By Chinwe Ogbuka, Assistant Director, Publicity
The Chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), Prof. Mahmood Yakubu has expressed commitment of the Commission to promote a level playing field for political participation of all stakeholders in the electoral process within its regulatory mandate.
INEC Chairman made this known at a one-day consultative meeting with leaders of political parties as part of its engagement with critical stakeholders in the electoral process, as it prepares for the 2019 General Elections.
The Chairman, who was represented by National Commissioner, Dr. Adekunle L. Ogunmola said that with specific regard to gender equality in the electoral process, the Commission developed INEC Gender Policy to ensure “our electoral functions and operations are gender sensitive and responsive.”
Prof. Yakubu noted that the INEC Gender Policy is expected to foster gender balance in the Commission and to stimulate stakeholders in the electoral process to do the same. “We will continue to engage with critical stakeholders at various levels to secure support to interrogate gender issues in politics and political processes in Nigeria”, he added.
He called on electoral stakeholders, especially political parties to make concerted effort to promote and achieve gender balance in their structure, policies and operations.
The Chairman said that as political party leaders, “you wield significant influence on the shape and structure of the political culture and orientation in the parties. I therefore, urge you to use this forum to discuss and find ways of complementing the Commission’s efforts in improving women’s political representation in elective and appointive positions of authority and leadership in Nigeria.”
The INEC boss said that as the 2019 general elections approach, the Commission encourages the political parties to do all within their powers to reverse the declining number of women in elective positions.
Prof. Yakubu observed that women’s empowerment has proven to be a viable tool for eradicating poverty and advancing sustainable development, adding that “it is in our collective best interest as political parties and electoral stakeholders to eliminate gender barriers and pave way for fair representation of women in party leadership.”
Welcoming participants at the meeting, National Commissioner Dr. Ogunmola reiterated the Commission’s commitment to providing a level playing field for all participants in the electoral process. He noted that women are disadvantaged in many ways and as such the objective of gender equality has remained paramount as ‘we discharge our duties.’
He urged stakeholders including political parties to support gender equality goals through reforms that would address the barriers women face in their political career, stating that “Our collective endorsement of the 35% Affirmative Action framework on Women’s Political Advancement and Representation in Democratic Governance in Nigeria will go a long way in consolidating Our democracy.”
Dr. Ogunmola said that promoting gender equality in political party operations is therefore a logical imperative and should be pursued with vigour considering that women’s empowerment has been identified as a viable tool for sustainable development.
Speaking on the INEC Gender Policy and Political Parties in Nigeria, the Deputy Director, Gender in INEC, Mrs. Blessing Obidegwu noted that women constitute about 49% of the population of the country and represents critical mass of voters and electoral stakeholders that cannot be ignored.
She regretted that this number of women is not visible in their participation in electoral process either as voters or candidates, noting that there are many barriers preventing women from actively participating in the electoral process.
Mrs. Obidegwu observed that the political parties had shown commitment to support women candidacy through some of their manifestoes and oral speeches but regretted that they are yet to practically demonstrate this.
In his contribution, the National Chairman of Inter-Party Advisory Council (IPAC), Dr. Muhammad L. Ndalalo pledged the commitment of political parties to providing level playing field for all participants in the electoral process.
He said that IPAC has made it mandatory for all political parties to ensure that there must be two women member of their executive and pledged to join INEC in its efforts to eliminate gender barriers in electoral process.
The keynote speaker, the Chairman of House Committee on Electoral Matters and Political Party Affairs, Hon. Aishatu J. Dukku called for a positive action in addressing problems hindering women from participating actively in electoral process.
Goodwill messages were given by UN Women Country Representative, Ms. Comfort Lamptey and Mr. Daniel Arsenault, Counsellor and Head of Development, Canadian High Commission to Nigeria sponsors of the meeting who expressed their willingness to partner with INEC and political parties to address the problem affecting women in politics.