Amid resounding debate on the single faith ticket and resort to ethnicity by parties, which has defined the campaigns so far, a coalition of over 500 women organisations under the aegis of Womanifesto movement, yesterday, provoked a fresh controversy over the 2023 elections, when it stated that none of the presidential candidates has told them his concrete plans for women and girls in the country.

Though they refused to declare support for any candidate, the women’s group disclosed that plans have been concluded to meet all presidential candidates today to table home their demands.

Among presidential candidates expected at the meeting are Asiwaju Bola Tinubu of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC), Alhaji Atiku Abubakar of Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), Peter Obi of Labour Party (LP) and 15 others.

The Womanifesto leaders spoke at the national women’s dialogue with the theme, ‘Electoral Integrity and Accountability: Towards Corruption-free Elections’ in Abuja, funded by MacArthur Foundation and Women’s Rights Advancement & Protection Alternative (WRAPA Nigeria), in partnership with Affirmative Action Initiative for Women.

They emphasised that 2023 elections won’t be business as usual, noting that women would demand for the best and hold those vying for public offices accountable.

Members of the coalition include Women Advocate Research and Documentation Centre (WARDC), Education as a Vaccine (EVA), Enough is Enough (EiE), Emerge Women (EW), Empowerment and Action Research Centre (EARC), Equality Through Education Foundation (ETEF), Equity Advocates/The Woman, FAME Foundation, Federation of Informal Workers of Nigeria (FIWON), Federation of Muslim Women Association in Nigeria (FOMWAN) and Federation of Paralegal Network (FEDPAN), among others.

Speaking, co-convener, Womanifesto Dialogue, Dr. Abiola Akiyode-Afolabi, said it was high time the political class stopped treating women as second-class citizens in the country, adding, “our identity and dignity as women matter.”

She said among issues of top priority to women is the declaration of state of emergency on violence against women and girls. Others include increased women political participation, empowerment, sexual and reproductive health rights for women, constitutional reform to stop marginalisation of women and security.

Afolabi said: “We are asking for five concrete issues that the government should attend to. For example, on ending violence against women, we noticed that about 31 of the 36 states have been able to pass the Violence Against Persons (Prohibition) Law (VAPP), which was one of the things we put as a demand.

“But today, looking at the 2023 election, we are really alarmed with the extent of corruption that is going on, especially what happened during the primaries.

“We realised that the judiciary also has not been supportive of women. Imagine women were been asked by lawyers to bring N250 million to support their candidacy. The Ebonyi case is also there, where the governor who had contested for the presidential primary came back to hijack the senatorial ticket from a woman.

“We believe it is time for us to discuss on the issues. We don’t want to be second-class citizens in the country. Our identity and dignity as women matter. On Tuesday, we will meet the presidential candidates, taking questions from them, because from what we are seeing now, we haven’t seen anyone of them speak for women.”

Chairman, Senate Committee on Women Affairs, Betty Apiafi, recalled how she received an assassination threat from unknown persons due to her position. According to her, insecurity and bad state of the economy would hinder many female candidates from winning elections in 2023.

Alleging that there is a deliberate conspiracy to sideline women in politics, Apiafi lampooned lawmakers for rejecting five gender bills during the last constitutional review.

The Executive Director, International Society for Media in Public Health, Mrs. Moji Makanjuola, lamented that despite attempts by past administrations to reach affirmative action for women, women inclusion has dropped from 35 per cent to less than 10 per cent across the nation.

She said aside women been marginalised during political parties’ primaries, the campaign councils recently constituted by parties were short of fairness.

She said: “If we have lost out on elective positions, we can still demand for appointed positions and we need to start speaking to it until we get it right. You cannot leave almost 50 per cent of the population behind and think that they have nothing to contribute to nation building.

“There is no serious presidential candidate that will want to undermine what the women have. I mean on election days, we are the ones who stay on the queue forever. We want to stop the dancing at campaigns by making demands to be included in nation building now.”

National Coordinator, 100 Women Lobby Group, Felicia Onibon, disclosed that for the sake of accountability, presidential candidates would be made to commit themselves to the welfare of women by signing a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU).

In similar vein, a gender advocate and human rights body, under the auspices of the Nigerian Women Trust Fund (NWTF), has called on frontline political parties and their candidates to ensure gender balance and equity in governance.

The founder and Chief Executive Officer, NWTF, Mrs Mufuliat Fijabi, lamented what she described as low participation of women in politics, saying the development is endangering the country’s democracy.

Fijabi spoke in Ado-Ekiti yesterday, while declaring open a one-day training programme, urging members of the political class to always fulfill their campaign promises and manifestoes and ensure gender balance in the appointment of their cabinet members.

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