A comment made by a member of the House of Representatives, Gudaji Kazaure, that women shouldn’t be given many opportunities so that they don’t dominate the men, has sparked a barrage of criticisms from women’s rights campaigners. GBENRO ADEOYE writes
As the world celebrated International Women’s Day last Thursday, March 8, 2018, it was clear that the realities of what women experienced varied widely depending on a woman’s area or country of residence.
While both Germany and Brazil, for instance, have produced female leaders, Nigeria has yet to experience what it is like to have a woman president and some Nigerians believe it is a reflection of the low participation of women in politics. So, perhaps, it was for that reason that some Nigerian women used the International Women’s Day as a vehicle to call on more women to show interest in politics.
Of course, they have reasons to be worried as women are not well represented in the political space with Nigeria recording low participation of women in both elective and other positions. This is regardless of the extant National Gender Policy that prescribes 35 per cent Affirmative Action for women – a policy that demands 35 per cent of women’s involvement in governance processes.
For instance, noting that the national average of women’s political participation in Nigeria has been low, Mrs. Oloyede Oluyemi of the National Bureau of Statistics in a 2015 paper titled, ‘Monitoring Participation of Women in Politics in Nigeria’, said the national average of women’s political participation in Nigeria was 6.7 per cent for elective and other positions, far below the global average of 22.5 per cent .
She said since Nigeria’s return to democracy in 1999, “the Senate has been dominated by males. In 1999, there were only three women out of 109 members, representing 2.8 per cent of the members of the Senate. In 2007, the number increased to eight (7.3 per cent ). However, there was a decrease from eight female members in 2007 to seven in 2011, which is 6.4 per cent and eight (7.3 per cent ) in 2015.
“In 1999, the number of women in the House of Representatives was 12 out of 360 members, which was about 3.3 per cent , but (it) increased to 21 (5.8 per cent ) in 2003. It was 26 (7.2 per cent ) in 2011; in 2015, the number of women in the House of Representatives decreased to 19 (5.3 per cent ) out of 360 members.”
It should be noted that there are currently seven female senators in the National Assembly after Uche Ekwunife’s election was challenged in December 2015 and she was sacked by the court.
The NBS’ statistics give a panoramic perspective of the Nigerian politics as it relates to gender participation.
But interestingly, while women from across various backgrounds were using the International Women’s Day to point lives attention to such issues and call for reforms, a legislator from Jigawa State in the Federal House of Representatives, Gudaji Kazaure, was using the chamber of the House to warn men against giving women more opportunities in politics lest they gain control over them (men) and make a mess of everything.
According to Kazaure, giving more opportunities to women will make it easier for them to win elections and dominate the political space, a situation he described as a variant of God’s order of putting men above women.
Kazaure had said, “So it is good for us to give the woman chance in terms of politics, opportunities, entrepreneurship, and others because they play a good role in our lives. They take care of our life, our children, cook for us and do everything for us, but I fear they control us (men) at home….
“One day, you will come here and find only women in this chamber and they will mess up. When they go zigzag, we are the ones who straighten them.
“We are the ones controlling them, that is why God said they should come under us. We would marry them, they will serve under us. God knows what is there with them, he knows everything with them and that is why he said let them serve under us. We do good to them, we do justice to them and then, at last, we should not give them too much opportunity (sic).”
The footage of the lawmaker’s speech has gone viral and so have his views; but interestingly, his views have become a subject of debate on some social media platforms, with some men agreeing with him.
For example, one Nwa Amaikpe, who identified himself as a male on www.nairaland.com, said, “I agree; it’s a shame that men of today are still making the only mistake Adam made; giving women power over them.”
A similar comment by one MrKunlex, also on www.nairaland.com, said, “You are just deceiving yourself. I don’t think women can rule this country because (as) for me, I can’t allow that. I don’t want a situation where (a) woman will give me (an) order to do something.”
However, some female human rights activists have described Kazaure’s comments as expected and representative of the thoughts of many Nigerian men blinded by the misconceptions and stereotypes imposed on them by their environment, religion and culture, which make them think that only males make effective leaders.
A social activist and public commentator, Mrs. Aisha Yesufu, who described Kazaure’s comments as “absurd”, added that she “realised that he was speaking the minds of the men in the National Assembly and the people we have up there.”
“We saw what happened with the Gender and Equal Opportunities Bill; it was thrown out and we saw people (legislators) coming out with different justifications for throwing out the bill,” she said.
Yesufu, however, added that women should take their fate in their hands and not wait for any system or men to give them opportunities to get things done.
She said, “As women, we are not waiting for anybody to give us anything. We are not second-class citizens; we are not here on earth to make people who are really insecure boys, but claiming to be men, feel good about themselves. We are here to live legacies behind and we are here to take our chances, and that is the message I am going to pass to every woman out there.
“Go out there and forget what anybody says, do what you have to do very well and ensure that your voice is heard; that is the most important thing. I don’t even understand what he was saying about not wanting to give the women too many opportunities. If I were in his local government and I wanted to contest for a position, I would do so. I don’t need anybody to give me the right to do anything.”
Accusing people of playing the gender card whenever they find it convenient, Yesufu said contrary to Kazaure’s view that women would mess things up if given more opportunities; it was the men in the government who had messed things up so far.
She said, “If men were doing a fine job, Nigeria wouldn’t be where it is right now. Nigeria is already a messed up country, but personally, I don’t like basing things on people’s gender. If not so, I would have said the men should go and sit in one corner and allow the women to show them the way it is done. But personally, I do not like to ascribe gender to issues because gender and competence don’t go hand in hand, it is about the person. If the person has the capacity, character and competence, then he can do the job irrespective of whether the person is a male, female or hermaphrodite. After all, there are people who are born as neither male nor female. If they are competent, they are competent.
“And with the way he (Kazaure) was speaking, you would know that if Nigeria was not a country that rewards incompetence, he wouldn’t have got into the National Assembly in the first place because he is not competent enough with the view that he has. But in Nigeria, incompetence and bad behaviour are always rewarded and that is the reason why he is there.”
Also accusing men of playing the gender card when they found it suitable, the Founder and Executive Director of Spaces for Change, a non-profit organisation that seeks to mobilise the participation of youths, women and local communities in the development of social and economic policies in Nigeria, Mrs. Victoria Ibezim-Ohaeri, said Kazaure’s views were a reflection of the average man’s in his environment.
Identifying four factors responsible for some people to share similar views with Kazaure, Ibezim-Ohaeri said, “The first is patriarchal; it is about the patriarchal culture in our environment. Two, this is about the dominant narratives in the northern part of the country where the man comes from. The third one is the religious dimension. For instance, the man is a Muslim and there are religious injunctions that support what he said. The fourth one is the structural barrier in politics and women have to play in a male-dominated political system.
“A lot of people say that it also has to do with the resources because politics is expensive. No, women that have money can’t play politics because of those structural and cultural barriers. Politics is a male-dominated field so it is still the man that largely decides what happens. For instance, when a woman picks up a nomination form and then she has to go through the party chairman and party chairmen are usually men. The people that will politically endorse her to rise are usually men. So whichever way she goes, she cannot run away from subjecting herself to the authority of men, particularly for a woman that wants to rise high to become a governor, senator or president even. It is a tough call.”
Although, one of Kazaure’s female colleagues, a legislator representing Bende constituency in Abia State, Mrs. Nnnena Elendu-Ukeje, had replied Kazaure, saying when men “who don’t recognise the stellar contributions of women stand up and publicly admit that we threaten them, then it means that half the battle is won,” Ibezim-Ohaeri said the women community should have done more to challenge the gender bias comments.
She said, “I’m impressed that Nnena said something but that is not enough, the other women were not supposed to keep quiet because it indicts all of them. if I were in that room, I am sure he would check if Victoria was around before he would say those things. I expected the Minister of Women Affairs to have said no sir, you are wrong. I expected women groups to come out, beyond writing Facebook posts about it, to say no, this is how it should be done. This is because our young ones are listening and watching and they might think that is the normal thing. Nobody is correcting him and people are just sharing it on Facebook and discussing it on WhatsApp.”
Similarly, a woman rights activist, Mrs. Joe Okei-Odumakin, described Kazaure’s comment as “worrisome”, especially as it was made on the floor of the National Assembly on a day set aside to commemorate women.
She said, “I think rather than laughing over it, especially by the members and leaders of the House of Representatives, Kazaure should have been reprimanded and cautioned against such verbal discrimination of women, or rather taught those lessons that will assist him in seeing women beyond objects of baby making and kitchen materials. I also wish to state that women all over the world have equal capacity to lead in whatever position like men, and we shall continue to press for its actualisation.”
Ibezim-Ohaeri, however, called for reforms that would change the situation, saying “what the man has said is a clarion call to the country about the need for political reform and institutional reform. In advanced countries, that is how political debates that lead to reforms start, but in this case, that didn’t happen.”
According to Yesufu, women should not be afraid to take part in politics and there should be more enlightenment about this.
Noting how people could balance their religious and cultural beliefs with the need for more participation of women in politics, she said, “In terms of religion, I look at it in the perspective of talking about the relationship between husband and wife. So the man, as the head of the house, has the authority over his wife but that does not mean that she is his slave. And everybody has roles to play in the house and in the family but if we were in the National Assembly, for instance, I would not be married to you. We would be there as citizens following the constitution and representing our constituencies. When it comes to culture, it is a way of life and we need to define our way of life of today. Over 2,000 years ago, people didn’t go to school; 100 years ago, some were not wearing clothes and shoes, they were practically naked and maybe tying raffia palm around their waists. Are we still living like that?”
But a professor of politics, government and administration at the Nnamdi Azikiwe University, Awka, Anambra State, Amaechi Egboh, who described Kazaure’s views as ancient, said women would need to show more interest in politics and go for it, to be taken seriously.
“I don’t know him but he was talking from the point of view of the 13th, 14th or 15th century and not of this modern world. The crop of women we have in Nigeria today are well educated and well exposed. So, for that fact, they are in all spheres of human endeavours in Nigeria. Men and women should play complementary roles. But you don’t have to bring someone to come and participate in politics.
“If women are interested in politics, they should show interest, get involved in party politics, enrol and become active members. After all, women are more than men in population; so if they are organised with their numerical strength, there is no way they will not make a difference. But parties can encourage more women to participate in politics by reducing the cost of their forms so that more women will be able to afford them.”