WORDOC-IFRA July Seminar delivered by Prof Olufunke Okome

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On Thursday 18 July, 2019, Prof Olufunke Okome gave the WORDOC-IFRA seminar for the month of July on the topic ‘Where Are the Women? Gender and Political Marginalization in Nigeria’s 2019 Election’.

The tone of the seminar was set by the chair of the occasion, Prof Adigun Agbaje of the Department of Political Science and former Deputy Vice Chancellor of the University of Ibadan. Prof Agbaje enjoined the audience to take the lessons to be learnt from the seminar with optimism in the assurance that an oppressive order will eventually collapse if the people do not relent in challenging it.

The presenter, who is a professor of political science, African and women’s studies at Brooklyn College, City University of New York, hinged her lecture on two objectives: to point out the glaring absence of Nigerian women as decision makers and actors in the political realm and to highlight the presence and action of Nigerian women in the mobilization for gender inclusivity in the exercise of political power despite the culture of marginalization.

Prof Okome argued that women are visible in Nigerian society, notwithstanding the denial of their presence by the patriarchal order. She criticized the glibness with which the Nigerian state commits itself to international protocols and instruments advocating for equal gender representation and access to power at all levels, while the patriarchal system ensures that back home the playing field remains uneven such that women are unable to take part in politics on an equitable footing. Prof Okome described the ongoing situation as a subversion of democracy, as evidenced by the infinitesimal participation of women as candidates in the 2019 elections. She underlined the hegemonic normalization of this absence, observing that it has become the practice for people to dance in celebration on those rare occasions when a woman gets into a position of political power.

Prof Olufunke Okome with Prof Adigun Agbaje

Prof Olufunke Okome with Prof Adigun Agbaje

Prof Okome, however, pointed out the undeniable dynamism of Nigerian women who have proved themselves capable leaders in business, ranking 4th on the continent in terms of their performance in commerce and entrepreneurship. She postulated some interventions for moving women into the centre of political decision-making, drawing on best practices from countries like South Africa, Ethiopia, and Rwanda. Prof Okome called for a more engaging women’s movement in Nigeria that would demand and enshrine the principle of internal democracy within political parties, with a view to ensuring gender inclusion at the level of party formation. The role of women in academia was also highlighted by the lecturer, as she insisted that women’s empowerment should be a centrepiece of the curriculum.

In attendance at the lecture was former IAS Director and WORDOC’s founding chairperson, Prof Bolanle Awe. In her remarks, Prof Awe observed that it would have been more gratifying if more women had been in attendance at the seminar. She encouraged WORDOC to invest even more in raising the consciousness of people in regard to gender equality and inclusivity and in bringing women across all walks of life to participate in forums like the monthly seminar series, and she commended the lecturer for the insightful talk. 

Section of the audience here are the womenA section of the audience, here are the women