By Chinwe Ogbuka
The Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) has called on stakeholders in the electoral process to come up with strategies that will promote increased participation of women in politics and governance.
National Commissioner in charge of Election Observation and Party Monitoring in INEC, Prof. Antonia T. Okoosi-Simbine made the call on Wednesday at the North Central Zonal Workshop on ‘Enhancing Women’s Participation in the Continuous Voter Registration (CVR), the role of Civil Society Organisations’ held at Sheraton Hotels, Abuja.
The Commissioner said it has become imperative for the Commission to work with other stakeholders and come up with strategies to ensure that more women are reached and encouraged to register and collect their Permanent Voter Cards (PVCs).
Prof. Simbine said that the Electoral Act 2010 (as amended), mandates INEC to carry out CVR nationwide and pursuant to this requirement, the Commission commenced the CVR on Thursday, April 27, 2017 at the level of INEC Local Government Area offices nationwide.
She disclosed that over four million Nigerians have been registered across the country since the exercise commenced, adding that out of a total of 1,547,405 registered voters in the North Central Zone, 680,812 are females while 866,593 are males.
The National Commissioner observed that the gender distribution of fresh registrants for the first quarter 2018 shows that a total of 1,362,293 women and 1,560,823 men registered during the period. She regretted that women were far behind their male counterparts.
“The registration of voters is an essential preparatory step in any election. It is a pre-requisite for exercising the right to vote and those whose names are not on the Register of Voters and do not have PVCs will not be allowed to vote on Election Day. It is, therefore, important for all women aged 18 and above to register and collect their PVCs so as to vote their preferred candidates,” She added.
Prof. Simbine said that Civil Society Organisations (CSOs) and the Media have been collaborating with the Commission to implement election activities adding, “it is in recognition of the enormous contributions of the media and CSOs in deepening the electoral process and expectations of greater collaboration working towards 2019, that INEC organised this meeting to ensure that more women register and pick up their PVCs.”
She explained that the Commission developed the INEC Gender Policy to ensure that its electoral functions and operations are gender sensitive and responsive and the policy is expected to foster gender balance in the Commission and to stimulate stakeholders in the electoral process to do the same.
Prof. Simbine assured that the Commission will continue to engage with critical stakeholders at various levels to ensure support to incorporate gender issues into the electoral process in Nigeria, stating that the responsibility to build a gender balanced democracy for the Nigeria of today and the future lies on the stakeholders.
The Resident Electoral Commissioner (REC) FCT, Alhaji Yahaya Bello noted that the timely workshop will also focus on the role of the CSOs in ensuring increased participation of women in the pre-election activities.
He said that since the CVR commenced in FCT last April, the exercise has been going on in the territory’s six Area Councils, with preferential attention given to pregnant women, nursing mothers and the elderly, adding that the turnout of women has been impressive.
While calling on CSOs to contribute in the area of sensitization to enhance the participation of women in the exercise, the REC also urged them to focus more on explaining the modalities and eligibility criteria for the exercise in their sensitization outreaches, especially at the grassroots.
In a goodwill message, the Project Director of European Centre for Electoral Support (ECES), facilitator of the workshop, Mr. David Le. Notre observed that women participation enriches democracy and makes it more responsive to the aspirations of the people, but regretted that women participation in the political process has been limited.
The Project Director, who was represented by Gender and Inclusive Programme Officer, Cathy Latwa said that current CVR provides women with the opportunity to participate actively in the political process, not only by ensuring that more women are registered but also translating this numerical strength into electing more women into elective positions.
Mr. Notre assured of ECES’ commitment towards equitable participation of women in the political process adding, “we will continue to mainstream gender issues in all our support to INEC in collaboration with the Gender Desk unit of INEC.”
The Deputy Director in charge of Gender Division in INEC, Mrs. Blessing Obidegwu said that the objectives of the workshop was to among others; encourage more women to register and collect their PVCs in readiness for the 2019 General Elections and beyond; sensitize women on their rights and the power of their votes and by registering to vote, more women will participate in the electoral process which is important for democracy to thrive in Nigeria.
Mrs. Obidegwu said that it is important that women are made to understand the power of their PVCs which should be used to vote for their preferred candidates or vote out those they estimate are not delivering on their campaign promises.