985:201).Nadezdha (2002), notes, “men dominate the political arena; men formulate the rules of the political game; and men define the standards for evaluation”. The existence of this male-dominated model results in either women rejecting politics altogether or rejecting male-style politics. In support of the above view, Sepoe (1996) note that: the impediments to women’s participation in decision-making arena of governance are many and varied, ranging from personal, social and economic. At the personal level, women’s lack of confidence in the public realm has been offered as an explanation for their under-representation in decision-making of governance. The social factors such as gender roles, the pervasiveness of masculine political cultures, violence against women, the lesser social mobility of women and the fewer educational opportunities available to women impinge upon their effective participation in decision-making of government. At the economic level, women’s inadequate access to the financial resources inevitably contributes to the gross gender imbalance in decision-making arena of government.