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Dr. Muhammad Zaiyan Umar and  Abubakar Abdullahi
Department of Political Science
 Usmanu Danfodiyo University, Sokoto

This paper posits that there is observed in Nigeria, the continuous under representation of women in both the elective and appointive positions at all levels of the society. It argues that given their population and innate potentialities in contributing to the political and socioeconomic development of the country, it behoves on the state to map out workable strategies that would ensure the effective empowerment of women at all levels. Doing so, it concludes, will enable the womenfolk to maximize their potentialities and further help consolidate the gains that contemporary democratic opening provides.
Keywords: Women, Empowerment, Development, Democracy, Governance


Contemporary discourses have clearly shown the widely felt need for the upliftment of the social, economic, political and cultural status of women across societies. Perhaps, the rekindling of interest in this regard may have stemmed from the opening occasioned by the triumph of democracy across the globe, with its concomitant elements of participation and representation, as by the purposeful push witnessed in recent time by a cross-section of women, themselves, as by the activities of several civil society groups and Non-Governmental Organizations. The mandate of these groups which essentially revolves around issues that seek to, essentially, redress imbalances and other forms of perceived inequities, made them veritable instruments for the projection and promotion of women issues.
            The above is also a pointer to the popularity of the commonly held view among scholars and activists alike that women in Nigeria, particularly, are a disadvantaged group compared to their men counterparts. Indeed, gender discourses have generally, if not successfully, portrayed the womenfolk as suffering from all manner of deprivation due to harnessed, could contribute to societal development and/or transformation. Among other things, being veritable instrument in shaping and molding the character and disposition of individuals, by virtue of the motherly roles, it is often argued, women can serve as catalysts for the social engineering of human societies. The questions, then, arise: how have they fared in this regard? What gains have accrued to them in the amelioration of the perceived inequities against them? Conversely, what factors prevent the realization of their goals in Nigeria? How can these be assuaged in the bid to better their lot in the scheme of things? These and other issues shall be addressed in the sections that follow. First, however, some clarification on the usage of the term ‘empowerment’

The Concept Empowerment

            Attempts to define empowerment must contend with difficulties in respect to variation in viewpoints. One, however, may identify two perspectives that perceive it as a goal and as a process. Whether conceived in the former or the latter forms, empowerment is simply about acquiring the power to partake, or to exert significant influence in government and/or organizational process. It is as much about the right to be heard, be involved, to have a voice, as it is about the opportunity to question, resist or checkmate arbitrary policies, among others.

If empowerment is about “being able to participate in society, to enjoy its fruits and fulfils one’s own potentials (s)” as Veronica Couldshed and John Ovrme (1998:65) contends, then it is necessarily a multifaceted process. In its broader sense, it entails changes in the social, political, psychological as well as cultural aspects of life of the people in such a way as to remove obstacles or hindrances that may militate against the development of the human potentials and talents necessary for human development.
Politically, empowerment of all people, women inclusive, may warrant, among other things, the putting in place of tangible and workable strategies aimed at propelling individuals to political and public positions at the local, state and national arenas. At the local level, specifically, empowerment may equally involve devising measures that would increase the capacity of individuals and groups for self-reliance and self actualization. For women, this requires making inroads into areas that have hitherto been the dominant prerogatives of men, including involvement in activities that possesses the capacity for uplifting, first, their economic status and, subsequently, serves as the spring-board for active involvement in political activities.

The Context of Women Empowerment
            As was hinted in the introduction, women studies that are aimed at addressing the multifaceted dimension of the problems women face in contemporary times have been monumental. The new concern for that may not be de - linked from the knowledge that neglecting this large segment of any country’s population may impede the drive towards progress and development. It is little wonder, therefore, that several efforts have been made to critically address these main concerns with a view to effectively utilize the talents available to them.
            However, in spite of this recognition and the desire for improvement, the lot of this large proportion of the world population has not been adequately addressed. In African societies, specifically, the womenfolk have continuously been subjected to series of hardship, including, of course, the denial of their inherent political and particularly, social rights (Naake, 2004). In the broader context, the story has not been quite different, for in the views of Suleiman (2002:181),
…women, the world over share a common feature: they are marginalized in the sphere of public life. Most countries register five percent or less of women participation at every level, in every sphere of government, with the exception of some Scandinavian countries like Norway, which has about 38% women presence in its parliament. Women’s political subordination greatly hinders their capacity to initiate appropriate social change, and protect their interests as a distinct group.
Needless to argue also, in the African context in particular, women are perpetually condemned to playing roles in the sexual and domestic spheres. As Belington et.a.l,  (1991:121) contends, they are considered as no more than the “sexual objects of men”. In other words, while in the west, for example, women are relatively equal partners, or at least, equal wage earners as men, in the African setting, the contrary obtains. Women’s role, in the latter case, is largely that of wives and mothers. Their capacity for wage earning and, therefore, for relative autonomous existence, becomes curtailed. Thus, by being concerned merely with the “personal, private and less visible world of family and home, which lacks a clear time span (Belington, 1991:123), rather than the instrumental public world of work, most of them become adversely disempowered materially and otherwise.
            It was this seeming helplessness which envelopes the womenfolk that calls for attention. Recently and because of the deafening claims being made on their behalf, sequel to, among other things, the wave of democratization in many areas, the world attention has been drawn to the utility or even necessity of mapping out concrete ways through which the women lot could be bettered. The battle cry, therefore, has been one that clamors for self-reliance and wider involvement in all spheres of life. But self-reliance, in particular, requires much confidence, including increasing capabilities and concrete achievements. How was the homefolk fare in the regard? The next section shall address the question.

Nigerian Women and  Development
            While women continuously grapple with difficulties foisted upon them by cultural and other fiats, yet one must acknowledge the fact that they were and remain partners in the development of societies. Indeed, besides their motherly and wifely roles, they have been critical actors in a number of developmental activities. Indeed, in the context of Nigeria, history has been replete with the notable contributions of women in various spheres of life – politics, economy, education, etc. In the sphere of governance, in particular, women’s place is attested to by the following entry:

Beginning in 1929, women in the southern part of Nigeria combined the struggle for independence with attempts to address the socio – economic policies of the colonial administration and their impact on women’s status and quality of life …. Under the leadership of Mrs. Ransome – Kuti, women questioned the character of governance; the authoritarian, arbitrary nature of decision making by the sole Native Authority and the colonial governments. Women organized “militantly” and began o develop a movement that immediately became a part of the independence national movement, but also developed a clear voice in questioning the implications of existing policies on the quality of life and status of women … it was from these anti – colonial resistance struggles that the foundations for women’s emancipation, equality and empowerment were first laid (IDEA, 2000:109 – 110)

 In the North, the astute doggedness of veteran politician and activist Hajia Gambo Sawaba, among others, in the political struggle in the first and second republics is a further testimony in this regard. More recently, perhaps, the contributions or roles played by women ministers such as Ngozi Okwonjo – Nweala in the finance ministry, Oby Ekweselize in the solid minerals and education the last administration, as well as Dora Akunyili of the National Agency for Food and Drugs Administration and Control (NAFDAC), Ndidi Okereke of the Nigerian Stock Exchange (NSE) and the current Speaker of the ministries in House of Representatives, Patricia Etteh, attests to the potentialities of the womenfolk.

 Yet, their sheer numerical size, making up about half of the country’s population - 68,293,680 females against 71, 709, 863 males – according to the 2006 provisional census results (FRN Official Gazette, 2007), not only makes them a force to reckon with, but also exposes the state’s failure to make the womenfolk presence felt in ways that measures up with their commensurate contribution in Nigeria’s developmental drive. In spite of this marginal presence in the public sphere, their strong presence in the private realm, however, is never in doubt. Women associations and groups, addressing various social, economic and political concerns have sprouted up alongside their male counterparts, shaping various policies and programmes of governments at all levels. As Umar and Sidi (2002:109) argued:
Women’s contribution to the development of any society is an established fact. In Africa, as in other continents of the world, their basic roles in households and in various spheres of the national economy are never in doubt.
            Indeed, it is now germane to argue that in several parts of the country, women have been found to contribute enormously to the affairs of their society or community in both the private and public realms. While in the urban centers, women could be found, even though in no significant number, in public position at all strata of society, in the rural areas, the womenfolk are essential stake-holders in food cultivation or economic production as in other areas of development. They, like the men, cultivate the land for food, market the products and channel back the proceeds for future developmental activities. This, in actual fact, is beside their positive engagement in small businesses such as knitting, cloth weaving, as well as other forms of economic enterprises such as local food processing etc. Their key role in this regard has been depicted by Okoye (2000:1) thus:
Rural women involve themselves in activities like cloth weaving, pottery making, petty trading, small scale industry, poultry farming etc. in most parts of Yoruba rural areas, especially North – East Yoruba speaking group, the main pre – occupation of women is hand woven textile production. Some involve themselves in petty trading. In Eastern par of the country, rural women engage themselves in farming and petty trading. In the riverine areas, some of them engage in fishing and brewing of spirits. Rural women in the vast area of the Middle belt region engage in activities like farming, brewing burukutu (local beer), engaging in petty jobs like carrying of blocks where building projects are going on. They also engage in petty trading – bringing their farm produce from the rural areas to urban places for sale. In the Northern areas, cattle Fulani women engage in selling milk and milk products. They move along together with their families. Generally, women in rural areas make money from selling produce or handcrafted items or from hiring out their labour to commercial farms … All these go to explain the involvement of women in the economic development of rural areas.

For the women therefore, the question whether or not they posses the capacity to contribute to society’s developmental processes seem not to arise in the first place. No one denies their place in the economy at the local level. Yet, in spite of the place of women in the developmental process, they have over the years been marginalized in relation to appointment into public offices, particularly into the elective ones. The United Nations Fact Sheet on Women in Governance reveals that the composition of women in both ministerial and sub ministerial (such as Chief Executive of government parastatals, membership into legislative or judicial arm of the government etc) positions in Nigeria is well below the world average of 9.1% (UN, 1996). Also as Oguanu (2002) posits, after the 1999 elections, only 25 female political officers emerged as against 583 male political office holders, a ratio of 2.78% to 97.22%. This was further buttressed by the fact that as at the end of 1999 elections, of the Eleven thousand, one hundred and ninety – five (11,195) officers made up of ministers, special advisers, speakers, governors, deputy governors, local council chairmen, councilors, state assembly members, senators and members of the house of representatives, only one hundred and ninety one (191) were women, with men making up the balance of eleven thousand and four (11004) (Dauda, 2004:97).
The situation was not quite different after the 2003 elections, where, for example, of the 109 members of the Senate, only 3 or 2.8% were women, while of the 360 members of the House of Representatives elected in 2003, only 21 or 5.8% were women (Ibrahim and Salihu). The list of ministers approved by the senate and sworn in on the 26th July 2007 also depicts the imbalance, with seven (7) women making it to the list of 39 ministers (Nigerian Tribune, 2007). The story at the state and local level was no different either as the skewed nature of representation was reinforced. Reasons for the dismal showing are indeed not far – fetched as Ibrahim and Salihu (2004:4) contend:
Following the conduct of political party primaries for the nomination of candidates for the 2003 elections, it became evident that the systematic elimination of women through a well orchestrated process of manipulation and pre – determination of the outcome of most of the primaries was virtually party policy across the board. Most of the women that came out to compete in the primaries were schemed out, although the parties had previously promised that they would ensure that many female aspirants would be encouraged and supported to get party nominations. Not only did the parties and their leadership not keep their word, they also refused to respond positively to the numerous complaints of discrimination, procedural breach or plain outright injustice and robbery targeted at female aspirants.  Since, as we have posited earlier, empowerment is multi-tiered, perhaps, it soon becomes obvious that disempowerment at the political plane could thwart the potentialties that these women exude. In other words, it must be stressed that intricate relationship that exists between political empowerment and other forms of empowerment. While political empowerment may entail the creation of opportunity for participation, for the enjoyment of certain political rights and civil liberties, it is instructive to note that where such are jettisoned or denied, the ability to exercise others may be hindered. Thus as observed by the United Nations Human Development Report (2000), such empowerment, and specifically the prevalence of rights have intrinsic and instrumental values in that this directly expands human freedom and human development. As succinctly put elsewhere, “the absence of civil and political rights can block access to social, economic and cultural rights” (HDR, 2000:75). It is, surely, only a truism to add here that where such rights are encumbered, the energy needed to contribute to societal transformation may prove difficult to generate and sustain in the long haul. In most cases, rather than work to channel such energy to productive activity, thereby contributing to the overall development of the society, the opposite may prevail and potential catalysts of development may be diverted to activities that may put the society at peril. The implications of this for the society is not far to fathom.

Concluding Remarks
            A commonly made assertion by scholars, public officials and others alike is that the bulk of the people of Africa, and Nigeria in particular live in the rural areas. Where this the case, it thus become imperative that developmental policies and programmes that seek to empower or improve the living conditions of the women folk must have the rural women in mind or as their focus. It must, in other words, transcend the question of representation in both the elective and appointive public positions and enlist the other elements that would provide veritable avenues through which the rural poor can be mobilized to build networks of solidarity among women..
            Before this could serve any useful purpose, however, it is very essential that he womenfolk be politically empowered to assert themselves, have a voice, appreciate their life’s worth and therefore be in a position to take their destiny into their own hands. What this entails, perhaps, is the need for women to get organized into vibrant civil society associations and establish structures through which their needs and preferences could be projected and promoted. In this light, one appreciates the blossoming of women groups at the federal, state and local levels geared toward the political, economic and cultural empowerment of the womenfolk.  What remains, clearly, is the need on the part of some of these organizations to broaden their spread and mandate to enlist membership and incorporate the missing elements. For example, where such organizations are concerned with economic and/or cultural empowerment, effort must be geared toward enlisting the political element in order to ensure the prevalence of an all-encompassing empowerment drive for women. In operational terms, women empowerment must not focus on the economic aspect only, but should aim at sensitizing them on their fundamental rights and liberties so that they could assert themselves and in so doing maximize their potentialities.References

Bellington, Rosamund et al; (1991) Culture and Society:  Sociology of Culture (London: Macmillan press)

Dauda, Risikat Oladoyin S (2004), “Women Participation in Nigeria’s Democratization Process: Some Socio – Economic Considerations”, Unilag Journal of Politics, volume 1 number 1, December, pp. 82 – 100

Ibrahim, Jibrin and Amina Salihu (2004), Women, Marginalization and Politics in Nigeria (Lagos: Joe – tolalu and associates)

International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance(2000), Democracy in Nigeria: Continuing Dialogue(s) for Nation – Building, Capacity – Building Series 10


Federal Republic of Nigeria Official Gazette, number 24, volume 94, 15th May, 2007

Madaki, Samaila Yusuf (2002), “The Role of Women Organization/Activities towards
the Economic Empowerment of Widows and Divorces:, In I. Malumfashi and S. Yakasai (eds.) The Rights of Widows and Divorces in Hausa/Fulani Society (Sokoto WESDEC)

Naake, Anthony Y (2004), “Breaking the Silence about Domestic Violence: Communication for Development in Northwestern Ghana”, Gender and Behaviour, volume 4 number 2, pp. 782 - 794

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Oguanu, C (2002) “Globalization: Women and Politics of Exclusion, M.O. Maduagwu and V. C. Onu (eds) Globalization and National Development (Lagos: National Institute Press

Okoye, C. O (2000), “Women and Rural Development in Nigeria”, University of Jos Journal of Political Science, volume ii number ii, December, pp 57 – 67
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Suleiman, Binta (2002), “Gender, Media and Democracy: Strategies for Women’s Political Empowerment and Participation”, Attahiru M. Jega et al (eds.) Democracy and Democratization in Nigeria (1999 – 2001) (Kano: Center for Democratic Research and Training, Mambayya House)