A participant analyzes the opportunities of bi-partisan unity among women politicians.
Lagos, Nigeria – Redefining the role of Nigerian women in political life was the focus of a conference held for female political leaders at the national and local levels from the six leading political parties and women legislators in the National Assembly. The two-day conference, focused on enabling women to earn positions of leadership within political parties, to be more strategic and effective within those roles, and to raise the profile of Nigerian women as an important voting bloc.
During the conference, participants launched the Nigerian Women Interparty Forum, which recognizes the marginalization of women party leaders and the importance of unity, regardless of party, to give a voice to women in politics. The women leaders also participated in workshops on intraparty and interparty communication, and outreach strategies to ensure that women activists at all levels within a party structure have input into decisions.
The conference, hosted by the Women’s Democracy Network (WDN) in collaboration with the International Republican Institute (IRI), was led by trainers from around the world with experience in political leadership: Christine Abia Bako, a member of the Ugandan parliament; Deborah Grey, former member of the Canadian parliament; and Michaela Mojzis-Böhm, campaign manager and former General Manager of the Austrian People’s Party.
Olusoga (center) addresses participants.
The conference was opened by Adedoyin Olusoga, Lagos State Permanent Secretary for the Ministry of Home Affairs and Culture, who provided remarks on behalf of the Deputy Governor of Lagos State. Peter Mac Manu, Vice Chairman of the International Democratic Union and the former Chairman of the New Patriotic Party of Ghana, also spoke and noted that “women’s political leadership and governance was critical to societal and human development and that the systemic entrenchment of practices aimed at the continued marginalization of women in the political process must stop.”
The first day of the conference focused on conducting an assessment of the status of women’s participation in politics using the strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, threats (SWOT) tool, and reviewing strategies utilized by each of the trainers in their political careers which were successful in combatting similar barriers.
Grey shared her political experiences over her 15 years of public service, citing that a positive attitude, strength and commitment to her beliefs led her to success. Grey also provided guidance on how women can attain and strive in leadership positions in male dominated parties and legislatures based on her experience as minority leader for the Reform Party in Canada.
Bako shared her political experiences, as a woman political leader in Africa, with a particular focus on how she was able to develop effective outreach strategies to increase women’s political participation in Uganda, noting that “the power of being organized is what will win you an election.”
Following the strategy sessions, the conference evolved into a technical workshop led by Mojzis-Böhm. Based on the SWOT analysis conducted on the first day, Mojzis-Böhm identified specific strategies participants could use to develop an effective communication strategy within their respective political party, and also to identify strategic alliances across different political parties and organizations.
Mojzis-Böhm also focused on the importance to remain authentic in politics, develop a political message, motivate party members and supporters and engage party decision-makers. During the workshop, Bako shared her experience as a member of the WDN Uganda Chapter which trained local councillors to inform voters using SMS messaging about issues of importance. MacManu also noted the importance of meeting politicians from other countries at international forums, to learn different strategies that are used in different countries.
Having established the participant’s keen interest in building interparty and intraparty strategic alliances,Mojzis-Böhm led the second workshop on how to develop and benefit from strategic alliances by first building a foundation of mutual interest and trust. She noted the importance of building an alliance around an upcoming event, pointing out that as the next elections in Nigeria are in 2015, the women have three years to build a coalition, develop a platform, conduct outreach to increase women’s participation, and ultimately bolster women’s ability to be a significant voting bloc.
Grey then advised participants that there were several points to keep in mind as they built their strategic alliances: focus only on the issues that everyone can agree on, claim victories even when they are small, build on each of these victories as each one is a significant step and focus on building and protecting the credibility gained from victories.
This conference was the third in a series of collaborations between WDN and IRI to increase women’s political capacity in Nigeria. The Nigerian Women Interparty Forum launched during this event now offers a platform for women beyond the conferences to share experiences, network, advocate and lobby for political space for women within and outside the political parties. The necessity of this platform was summarized by one of the participants, “women should be empowered and encouraged to aspire for political leadership and governance positions, which is critical to societal and human development.”