British Deputy High Commissioner facilitates brainstorming session between business, civil society and media stakeholders on barriers to women’s participation in politics
On Monday evening at the British residence in Lagos, the Deputy High Commissioner hosted a diverse array of stakeholders to a conversation on the role of women in politics. The event began with a panel of 4 women: Sola Salako; founder of the Consumer Advocacy Forum, Toyosi Akerele-Ogunsiji; a political activist and CEO of Rise Networks, Honourable Nkoyo Toyo; founder of the Women for Women movement, and Wunmi Aboderin; chairperson of Wimbiz. The discussion was moderated by the Deputy High Commissioner who posed thematic questions to the panelists based on the areas in which they worked.
Toyosi Akerele Ogunsiji, a youth and civic rights campaigner, on why women and youth matter said although in their rigorous domestic training they have learnt valuable leadership and management skills, women often have to be 10 times better than the men to get what they are due. Speaking on the importance of male allies especially in intimate relationships, said ‘the best career choice a woman will make is the man she marries, because when she has someone who can validate the dreams she has at night, it gives her the confidence to go out into the world to make it happen.’
Sola Salako, a consumer protection and civic engagement campaigner, on the underestimated impact of civic engagement said ‘In Nigeria they don’t let you do anything except you are from that place. Go to your hometown, gather the women there and listen to their needs. It costs very little to solve these needs for them, but the social capital you acquire from that goes a long way.’ Addressing the fact that many women’s political ambitions are hampered by lack of funding, she stressed the potency of social capital as an alternative to monetary capital.
Hon. Nkoyo Toyo, a veteran women rights activist and founder of the Women for Women movement gave the room a crash history course in the evolution of women movements dating from the military era. Speaking from her decades of experience she stressed the importance of women joining the current political system however unsavory it seemed to bring about change from within. ‘Every existing political party is like a family. You need to understand the nuances to make them work to your advantage.’ she said, also calling on women never to say that politics was not for them.
Wunmi Aboderin, on the role of business in supporting women highlighted the importance of support structures whether through finance, networking or administration. She also gave an account of programmes Wimbiz had implemented in the past to support women in politics.
Asides from the panellists, two women germane to the topic; Professor Remi Sonaiya, and Dr Elishama Ideh, the first and current female presidential aspirants in the 2015 and 2019 elections respectively, were asked to comment on their experiences. Professor Remi Sonaiya, who made history in 2015 as the first woman to run for the highest office in the land started by requesting the audience to rise up and give a minute of silence for the victims of the Plateau massacre on Sunday. Reflecting on her decision to run for office, she said that it was the repeated barrage of tragedies like this drove her out of the university and into politics, because she realized that ‘politicians are the people who determine our quality of life as a nation,’ She concluded by saying that the race never ends, and she is and will continue running.
Dr Elishama Ideh, who is a presidential aspirant in the forthcoming elections, commented on the unique traits women possessed that made them better leaders. She admitted that it could sometimes be intimidating when in the company of male politicians, even though they were often louder, she often had a perspective that enabled her see aspects of problems they could not.
The discussion was then thrown to the floor, where members of the audience including Omotola Jalade-Ekeinde, Adesuwa Onyenokwe, gave their perspectives on the topic. In her closing address, the Deputy High Commissioner charged the audience not to feel powerless, reminding them that they didn’t need to look to the West for inspiration but Rwanda, a fellow African country. She thanked the panelists and audiences for their passionate contributions, noting that it was clear that what was needed was a way harness the energy through strategic organization. She also expressed hope that the coming elections would bring a new tide for the plight of women in Nigerian politics.