Women in Public Offices and State Institutions

Women in Public Offices and State Institutions

Here’s an interesting piece of history….

The gender landscape of Nigeria’s current federal and state parliaments shows a disturbing trend: out of 469 lawmakers in the national assembly, only 21 are female; while in the 36 state houses of assembly, only 41 out of the 991 seats are occupied by women.  Low participation and representation of women in politics and public decision-making has dogged Nigeria from the colonial era up to contemporary times.   This piece of information is frequently repeated, and we should not tire of doing so because it reminds the political class of their responsibility to fix this disparity.

The trend of keeping women out of public office and state institutions dates back to 1922 when the British colonial administration introduced the principle of elective representation to Nigeria. The marginalisation of women was built into the electoral system from then on. Only British male subjects who earned one hundred pounds per annum, were qualified to contest and vote in elections for the four seats on the Legislative Council (Legco for short), at the ratio of three for Lagos and one for Calabar Municipal Areas.

The inauguration of Legco in October 1923, was hailed by the Governor of Nigeria Hugh Clifford, as a great feat for political representation in Nigeria. But it sowed the seeds for largely excluding women from politics and public affairs. The denial of voting rights for women, institutionalised male domination of Nigeria political system ever since. Women’s voting rights were not allowed until 1950 when they participated in the Lagos Town Council elections for the first time. Over time, adult female suffrage was allowed, but on a piecemeal basis.

However, six years before that historic moment in electoral politics, a group of women decided to act. The headline on the newspaper cutting below, which was published on the front page of the West African Pilot of 11th May 1944, reported the establishment of one of the first women’s political party, if not in the world, in Africa.

In my e-book ‘Emerging from the Margins: Women’s Experiences in Colonial and Contemporary Nigerian History,’ I narrate the events of 10th May 1944 which took place in the living room of Mrs Oyinkan Abayomi, at 18, Broad Street in middle-class Lagos of the day.

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