Nigeria’s Constitution Review Makes Women’s Inclusion a Priority

Abuja, Nigeria — Nigeria’s constitution is getting a revamp, and this time a committee tasked with the responsibility says women’s inclusion in political offices is a priority.

Women hold a tiny fraction of the seats in Nigeria’s National Assembly. Three of the 109 senators and 15 of the 360 members in the House of Representatives are female.

The chair of the House constitution review committee, Benjamin Kalu, spoke this week during a dialogue with women-centered and pro-democracy groups ahead of International Women’s Day on Friday.

Kalu said the ongoing review of the constitution will address gender imbalance in Nigeria’s politics. He also said the 10th National Assembly will revisit gender bills that failed to progress during the previous administration.

In 2022, Nigerian women advocated for five bills to promote inclusion and women’s representation in parliament — including one bill that would reserve 35% of political seats for women.

None of bills received enough support to win passage in the male-dominated parliament, leading to protests.

Cynthia Mbamalu, a program director at YIAGA Africa, one of the groups advocating for gender bills, said structural challenges, patriarchal norms and biased systems put limits on women who want to run for office.

“The numbers are still poor,” she said. “We still have 11 or so state assemblies where there are no women, and some of those states have not had a female legislator since 1999, when we [transitioned] to democracy. As long as we don’t have [a] constitutional mandate that opens up the space to increase women representation, we’ll constantly struggle with a male dominated National Assembly.”

Despite Africa recording an increase in female political participation in recent years, women’s representation in Nigerian politics is among the lowest in the world, at about 4%.

In last year’s general elections, fewer women won seats in office despite an increased number of candidates from various political parties.

Mbamalu said lawmakers need to take the new constitutional review seriously for equity and democracy to succeed.

“One of the indicators to assess our development and the presence of democracy is about how inclusive your government is,” she said. “I want to believe that the 10th Assembly will act differently — will put its name in history.”

The recommendations of the constitution review committee will be subject to votes in parliament.

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