Let’s Fight for a System Change to End Bias Against Women
International Women’s Day (IWD) 2022:
*Labour Leadership Must Lead Struggle Against Oppression and Economic Deprivation
By Kola Ibrahim
It is another International Women’s Day (IWD). While it is traditional on this occasion to felicitate with Nigerian women and women all over the world, it is actually more appropriate to sympathise with Nigerian women, given the increasing suppression, oppression and exploitation they are enduring on a daily basis. This year’s IWD again brings to fore the failure of the current unequal capitalist system to guarantee equal opportunity and freedom for all men and women.
This year’s IWD is coming at a time the Nigerian working people, youth and the poor are facing unmitigated suffering in the midst of superabundance of material, natural and human resources. Women, especially working class women, already made second class citizens by the capitalist system of exploitation, have become the worst hit by the worsening of living conditions of majority of Nigerians.
It is striking that this year’s IWD is coinciding with the rejection of five (5) women-related bills in the current Constitution amendment by the Nigeria’s National Assembly. These bills, aimed at expanding the civic space for women, were flatly rejected by the National Assembly. One of these bills seeks to put affirmative action in the Constitution by reserving at least 35 percent of elective and appointive seats for women. As token as this proposal is, the National Assembly, dominated mostly by males, threw it away. Currently, in the National Assembly, only seven (7) women are members of 109-member Senate while only 22 out of the 360-member House of Representatives are women. This means that in total, just 29, out of 469-member National Assembly are women; a meagre 6 percent. In fact, less than 4 percent of all national elective posts are held by women.
This is in a country where women constitute about 50 percent of the population, but constitute 6 percent of national lawmakers. Yet, the male-dominated National Assembly could not take a step to improve this gross misrepresentation. This is not accidental because Nigeria’s political class, dominated by the two main capitalist parties, PDP and APC, are comfortable with the current arrangement, and will not want it shaken or changed. They are more interested in securing their immediate political interests rather than caring for gender equality or better representation. If the National Assembly or the Buhari/APC government cannot ensure a token improvement in women political representation, how can they resolve barrage of social and economic challenges faced by women.
However, beyond the question of increasing women representation in political positions is the need to ask what will more women do differently for Nigeria’s working women and the country as a whole, different from what the current occupiers of offices are doing. The reality is that if more women are elected or appointed into political positions on the basis of the existing capitalist economic relations, which guarantees more wealth for the big politicians and big business men and women but ensures more suffering for the majority, there cannot be any significant improvement in the conditions of the working class women, not to mention poor people generally.
Currently, Nigeria’s Minister of Finance is a woman; yet the economy has continued to be in the woods. Indeed, Nigeria’s finance ministry has been headed, in most cases, by women since the Obasanjo era. Yet, they have led implementation of anti-poor policies of privatization of public utilities, commercialization and hike in cost of social services like education and healthcare, mass sack of workers, increase in fuel prices (including kerosene, used by majority of women), among other anti-poor capitalist policies. All of these policies have combined to put more women in poverty and want. Currently, while women constitute about 50 percent of the population, they however constitute more than 70 percent of poor people are women.
Even the few women in National Assembly have been part and parcel of the rottenness that has defined Nigeria’s politics. None of them have rejected the humongous emoluments being collected by senators and members of House of Representatives. They have been part of the budget approval process that has committed less than 10 percent of government budget to health care, in a country where maternal and child mortality is one of the highest in the world.
Therefore, increasing women representation in political positions, as much as this is desirable, is not enough. Yes, there needs to be more women, plus workers and youth, to be active and in key positions but even more important is what their politics are. The interests of working women cannot be represented by the likes of Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala who insisted she was paid in US dollars when she first became Finance Minister.
We fight for improvements now but also recognise that there cannot be significant emancipation of women, without fighting for a system that put the mainstay of the economy (energy, power, iron and steel, etc.) and natural resources under democratic public ownership and control; a system where our collective resources will be used for the collective needs of the society – free and quality education and healthcare; accessible water supply; sufficient and nutritious food; affordable, quality and environmental-friendly public mass housing; functional transport and communication system, among others. This is the only way that increased women representation can be more meaningful. We need a socialist system that will mobilise the energy, initiative, innovation and creativity of women to effect positive change.
Women, especially working women, have more interests in fighting for a better society, because, as much as the capitalist system and the political class exploit the working people generally, women are doubly exploited because of existing discriminations in the system. For instance, Nigerian working women earn only 77 percent of what their male counterparts earn. Therefore, if working men are exploited, it means working women will face worse exploitation. Also, insecurity, which has worsened under Buhari’s administration is a bigger threat to women, as they face worse double oppression.
However, to achieve a better society, we need to fight for immediate demands and link this with taking political power from the hands of the current rotten and backward capitalist class who are only interested in their immediate political and economic interests and care less about the interests of the majority of the population. It is not an accident that just less than 18,000 political officials take as much as N1.3 trillion from the national coffer as emoluments alone. This is aside trillions of naira being stolen by politicians and big business people across the country. Therefore, we need a socialist system that represents the interests of the working people, youth and the poor.
The leadership of the labour movements in the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC), Trade Union Congress (TUC) and their affiliate-unions need to make conscious efforts to lead struggle that seriously mobilises popular support to fight against economic attacks on working people, including working women, youth and the poor. For instance, the issue of artificial-scarcity being created by the government to hike fuel price, wicked increase in electricity tariffs, unpaid salaries and pensions, rising inflation, unimplemented minimum wage, among others should be taken up frontally by the leadership of labour movement, through mass action.
More important is the need for labour movement to begin the process of building a new political platform of the working people to contend for political power. There is anger in Nigeria right now and if democratically organised and, backed with socialist programmes, such a workers’ political party can become the immediate mass party of the working and poor people in Nigeria and have the opportunity to get rid of this rotten system.
This is the best way to secure the interests of the working women, and break the gender bias and discrimination.