Making Way for Women

At the Abuja launch of a book by Amina Salihu, a farmer, newspaper columnist and feminist, the need for deliberate policies to promote women’s participation in politics was brought to the front burner

In Nigeria where, more often than not, events such as book launches are targeted at fund raising, it is not out of place to find the rich and mighty in society grace such occasions and turn them into avenue for showing off their donations. Indeed, for many, the success of a book launch is measured by the calibre of dignitaries in attendance and how much they donated.

But for Amina Salihu, author of the book, A New Kind of Dance, recently launched at the Women Development Centre, Abuja, an occasion like this should be a forum where people from all walks of life should come together to chart a way forward for active involvement of women in policy decision-making in Nigeria. And that is what it was at the Abuja event as the rural women, civil society organisations, senior civil servants and politicians who thronged the occasion suggested it was time the Nigerian woman took the decisive step for “a new kind of dance” in the political arena, especially as the 2015 general elections are fast approaching. Their unity of purpose, as exemplified in their short passionate speeches about the challenges that women face in the male-dominated Nigerian space, was a clear indication that the women are out for real business.

For Hajo Sani, former minister of women affairs and the book reviewer, A New Kind of Dance is an advocacy document aimed at informing and persuading the Nigerian woman to move from darkness to light. She said the book has opened a new dimension of debate on the struggle for the inclusion of women in politics to be explored by the academia, politicians, civil society organisations and electoral agencies. “Amina,” she said, “has developed a road map for the successful increase of women in politics not just in Kaduna North Senatorial District but elsewhere (as well). Her concept of a new dance has remained a power for participation and motivation for women to make themselves visible for active participation in politics and election processes.”

A farmer and feminist, Salihu’s solution document was borne out of the lessons she learnt working with women both in rural and urban communities. She believes that the inability of politicians to design workable policies for women’s yearnings and aspirations is because women’s inputs are sidelined. Her argument is that it takes a listening ear to solve women’s problem. “Most times, politicians don’t listen to women, they don’t understand the women and because of that, they are not able to design programmes that affect them when they are campaigning in the field. I felt I should document this as a solution guide,” she said. In addition to that, Salihu said her preoccupation is to give voice to women and youths in the community by articulating and aggregating their yearnings and aspirations into a single document.

The idea, according to Salihu, is to galvanise both youths and women into taking their rightful place in the political process. She said, “So, I have written the book so that the youths and the women that we met during the campaign trail can also see a reflection of their own voice. And that should help to affirm them and strengthen their commitment so that they will know that they also have their own task of participating in politics. Most of the women we talked to are economic agents. But their economic fortunes cannot change if they cannot pay attention to the politics of their place.” For effect, Salihu who mostly works among women in the North of the country has also translated the book into Hausa with the title, Sabuwar Gada.

Guests at the event also joined her to encourage women participation in politics. Speaking from experience, Kayode Fayemi, immediate governor of Ekiti State, told the enraptured audience that women involvement in politics is not just about positions; it is also about policies and programmes that the government adopts in the interest of accelerating development. By focusing on what affects women’s health, education and livelihood, Fayemi is sure government will make a difference in the lives of women who constitute 51 per cent of Nigeria’s population. While commending the present administration at the federal level for appointing women into critical positions, Fayemi said the emphasis should be focused on what the women are doing with the positions and the extent to which patriarchy as an ideology allows them to function.

For Otive Igbuzor, executive director, African Centre for Leadership Strategy and Development, Abuja, the indices are frightening. He said Nigeria has one of the worst statistics in terms of women participation in politics in Africa. Igbuzor said in Africa it is 20 per cent, and only 7 per cent in Nigeria, adding that the abnormality is historical as men started voting in Nigeria in 1923 while all women began enjoying this right in 1979. To ensure that the gap is closed, he pointed out that government must evolve deliberate policies to encourage women.

Women politicians in attendance also used the occasion to brief others on what it takes to succeed politically in “a male-dominated political field.” Mulikat Akanda-Adeola, House leader, House of Representatives, advised that women venturing into politics must be determined because politics is a game where people will want to outsmart others. She, however, advised them to shun fraudulent activities and should instead present themselves as reputable and qualified candidates.

The book launch was attended by Josephine Anenih, a former Minister of Women Affairs; Bisi Fayemi, the immediate past first lady of Ekiti State; Aisha Babangida, chairperson, Better Life for Rural Women; and Amina Zakari, a commissioner of the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, among others.

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