Nigeria has been deprived of female leadership and continues to experience gross underrepresentation of women in leadership, especially in politics. If anything is to change ahead of the 2023 elections, we can all agree that we need to do things differently if we desire a different outcome. The Leading Woman Show: Election Series is a response to this for us at WILAN.
The proposed Weekender column titled ‘Leading Woman with Abosede George-Ogan’ will leverage Season 1 of the ‘The Leading Woman Show: Election Series’, a 13-episode TV show airing weekly starting Sunday, December 18th sponsored by the National Endowment for Democracy (NED). The show will interrogate some common misconceptions we as Nigerians have of Women as Leaders.
Therefore, the column will seek to share insights from the show highlighting the barriers and benefits of women’s leadership inclusion with the hope that it will inspire all stakeholders who can play a role to take action. For this initial series, the column will focus on women’s political leadership through these topics:
1. A Faulty Foundation: Why Women Fail.
2. Too Cool for Politics, Are You?
3. The Dirty Game of Politics. Can Women Play It?
4. Male Allyship: Why Women Need Men.
5. The Power of the Citizenry for Women’s Political Inclusion.
6. Women Supporting Women: Truth or Myth.
7. Women’s Emotions: A Strength for Leadership or Weakness?
8. Are Women Running but Going Nowhere?
9. Media Portrayal of Women in Politics.
10. In the Public Eye: The Power of Women in Active Service.
11. Women as Custodians of Patriarchy.
12. The X-factor: Where are the Godmothers?
13. The Power of Women at the Grassroots.
The show has secured support for a second season so there is an opportunity for the column to continue beyond this first season.
Edition 1: A Faulty Foundation
If I could count the number of times Nigerians have said, ‘my mother is the pillar of the Home’ and convert that number to votes, it will be sufficient to elect a female President. I am puzzled when I ask people who say this a follow on a question like, so that means your Mother can be the Governor of your State right? and they say no or hesitate at best. I wonder what the missing link is. If you are reading this and wondering what’s pillar of the Home got to do with attaining a leadership position, especially in politics, then you are in the right spot.
The perception that an average Nigerian has of the female gender varies depending on many factors including geographical location, background, religion, education, exposure, lived experience, knowledge of history or current affairs, occupation, etc. In summary, a person’s socialisation process plays a crucial role in how they perceive women as leaders. Though it is gradually changing, the general perception is that women are carers and not leaders, skilled enough to be homemakers but not nation builders.
How did we get here? Have women always been relegated to the kitchen or the ‘other room’? These are questions that I ponder as well. However, history reveals that women have played significant roles in society from Queen Amina of Zaria to Funmilayo Ransome-Kuti, Margaret Ekpo, and Hajia Gambo Sawaba Nigerian women were actively part of the leadership structure in society.
At this point, you are wondering what happened. Or what changed? There is a school of thought that blames it on colonial rule, others say it was the military rule but a major culprit is cultural practices that subconsciously ingrain in our minds that men are superior to women and in many cases celebrate the male child over the female child. On the flip side of that coin is religious beliefs that connote women are less than men though the religious books record that males and females were created equal. The effect of this belief system is the poor representation of women in leadership positions across the Country.
What is evident is that the belief system that led us here is faulty and we must all reflect on what laid the foundation that we have built. For many, it was the household, the roles they saw their parents play, or the roles they were asked to play compared to their siblings. Then we end up in School and the education system further reinforces these roles.
So, like constructing a House, many of us have built our perception of women on a faulty foundation, and together as a society, we have constructed norms that led us to this point where a woman reaching a leadership position is likened to shattering a glass ceiling. I hate to burst your bubble but you and I are guilty.
Thankfully, there is a new generation of Nigerians (Gen Z’s) breaking the status quo and taking no prisoners when it comes to their choices. Some of them claim to be gender blind but only time will tell if this will lead to gender equality in leadership especially politics. We hope they lay a better foundation that ensures Women have a fairer chance of getting into leadership positions.
The good news is the same way we bring down a building when we realise that it has been built on a faulty foundation and build it back up. We have an opportunity to unlearn some of the belief systems that Nigeria is built on and relearn better ways to ensure that barriers for women to attain leadership positions are removed. The ripple effect of this will benefit all of us including men, women, girls, boys, and persons with disabilities as the evidence shows.
Edition 2: Too Cool for Politics
Have you ever heard anyone you know say, “I can never run for office”? Or “Politics is not for me”? I call the people in this category ‘Too Cool for Politics’. I suspect that many of you reading this right now fall into this category and I wish that I could find out your specific reasons but I believe I vaguely understand and I do not blame you.
The brand of politics we have in Nigeria excludes many. The lack of trust that citizens have in politicians and public officials does not help especially for those whose reputation means a lot to them. So, there is a group of Nigerians who believe that certain type of men and women are not qualified to be politicians or to seek political office because they have been known in the society for something completely different or less conventional than politics.
The tolerance level of Nigerians for people coming from other sectors to contest for political office is incredibly low. Even more so when the person is a woman, as we have seen play out time and time again. There are many Nigerian women who have attained positions of influence in society through their work in other industries: movie, music, sports, and corporate Nigeria who have received a raised brow after making a public announcement of their decision to run for office. This is an irony because many of their male counterparts have embarked on this path and achieved great success with little criticism.
I am reminded of a popular actress who was made the Deputy Governor candidate of a leading party in Lagos State ahead of the 2023 elections. My goodness, the vitriol that followed with people criticising her ability to keep a family and therefore implying she is in no position to Govern a State. Somehow, all her awards, influence over millions evident in her social media following was thrown out the door and reduced to nothing. This is the society you and I are a part of.
The million naira question remains; what is that perception gap that allows us as a society to think that men have honed transferable skills that they can apply across leadership positions in different sectors but somehow, women have not.
Non-traditional female aspirants and candidates must be determined to show Nigerians that the same skills they have used to thrive in other sectors are the same skills that are required for political leadership and public service. They must also take it more seriously as women and children often find themselves at the receiving end of bad leadership or poor governance.
Many of us who think we are too cool for politics miss a huge opportunity to contribute to the collective progress of the Nation. There are many ways to brings about change but politics and public service is one of the most significant ways to make an impact so we must take advantage of it when the opportunity presents itself.
Ultimately, non-traditional candidates, male or female who seek political office, must have the right support to make this transition. If the Nigerian society wants to benefit from the value that these unconventional people have to offer, then it must be intentional about creating pathways for them to transition, especially the women. Thus, political institutions ought to make an effort to ensure that the political arena is conducive to receive the quality of human resources that only a diverse group of people from different backgrounds can offer.
If you or anyone you know falls into this category of being ‘Too cool for Politics’, you are invariably saying, you are too cool for good governance as well. We need to get involved so commit to starting with baby steps, make sure you vote, support a Woman who wants to transition from a non-political sector into politics and of course, if you do decide that politics or public service is for you, remember that all politics is local so start from where you are, with what you have.
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Edition 3: The ‘Dirty Game’ of Politics
Politics in Africa and even globally has a common description – it is known as a ‘dirty game’. This description and perception of politics is one of the main reasons for political apathy across the board and why ‘good’ or ‘clean’ people don’t venture into this terrain in Nigeria.
There are many people who believe that politics is ‘a do or die affair’ and therefore, a profession reserved only for the strong-hearted. These notions while not completely unfounded undermine the essence of politics as a democratic process to contest and get elected as political leaders.
While this negative image of politics impacts on the number of men and women who get involved, the specific brand of politics in Nigeria which is often characterised by violence, midnight meetings and consultations, sorcery, rumour mongering, character assassination and sometimes destruction of lives and property has contributed significantly to the reduced number of women actively involved in politics in Nigeria.
For this reason, we find ourselves asking the important question: ‘can women play this dirty game of politics?’ In a patriarchal society like ours where the nature of politics as we know it goes against a woman’s conditioning of how she is expected to conduct herself but complements men’s natural instincts and conditioning, it begs the question. A major antithesis that exists is that women are often described and want to be seen as passionate, softhearted, empathetic while politicians are often described as ruthless with an every ‘man’ for himself mantra.
In addition, violence and insecurity around the political process is a major and genuine concern for women seeking elective office. Beyond physical violence, women face psychological intimidation in the form of name-calling, hate speech, character assassination, and threats aimed at forcing them to withdraw from the race. With limited options, women who have been brave enough to go on this journey have had to learn how to navigate this challenge on their own, especially online.
So, if we want to see more women getting involved, it sounds to me like we would need to collectively figure out how to rebrand politics and actively address these valid concerns that women have which serves as a deterrent to their participation and ultimately representation in politics.
I see a few opportunities to start redefining the current brand of politics we have. First, the political institutions need to review their party structure and operations to intentionally enforce the punishment for violation to their constitution which makes provision for the peaceful conduct of elections. Of course, the Independent National Electoral Commission also has an oversight function here as well.
Secondly, I believe that the media remains the most powerful tool in shaping public perception of politics as a ‘dirty game’ or otherwise. This is why we must harmonise efforts with the media around the narratives that they push about politics. Finally, women need constant support financially, emotionally, psychologically, physically and otherwise. To organisations working on providing or funding this support, we celebrate you and encourage you to keep pulling down those barriers so more women can participate and be represented in politics.
Ultimately, we must not forget that politics in itself is only a means to an end. In the words of a female politician who has walked this road, Ndi Kato reminds us that “politics is a conduit for good governance”. With women and children always at the receiving end of bad governance, it is critical that more women get involved in politics so we have more of them in a position to offer good governance.
Episode 4 – Male Allyship: Why Women need Men
We cannot deny the importance of male allyship in the drive for gender parity generally, and specifically in politics. Simply put, a male ally is a man who supports and advocates for gender-equality; he believes that there should be no difference in the opportunities that are available to both the male and female gender. This definition is important because the brand of gender-equality that has been paraded gives the impression that women are trying to take over from men and that’s far from the truth.
The evidence available shows that when men advocate and act on behalf of and in support of women, it can make a substantial impact and reduce the underrepresentation of women. However, the reality is that, in our society, men continue to hold most of the influential leadership and decision-making positions, therefore their action is necessary in the gender equality equation.
I want to invite you to pause at this point and think about your own sphere of influence, what do you observe? Who is calling the shots as they say? A man or a woman? Selah. If you are based in Nigeria, allow me to point out a few popular instances in Nigerian politics. The President is a man, the Vice President is a man, all the Governors of the 36 states are men, the Senate President is a man, the Speaker of the House of Representatives is a man, all the 44 Ministers are men save for 7, all members of the 109 Senators are men save for 8 and also all the 360 members of the house of representatives are men save for 11 women. I’m sure you get the gist and you will agree with me that there is something wrong with this equation.
For the potential male ally reading this and wondering why should I become a ‘heforshe’ or where are the ‘serious’ women I can support? I am pleased to announce to you that they are all around you. All you have to do is look a little closer. By the way, I’m not referring to the patronising comment we hear from some men who say, ‘I have your type at Home’. I mean, I will manage, ‘I have a sister/sisters’ or ‘I have a daughter’ or the most popular one ‘my Mother is the love of my life’. While I believe these experiences can influence how men perceive and treat women, I wish any of them translated to a man’s ability to show allyship to the female gender. Unfortunately, this is not the case.
There are benefits to being a male ally in different spheres but it is particularly rewarding in politics for the broader societal impact it offers. Afterall, the political system of every society should be a representation of the people within that society. With more women in politics, this will mean more diversity, and with diversity comes better outcomes. Better outcomes means that national development is at the forefront of decision making. Sounds like a win-win to me.
Women make up half of Nigeria’s population, I think it is only fair that they make up half of the decision-makers in the Country. Dear male ally, we need you to deconstruct the patriarchal norms that have bestowed power on men as a privilege. Be intentional about supporting women in little and big ways and when you get an opportunity to advocate for women, do not hesitate to take it. Most importantly, once you become a convert, educate the men around you. Studies show that men are more likely to listen to other men than they would listen to women.
For women, having a male ally or male allies increases the level of trust we feel amongst male counterparts. By supporting and sponsoring women, men can facilitate women’s political career progression and create an environment in which women feel included. In return, men who support women have a unique opportunity and an added advantage of a broader network that can benefit from requited support from women that they support. Worth the trade off if you ask me.
Episode 5 – The Power of the Citizen
We do not need a grand statistics table to tell us that Nigerians don’t see women as competent and capable leaders. If we did, we would have had, at least, one female Governor in the Country. This lack of trust from the electorate is evident in the gender gap we have had since 1999 and in many ways discourages women from actively vying for political office positions.
Ideally, our political candidates should be both competent and capable to win the support of the electorate. However, the outcomes delivered by the political leaders that we have elected since 1999 proves contrary. Where this should translate to more support for female political leaders, the public often assume that female candidates have less experience or ability than their male counterparts and therefore have not fully explored them as an alternative.
Women can be leaders. But those who vote or nominate leaders must look past their gender and concentrate on their credentials. On the other side, women need to find the best way to position themselves to build public confidence and win their support. If you are wondering why the support of the electorate is so important,let me introduce you to the concept of the ‘Office of the Citizen’. Technically, the electorate are the employers and each election cycle, they get a chance to hire leaders who will represent them and their interests. They are the bosses.
The EndSARS movement demonstrated this power of the citizen and to date in Nigeria is the most powerful representation we’ve seen from the youth who make up the largest voting block in the Country. As seen in the most recent election cycle, citizens also have the power to sway the media’s attention and you and I know that if the media gives visibility to a candidate, it could be the difference between winning or losing. As the voting constituency, when the electorate supports a candidate, there is a very high chance of victory.
With this knowledge and limited references available, women need to find ways to become more visible and demonstrate their capacity to the electorate. While we do not expect voters to lower their standards whatever those standards are for women or simply vote for them because they are women, the voters need to be willing to change their perception of women as leaders and actually vote for them when they consider them the best candidate. We cannot expect women to prove themselves or gain experience when we will not give them the job in the first place.
Unfortunately, for where Nigeria is at the moment, women will have to do over and beyond what their male counterparts would. However, if this is what we must do to prove we are competent and capable political leaders, then it is what we should do. As without this vote of confidence from citizens, women might continue to struggle.
Until next week, remember that if you are eligible to vote in Nigeria then you have one more week to pick up your Permanent Voters Card (PVC). I have my PVC and I believe that women’s leadership can change everything, everywhere.
Don’t forget to watch The Leading Woman Show: Election Series on News Central every Sunday at 7pm on DSTV Channel 422 and Startimes Channel 274. You can also watch the replay on the WILAN Global YouTube page and on R2TV on GoTV Channel 112 every Saturday.
About Abosede George-Ogan
Abosede George-Ogan, Founder of the Women in Leadership Advancement Network (WILAN) is a tri-sector leader with almost 20 years of experience working across the non-profit, private, and public sectors as a development professional. She began her career in development with ActionAid International Nigeria and coordinated Corporate Social Responsibility and Sustainability for Keystone Bank, FirstBank, and Samsung Electronics West Africa, respectively.
Abosede also served as Director, Strategy, Funding, and Stakeholder Management at the Lagos State Employment Trust Fund (LSETF) as part of a team creating jobs in Africa’s largest city by population, Lagos. She Chairs the Gender sub-committee of the Crosscutting Technical Working Group of the Nigeria Medium Term National Development Plan Team and is a Vital Voice VV Engage fellow.
She has a degree in Political Science/Public Administration from Igbinedion University, an MSc in Communication for Innovation & Development from The University of Reading, and a Master in Public Administration (MPA) from the Harvard Kennedy School where she was recognised with the Josephine Vernon award as the most outstanding Edward S. Mason Fellow and the Women and Public Policy Programme Barbara Jordan Award for Women’s Leadership.