The value of political equality is central to normative theories of democracy. It is argued that women are equal citizens and therefore should share equally with men in public decision-making, otherwise there is a democratic deficit. By contrast, since the return of democracy in Nigeria, women are at the fore-front in growing and developing our electoral process, despite their narrow inclusion but still the percentage that voted in the previous elections was an indication that, women deserve to be included in the democratic governance.
Despite this there has been a lot of identity base violence against women running daily offline and also on our social media platforms. During the recent political party primaries in Nigeria, female aspirants faced challenges from their male counterparts and by extension, the system. For example, a female aspirant posted on her social media handle that she failed to get ticket from her party because of her refusal to sleep with some of the party chieftains. Another also said that they forced her to step down for a male candidate just because of her gender.
This violence often spikes around elections because it is used as a tool for political intimidation, but little is known about how much of and in what ways this violence is directed at women. In 2011 general elections, for example, there were reports that female National Youth Service Corps volunteers experienced sexual harassment, threat and hate speech at polling units across the country. In a nutshell, Women are targeted for violence during elections specifically because they are women and to stop them from exercising their democratic or civic rights.
On September 1st in Abuja, a Non Governmental Organisation, National Democratic Institute designed and launched campaign titled : “Stop Violence Against Women in Election” with the effort of documenting and reporting the incident of violence against women in election to the relevant stake-holders such as election official, security agencies, women group, religious bodies and other organizations that are interested in elections. In spite of this effort, women are still confronting violence on daily basis. Recently some print media reported about 60 cases of violence against women recorded in just concluded Osun Gubernatorial elections.
Violence against women takes different forms and dimension. The violence can be seen as physical, psychological, sexual, threat, cultural and economic violence. For the lack of space, let me cite some examples of violence against women in election. Denying the female aspirant ticket because she refuses sexual advancement from the political parties chieftains, denying them access to financial support, assault, hate languages, and cultural barriers attached to the issue especially in the Northern Nigeria. Moreover, women received threat from opponents, members of their own party and even from their own family members. These forms of violence have become apron-string to wide or inclusive participation of women in our democratic process. The numbers of aspirants released from INEC indicated gender gap or disparity if one compares to other democratic countries of the world
violence against women in elections is a threat to the integrity of the electoral process – it can affect women’s participation as voters, candidates, election officials, activists, and political party leaders, and it undermines the free, fair, and inclusive democratic process. With this, it is has become imperative for the stake-holder to develop new strategies aim at promoting peaceful and violence-free elections, which necessitates full gender inclusivity at every step of the electoral process. Also, women should be encourage to report issue of violence against them to the appropriate authorities.
Idris Mohammed Funtua is a Program Officer with YIAGA AFRICA from Abuja.