Despite the existence of conventions, declarations agreements and laws to encourage women participation in politics, the African terrain is still too hostile for women to venture into politics, Bisi Adeleye-Fayemi, Ekiti State first lady in Nigeria, has said.
“Nobody is going to give us political space. We should be prepared to fight for it. It is not going to be easy but we should be able to prevail in the end and make the political terrain receptive to women,” she charged a packed crowd that gathered at the British Council Hall, Accra on Thursday evening.
Mrs. Adeleye-Fayemi, wife of Governor Kayode Fayemi of Ekiti State and co-founder of the African Women’s Development Fund (AWDF), was the main speaker at the Seventh Kronti Ne Akwamu Lecture instituted by the Center for Democratic Governance (CDD), a policy think tank.
The Kronti Ne Akwamu Lecture (Democracy and Governance Lecture) is one of CDD’s flagship programmes held annually to find solutions to Africa’s numerous democratic problems, and this year’s edition was on the theme ‘Democratization And Women In Africa – Progress, Stagnation Or Retreat.’
Mrs. Adeleye-Fayemi, who is also President of the Association of Women’s Rights in Development (AWID) Board of Directors, said, “Majority of women do not want to seek higher office due to the fear factor. The terrain is tough enough to scare you from this male-dominate arena.”
She stated that violence, intimidation, thuggery, rowdism, bullying had been unleashed on women who ventured into the political landscape while the few who were able to succeed pandered to the whims of their political godfathers and other influential persons on the society.
“If we do not put systems in place to ensure that women have a fair share in political office, we will always be reduced to offering support for the men and will never get to the frontline where our views and contributions towards national development can be properly felt.”
Mrs. Adeleye-Fayemi said male politicians made strenuous efforts to instill fear in women whose political potential and exploits threatened their political fortunes, noting, “Political spaces on the continent have grown more and more violent. Look at what happened in Kenya, Guinea, Zimbabwe and other places.”
She continued, “They use violence to deter women who want to occupy political space. Those who survive are mostly relatives of powerful male politicians and influential people but the tendency to manipulate such persons is not in doubt.”
She said the ultimate compliment that men gave to women was “‘she is not acting like a woman. She is like a man.’” She added that “women are not their worst enemies. It is rather the patriarchal dominance that is impeding the effort to empower women”
Mrs. Adeleye-Fayemi stated that the indifference that existed among women leaders was another factor impeding the crusade for gender equity, saying, “We are all used to taking care of our immediate needs. This middle class disease or malaise must be dealt with if we want to get to the top.”
She said the situation where the few women who got to the top tried to undermine other women should be condemned in no uncertain terms, noting, “We should serve with integrity and remain accountable to those who put us there.”
She said the time had come for political parties to effectively engage their women’s wing in all decisions and called on First Ladies on the continent to arrogate to themselves the right to lead women movements.
She called for mentorship of young women to make them responsible for the future, saying, “Women on the continent have been socialized into believing that what they are going to accomplish will be less important but this is the time to work hard to bring hope to them.”
Justice Vida Akoto Bamfo, a Supreme Court judge who stood in for Chief Justice Georgina Wood, said even though the effort to get women into responsible positions was being realized, there was the need to accelerate it to ensure the total development of the continent.
Trudy Kernighan, Canadian High Commissioner to Ghana, said societies in which women were excluded from public life, either formally or informally, could not be described as truly democratic, adding, “It is only when women participate fully in policy-making and institution building will their perspectives be truly valued and integrated and the concept of democracy will be fully realized.”