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Women’s Participation In Politics And Decision Making In Nigeria

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Monday, March 21st, 2016

It has been established that the development of any country requires the participation of both men and women.  There is global recognition that gender equality in political participation is a fundamental aspect of modern democratic governance. It is expected that both men and women should have equal rights and opportunities to participate fully in all aspects and at all levels of political processes. But in practice, women face challenges and the number of women in leadership and decision making positions is abysmally low. Meanwhile, it has been proven that countries with increased women’s participation in politics and leadership positions tend to be more inclusive, egalitarian and democratic.

Scholars have pointed out that gender relations have made it difficult for one half of the population (women) to make significant contribution to development hence the need to understand gender and gender relations. The concept of gender is better understood when analysed with the concept of sex, gender relations and patriarchy. All human beings are normally born male or female. Young males are called boys while adult males are called men. Young females are called girls while adult females are called women. Women all over the world are marginalized. Even in the so-called advanced democracies, women are still marginalized. For instance in the United Kingdom and the United States, women representation in parliament was 9.1 and 9.0 percent respectively as at 1994. The UNDP’s 1995 Human Development Report estimated that women’s unpaid work is equivalent to some $11 trillion annually. Although women constitute over 50 percent of the population of the world, they are relegated to the background in every facet of life. It is important to note that there is a difference between sex and gender. Sex refers to the biological differences between male and female. For instance, the adult female has breasts that can secrete milk to feed a baby but the adult male does not have. Gender is the socially and culturally constructed roles for men and women. For instance, gender roles of men as owners of property, decision makers and heads of household are socially, historically and culturally constructed and have nothing to do with biological differences. Gender roles differ from place to place and change with time. However, sex roles are naturally fixed.

Gender relations are part of social relations, referring to the ways in which the social categories of men and women, male and female, relate over the whole range of social organization, not just to interactions between individual men and women in the sphere of personal relationships, or in terms of biological reproduction. In all aspects of social activity, including access to resources for production, rewards or remuneration for work, distribution of consumption, income or goods, exercise of authority and power, and participation in cultural, political and religious activity, gender is important in establishing people’s behaviour and the outcome of any social interaction. As well as relationships between individual men and women, gender relations describe the social meaning of being male and female, and thus what is considered appropriate behaviour or activity for men and women.

As noted above, women have been historically marginalized in all areas including social, economic and political spheres.  Luckily, there is a growing recognition of the untapped capacity and talents of women and women’s leadership. From 1999-2009, the rate of women’s representation in national parliaments globally has grown from 13.1 percent at the end of 1999 to 18.6 percent at the end of 2009. Africa has particularly seen a dramatic increase in the number of women in parliament from 10.9 percent in 1999 to 17.6 percent in 2009.

It has been documented that in Nigeria, women and girls suffer systematic disadvantage and discrimination that is magnified for those in the poorest states and sectors of society. Nigeria’s 80.2 million women and girls have significantly worse life chances than men and also their sisters in comparable societies. In Nigeria, 60-79 percent of the rural work force is women but men are five times more likely to own land. Women with dependants pay more tax than men. Women in formal employment are paid less than men. Nearly five times as many judges and permanent secretaries are men rather than women. Only 4 percent of local government councilors are women. Up to one third of Nigerian women have been subjected to violence.


Similarly, women are marginalized in political leadership. The number of Women in parliament all over the world is not commensurate with the population of women. Meanwhile, studies show that higher number of women in parliament generally contributes to stronger attention to women’s issues. There are many factors that hinder women’s participation in politics. These include patriarchy, violence, money, cultural obstacles, and religious barriers.

The situation in Nigeria is similar to other countries of the world.  The constitutional history of Nigeria shows that this exclusion dates back to the colonial times when women were not allowed to vote. The Clifford Constitution of 1922 restricted the electorate to adult males in Calabar and Lagos who have been resident in the city for at least one year and had a gross annual income of N100.00. The Richard constitution of 1946 only reduced the property qualification to N50.00. The Macpherson Constitution removed property qualification but still restricted the electorate to only adult males who pay their taxes. In fact, it was not until 1979 before the right to vote was extended to all Nigerian women. While men started voting in Nigeria in 1922, women in all parts of the country started voting in 1979, a difference of fifty seven years.

Democratisation of suffrage in Nigeria

1914 Amalgamation None
1922 Clifford Adult Males with annual income of N100
1946 Richards Adult Males with annual income of N50
1951 Macpherson Adult Males who paid their taxes
1954 Lyttleton Adult Males+ Females in East & West
1960 Independence Adult Males+ Females in East & West
1963 Republican Adult Males+ Females in East & West
1979 Presidential Adult Males & Females


The end result is that the number of women in political leadership is very low in Nigeria as can be seen from the table below showing female representation in governance in Nigeria from 1999 -2011.

The table below shows a summary of women’s representation in elective positions since 1999:

S/N Position No of Available Seats No of Women in 1999 No of Women in 2003 No of Women in 2007 No of Women in 2011 No of women in 2015
1 Presidency 2 0 0 0 0 0
2 Senate 109 3 4 8 8 7
3 House of Reps 360 12 23 26 26 19
4 Governorship 36 0 0 0 0 0
5 Deputy Governorship 36 1 2 6 3 4
6 36 States Houses of Assembly 990 12 38 54 62 NA
Total                                           1533 28 67 94 99  


During the 2007 elections, women constituted about 11% of all candidates with only one woman contesting for the office of the President; 33.9% for governorship positions; 13.5% for Senate, 15.6% for House of Representatives, and 15.8% for Houses of Assembly. At the end of the elections, women occupied only about 7.5 percent of key leadership positions in Nigeria.

Interestingly, when the President Yar’Adua administration came into office, it promised to give 30 percent of political appointment to women (less than the 35 percent in the National Gender Policy). But an assessment conducted by ActionAid after one year indicated that women appointment was only 11 percent.

Official records released by INEC shows that a total of 809 women emerged as candidates for the 2011 elections on the platforms of various political parties. This represents a 17% increase over 692 women who emerged as candidates during the 2007 elections.[1] But when the results was released, women’s representation at national level regressed slightly from 7.5% in 2007 to 7.1% in 2011. In the 2015 elections, the number further decreased to 7 in Senate (6.4 percent) and 19 in House of Representatives (5.2 percent).

It interesting to note that during President Goodluck Jonathan administration, women occupied 33 percent of cabinet positions. This decreased to 19 percent in President Muhammadu Buhari’s cabinet. This is very poor compared to other countries in Africa: Rwanda -63.5 percent for lower house and 38.5 percent for Upper house; Senegal (42.7 percent); South Africa- 41.9 percent for lower house and 35.2 percent for Upper house; Burundi- 36.4 percent.



As noted above, the challenges inhibiting women’s participation in politics are multifaceted. Therefore, the political empowerment of women needs to be comprehensive involving political, economic, cultural and social dimensions. This is why there is the need for a Gender Agenda for the empowerment of women.

The agenda should focus on the following areas to address structural inequalities that constrain women.

  • Increasing women’s access to, control over and benefit from basic assets such as land, water, forest resources and capital. At the core of this issue are power and policy: learning how to address these two factors is the key to bringing about equitable and sustainable development;
  •  Enabling women to have more say in community affairs and at higher political levels. Opening avenues for women’s representational role in decision-making bodies implies facilitating the right of association and expression, building awareness of women’s rights, questioning gender stereotypes, and facilitating women’s participation by ensuring the provision of basic services. It may also require positive action, such as reserving places for women in decision-making bodies. The gender policy provides that at least 35 percent of positions should be reserved for women. The new administration should implement this policy.
  • Advocating and coordinating efforts to increase investments in basic rural infrastructure and services, particularly water, health and education – limited access to which places a special burden on poor women and girls.
  • Gaining men’s support for women’s empowerment. Consciousness-raising among men has to go hand in hand with women’s mobilization and group formation. The achievement of gender equality is not the sole responsibility of marginalized women: men and political leaders (both men and women) must also be engaged as champions of equality and women’s empowerment.


It must be recognized that the principle of equal rights of men and women is enshrined in the Nigerian Constitution. Article 42 guarantees right to freedom from discrimination on the grounds of sex. In addition, the Nigerian Gender Policy prescribes that at least 35 percent of political leaders will be women. Moreover, many political parties have waived nomination fees for women. Yet, the number of women in political positions continue to decrease in Nigeria such that the percent of women in parliament in Nigeria is one of the lowest in the world well below the African average.  This is as a result of the patriarchal nature of the Nigerian society and discrimination against women due to gender stereotypes that are deeply rooted in culture and religion in the Nigerian society.

Therefore, attempts to promote women’s participation in politics and decision making requires the active participation of all stakeholders:


  • Make commitments to address challenges holding women and girls down
  • Implement the Gender Policy immediately and ensure that women constitute at least 35 percent of women appointment and increase it gradually to 50 percent by 2030.
  • Amend the constitution to provide for affirmative action for women
  • Abrogate all laws that are discriminatory to women and are repugnant to natural justice
  • Implement a gender agenda


Political Parties

  • Ensure that women occupy leadership positions in the political party structure
  • Support women candidates during elections and appointments
  • Give waivers to women in payment of nomination fees



  • Stop gender stereotyping of women as objects of pleasure
  • Support women in the media


Educational Institutions

  • Eliminate gender stereotypes from educational curriculum and instruction materials



  • Socialise boys and girls in such a way as to prevent gender stereotypes and produce the new man and woman with new and progressive conceptions of masculinity and femininity.

Civil Society

  • Continue advocacy for gender equality and women empowerment
  • Involve men and boys in the struggle for gender equality and women empowerment

There is no doubt that women participation in politics and decision making will benefit society as a whole. It is not just good politics but also good economics. It is not a favour done to women. This is why all stakeholders must play their roles so that there will be increased women participation in politics and decision making in Nigeria.


Dr Otive Igbuzor  (P.hd) is a Pharmacist, leadership development scholar and practitioner, social activist and researcher. He is the Executive Director, African Centre for Leadership, Strategy & Development (Centre LSD). He can be reached at This is an abridged version of Dr Otive’s paper, we will place the full version complete with endnotes in the documents under the Resources section of


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