SocioCultural Persistence/gender Under-representation


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Socio-Cultural Persistence And Gender Under-Representation In Nigeria




Michael B. Obot


Independent Researcher


November 11, 2004





Women involvement in politics and public services has remain consistently low. Though international and constitutional provisions have been made to address this skewed representation, the situation remains unchanged. As a result, the call for increased women participation in politics refuses to wane. Generally, this is blamed on the role of men who promote the perpetuation of cultural values that sustain gender differentiation in access to decision-making positions. Also, at family level the unlearning of women demeaning practices that sustain secondary status of women is not promoted and this is further reinforced by the society. In view of this, there is urgent need to examine the socio-cultural persistence that facilitates gender underrepresentation and how the concerned parties perceive it. Knowledge of these will enhance better understanding of future measures needed to address this issue. Literature is reviewed to clarify relationships among variables such as political harassment, gender solidarity, globalization, religion, and marriage and gender underrepresentation. Overcoming these barriers is problematic, hence, there is need to evolve workable interventions that will improve the autonomy of women, promote untiring agitation and negotiating capacity. With these, there is hope for gradual improvement in gender representation.





Down through ages, women have been mistreated and often considered to be second –rate humans. In political and public arena, level of women involvement has been very low, thereby leading to the emergence of a number of feminist movements to shake off this unpleasant situation. This consciousness has generated “much talk about the need to upgrade the level of gender awareness in society, for policy - makers to become gender sensitive, for social scientists to employ gender constructs, for the political process to be genderised (Enemuo, 1999) so that women can meaningfully contribute to the transformation of human race in this 21st century. 

This recognized importance of women notwithstanding, greater majority of them constitute political and public out groups. Therefore, this paper seeks to examine enduring socio-economic factors that act as barriers to the emergence of women political leadership in Nigeria. In doing this, the paper considers the role of political harassment and insecurity on gender representation. After considering changes in political culture from traditional society to the present democratic arrangement, the effect of marriage and motherhood is examined. Thereafter, the position of the scripture will be examined to ascertain whether it is partly to blame for gender discrimination. Next, how United Nations promotes gender inequality is brought to the fore. Finally, it is shown that globalization has negative effects on this struggle for gender repositioning in politics. All these cannot be adequately discussed without clearer conceptualization of gender underrepresentatiom.


In understanding the discussion of gender underrepresentation in Nigeria politics and public life, it becomes necessary to consider the theoretical model proposed by the “objectives of men and the nature of their political relations” (Chapman, 1993:11). Men are the major determinants of political actions and inactions and they are generally concerned with the perpetuation of the status quo. Chapman goes further to observed that : 

When women compete with men for access to political elites, they do so on the terms already established by men for competition among themselves…. The success of women in politics like that of any male outgroup, cannot be achieved within such systems without displacing, or replacing existing elite and without some changes in values, and it cannot occur independently of fundamental changes in socio-economic as well as political relations. Of course, without clear understanding of the way men regulate their own access to political elites, the conditions which govern that of women will remain obscure


Another related model is that of Wriggins (see Takaya, 1997). He provides three basic assumptions about political leadership in Africa. These are:

i)                The imperative and urgent desire by the ruler to retain his position at the highest level of government because it is from there he can consistently affect the future of the polity.

ii)              Leaders of emerging African states are unsure of their positions.

iii)            And finally, African leaders adopt certain political strategies and goals which are traditional and crude in order to (a) project their personality, (b) promote personal ideology with some kind of universal or primordial elements, (c) expand or contract political participation as they deem necessary.      

Clearly, the works of Chapman and Wriggins provide useful guides on the primary features of African political leadership in general and those of Nigerian in particular. Unitedly, they explain the political behaviours of men as the gatekeepers into political arena and moderators of the tempo of political activities in contemporary society.               


African culture has elements of unity and disunity on status of women in governance. Among others, culture is societally created, transmitted, learned and enforced (Obiajulu, 1996). Also, the “monotony and regularity” of women responsibilities are justified in two ways- “women are weak and unstable, and therefore cannot be entrusted with momentous affairs such as litigation, ritual, or making decision about the allocation of resources”  (Beldelman, 1980). In Nigeria, cultural diversity narrows in social values and status of women and specifically in their involvement in traditional government. In traditional Igbo society, the women had “lesser role in directing political and ritual affairs” and that informed the “ever-present possibility of male intrusion in their affairs, the reverse rarely occurs” (Ottenberg, 1971:102). Where provisions were made for female elders to sit on the ruling council, they were inactive compared to the males and they lacked equivalent authority (Nzimiro, 1972).

Also, among the Idomas in central Nigeria, their pro-male society has stiffer conditions for the existence of women. They were denied membership of some associations which take societal decisions and cannot own land (Odeh,1997).

In other parts of the country, the situation was much the same or worst. Traditional politics            is considered to be a form of “male bonding” and this explains while “male dominance coupled with sexual dimorphism occurs cross-culturally”(see Jacquette, 1974:vi).

In Nigeria, colonialism was a regime that was established and sustained “through the use of military dictatorship” (Oculi, 1997:39). The emergence political culture was characterized by exploitation, suppression, subjugation, discrimination and other undemocratic ethos. The exhibition of these attitudes in an environment where women had insignificant political impact still made greater number of women irrelevant in colonial political setting. Therefore, the nationalist struggle for independent was mainly men affairs. Hence, postcolonial government was founded on gender-biased structures.

The imperialistic militaristic example did not allow for sustainable democratic government in Nigeria. The ideals of democracy such as political equality of citizens was completely undermined by some twenty-eight years of military overrule as “women are the most disempowered in our society” (LEADS, 1999:3) during those dispensations. The situation has not been better during democratic experimentations. Women continued to suffer discrimination in political and public arena of the country. The situation in Lagos State exemplifies the current level of women political leadership in the Fifth republic: out of 20 nominees sent by Governor Bola Tinubu to House of Assembly for ratification as commissioners, only two were women (Radio Nigeria, 2003). It is even worst in elected positions. Hamalai (2003) observes, “women are now ever further marginalized especially in the electoral process. So it will worsen the position of women in the country… to participate more effectively”

From the above, the traditional, colonial, military and even democratic political cultures show consistency as all reflected gender discrimination of diverse dimensions. Though culture is not static, it becomes institutionalized and even when it is found to be functionally doubtful “it hardly disappears because of its resilience or super-organic quality”(Obiajulu, 1996:64).   


Marriage and motherhood means changes in the status of young women and the multiplication of family and societal expectations. In Nigeria, though with relative freedoms, singleness is not a cherished or hoped-for status mostly for women. Continently, “Africa continues to be characterized by both the lowest levels of schooling found globally for girls as well as the lowest ages at first birth and marriage”(Oppong, 1997:170). This practice contributes immensely to disempowerment of women because they are prevented from developing “the very same attributes which identify people as members of socio-economic elites …which render people more likely to take part in politics (Chapman, 1993:15).  Macro International shows that though there are improvement in girls’ access to education, many women throughout the rural areas in the country and particularly in northern part still lack access to secondary school both as a result of traditional bias of educating girls and economic crisis (See Osakwe and Martin-Hilber, 1998). As a result, a reasonable number of women, both in urban and rural areas lack the capacity to make and take meaningful and informed decisions and actions in politics at all levels of government. This does not mean that the educated ones are absolutely favoured in this aspect. Flora and Lynn (in Jaquette, 1974: 45) observe that the unexpected trauma of motherhood, with the accompanying increased repetition of tasks and the isolation which is so common in the life of a young mother, may lead to a change in the sense of resulting in low political efficacy among the better educated women” . This changed status “fix women in a service and domestic mode of behaviour”(Stanley and Wise, 1993:75) to the extent that their entrapment leads to the socialization of false consciousness, which makes “women to define the status-quo as the most desirable and secure state” (Flora and Lynn: 39). Therefore, finding motherhood as “a complicated and marvelous adventure”, most mothers prefer to “sacrifice free time and much of their social life to make sure that their children are well cared for” and as such “they would not trade for the world” these cherished precious moments they enjoy (Awake, 2002:4).   

Motherhood becomes further complicated when it is associated with single parenting and polygamy. In Africa, single parenthood, mostly female-headed family is recognized form of family. This development places the single mothers with multiple challenges as they are sole breadwinners and dispensers thereby getting ever exhausted in an unending struggle in demonstrating the ‘highest feminine virtue’. Within most polygamous arrangements, wives are responsible for providing food, paying school fees and other related expenses. This is not a rule because in monogamous relationships men may not wish to take complete responsibility in the upbringing of their children (Ogundipe-Leslie, 1985). 

At marriage, a woman’s ownership is transferred from her father to the new husband and for life as long as they remain as husband and wife. In a kind of exhortation, Nosike (1995) shows that “a good wife should always make herself available whenever she is needed or wanted by her husband, who is the head of the family….”

The demand on women, wives and mothers are multiple and complex as the world is greatly becoming globalized. They are child-bearers, child-rearers, house workers and house-managers among others. In this web of care, increasing majority of women are disempowered. More so, the issue of women empowerment has increased single motherhood all over the world and instead of empowerment, they constitute a “dangerous source of spreading HIV/AIDS” and their children mostly “have been reported to be morally and psychologically delinquents” (Mallum, 2002). Therefore, the much trumpeted gender empowerment results in cyclical enslavement, as their problems tend to be multiplying inter-generationally. This is bound to continue as the demands of marriage and motherhood become more complex and sophisticated notwithstanding the gender consciousness of the moment.          


Globally, people have different views of religion. To some, it is unscientific and mystical (Mustapha, 1985). This notwithstanding, religion continues to exist in great variety and to influence billions of adherents, even on to unforeseeable future. Explicit in all forms of religion is the consciousness that man needs assistance to understand himself and his environment. In this direction, what is the view of Judo-Christian religion in understanding the status of women vis-à-vis the struggle for gender liberation through equi-representation?

Among the Jews, a woman was to work hard for the good of family. Proverbs 14:1 says, “truly wise woman has built up her house, but the foolish one tears it down with her own hands”. She was expected as a mother to train her children, both boys and girls for good (Genesis 27:5-10, Exodus 2:2-7) and aid her husband in making right decisions (Genesis 21:9-13). The Law required children to obey and honour their mother and father (Leviticus 19:3; 20:9). In this arrangement, God did not create woman in order to be exploited by man. A wife was to be a “helper” and “a complement of him” (Genesis 1:26-28). The Law applied with equal force to both men and women who were guilty of adultery, incest, bestiality and other crimes (Leviticus 18:6, 20; 20:10-12; Deuteronomy 22:22).

In the Christian church, both Christian men and women were given the assignment of preaching the gospel (Acts 1:13-15; 2:1-4, 13-18). In the area of teaching in the ‘church’ or at public meeting, women were to keep silent and if they wanted to learn something, they could question their husbands at home, for it was disgraceful for a woman to speak in the ‘church’ (1 Corinthian 14:23-25, 31-35). Also, women were not to serve as ‘bishops’ (King James) or overseers or pastors (American Translation) (Ephesians 4:11). In the New Testament, there was no office of deaconess (1 Timothy 3:1-13; Titus 1:5-9). In the home, a wife has many privileges including managing domestic affairs of the household but under the direction and approval of her husband (1 Timothy 5:14). From the Scriptures, a man is the head of a woman but selfish men have abused their rightful headship, thereby bringing much suffering to womenfolk throughout the ages. This development does not mean that a woman should be more like a man in order to improve her situation. Rather, she will be happier herself and make others happier if she fulfills her God-assigned role.


United Nations Organization is the only global organization that is responsible for ensuring international peace and security. Its general concern for universal issues extends to women matters. Notably in 1979, Convention on the Elimination of All forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) was introduced. Therein, discrimination:


Mean any distinction, exclusion or restriction made on the basis of sex which has the effect or purpose of impairing or nullifying the recognition, enjoyment or exercise by women, irrespective of their marital status, on a basis of equality of men and women, of human rights and fundamental freedoms in the political, economic, social, cultural, civil or any other field (see LEADS-NIGERIA, 2001:30).


The Convention in its Article 7 goes further to enjoin State parties to modify their social and cultural patterns of conduct of men and women with the view of eliminating prejudices, customary and other practices that promote the idea of the inferiority or the superiority of either of the sexes. Besides, state parties are “to take all appropriate measures to eliminate discrimination against women in the political and public life of the country and, in particular, shall ensure to women, on equal terms with men” (See LEADS-NIGERIA, 2001:30).

The above wish by the UN notwithstanding, international organizations have inherent weaknesses. Generally, according to realist approach of international relations, state actors “are not generally guided by universal moral principles… their actions and activities are conditioned by the circumstances of time and space” (Akin-bobola, 1999). Even where pro-gender issues are adopted in national constitutions, such constitutions do not specifically provide workable means of overturning deeply entrenched cultural practices governing masculinity and femininity. Mere constitutional provisions do not guarantee automatic adherence.

In practical terms, the promotion of gender equity by the UN is successful only in conferences and conventions. This organization preaches but does not practice. As at 1995, the UN had less than 10 female ambassadors from over 150 member nations and only about five women headed its over 30 specialized agencies (Ali, 1995). Following this example, member nations, like Nigeria, are bound to continue to give lip services on women political leadership.     


The political terrain in Nigeria is full of uncertainties. Though the rules of the game are clear and bold, there is a reasonable level of non-adherence by a number of actors. Therefore, the roll call of the victims of political assassination during the fourth and fifth republics included the Minister of Justice and Attorney General of the Federation, Chief Bola Ige and Mr. Monday Ndor of the Rivers state House of Assembly to mention but a few.    


This war –like political atmosphere is in favour of men, as:


The male of the human species is larger, stronger, possessed of superior upper body strength and greater natural musculature…with additional implications of restlessness, excitability, irritability, and possibly of aggression (Brownmiller in Mahmoud, 1999


 The employment of violence to perpetuate political corruption is an enduring feature of Nigerian politics as evidenced in “the culture of passionate violence” (Bamikunle, 1997). In this direction, Eleje (2002) attributes this aspect of our political culture to the “tendency of political intolerance, parochial political lexicon, and personality-politics as opposed to issues orientation, as well as motivation of power for the sake of authority rather than responsibility or even purpose”. This danger signpost made some notable political gladiators like Imo state gubernatorial aspirant, Dr. Julius Kpaduwa and the former senate President, Chief Anyim Pius Anyim to repeatedly notify the public that their political opponents were after their lives. The created psychological scare made some “powerful” men to willingly withdraw from competition for re-election and in some cases from politics altogether.

Also, harassment, be it physical or psychological has threatening effects on the lives of their victims. The general need for security makes humans to minimize exposure to any form of threat to their survival. As in the previous century, the “contention for power” (Gurr in Baechler, 1999) will continue to be a major source of intra-state conflicts and this will continue to sideline willing citizens who are capable of contributing to national development but unable to participate in the process of political recruitment that is violent-ridden. Most women by their nature or nurture are unlikely to use tugs in order to brighten their chances of being “elected”.

In the face of this challenge, Nigerian women suffer “deprivation” in representation and the situation in the wee- hour of the 21st century provides no glimpse of hope.

The Present Situation: Globalization and Gender Inequality

Globalization with its multiple changes affects both the developed and developing countries. The current global trend is the promotion of democratic governance, which is increasingly commercialized. Hence, democracy is synonymous with plutocracy (government by the rich). Globalization as operated today increases poverty among and within nations. Therefore, “despite increasing global wealth, there is frightening increase in poverty, with malnutrition present across the developing world, particularly in Africa and South Asia” (Rahman, 1999). More so, globalization promotes privatization and the resultant down-sizing and the subsequent unemployment undermine “the ability of families to meet the basic needs of their members” (Adepoju & Mbugua, 1997.

In the face of these realities, more and more people, mostly women are disadvantaged in the process of political recruitment. Therefore, in this revival for the elimination of barriers impinging on the emergence of women political leadership in Nigeria, are we going to enter a new gender order? Are we approaching epochal gender reinvention, and more specifically, national restructuring of the current men overrepresentation? Still, is there going to be “hegemonic decline” in which the “system will continue more or less in the same manner, with merely some adjustments (Wallerstein, 1996:226) or what Rowbowtham sees as “just going backwards and forwards, up and down the same hill” (see Stanley & Wise, 1993: 71).


The emergence of women political leadership is still at infancy even in advanced democratic states. One critical factor that accounts for this is cultural unison on the status of women. Modern democracy only succeeds in giving recognition to equality of humans but provides no universal solidarity in reversing women under representation. Hence, there is global awareness of gender marginalisation as well as global unpreparedness for cultural revival for equi-representation. Generally, politics is men’s game and they determine the rules of entry and exit. As it is, the prospect of “cultural extinction” of the status quo is far from realization. With poor national planning, and as poverty level is increasing, an increasing number of parents find it difficult to educate their children, mostly girls. Also, as majority of women live in ignorance in rural areas, they are still susceptible to further under representation.

Therefore, the paper after assessing realities shows that the barriers to the emergence of women political and public leaders in Nigeria can only be minimized. This is partly attainable through negotiation with political gatekeepers, as local and international socio-economic conditions have demonstrated their inadequacy for improvement. Unlearning socio-cultural beliefs and practices that undermine optimum gender representation becomes imperative. Actualising these call for conscious women to champion rural–urban social engineering for gender upliftment to reflect the contemporary understanding.




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