Opinion, Politics

A-day-to-go: First Lady wrong to claim 70 percent of ministers are women

By Adam Alqali

Nigeria’s first lady has claimed that 70% of the ministers serving in her husband’s cabinet are women. But their share is less than half that.

Nigeria’s first lady Patience Jonathan, trying to drum up support for her husband’s re-election campaign, told a women’s rally of the ruling People’s Democratic Party (PDP) in Kogi state earlier this month that 70% of the ministers in her husband’s cabinet are women.

“Jonathan looked at us and said, women, I am giving you the position of the chief justice of this country. [Finance minister] Okonjo-Iweala is a woman, [petroleum resources minister] Diezani is a woman. Seventy percent of his cabinet is women,” the president’s wife was quoted as saying.

At another rally in Sokoto, where Jonathan was represented by women’s affairs minister Zainab Maina, local press reported her speech stated that 13 women – less than half of the total – served in the 31-member Nigerian cabinet.

Of course, both cannot be right and Africa Check decided to investigate. So just how many female ministers does Nigeria have? And how does it compare with other countries in Africa?

Africa does comparatively well

Taken against other parts of the world sub-Saharan Africa boasts relatively high levels of female political representation at the top levels of government, though this record is not matched lower down in government.

According to the 2015 Women in Politics map, the Cape Verde islands off the west African coast have the highest representation of women in ministerial positions on the continent, with nine out of 17 ministers (53%).

Globally, that is second only to Finland, where 10 out of 16 ministers, or 62.5% of its cabinet, are women. Several African countries are also well-placed. Among them are:

South Africa, where 15 out of 36 ministers are women, or 41.7% of the total;

Rwanda, where 11 out of 31, or 35.5%, are women, and

Burundi, where 8 out of 23, or 34.8% of the total, are women.

A high number of female cabinet ministers does not necessarily mean a high number of women in parliament. Despite the large number of women in ministerial positions, fewer than 21 % of parliamentarians in Cape Verde are women. Rwanda though, which also does well at the ministerial level, boasts the world’s highest female parliamentary representation, at 63.8%.

On average, 22.2% of African parliamentarians are women, putting the region ahead of Asia, the Arab States and the Pacific nations.

Nigeria lags behind

Nigeria’s efforts at increasing the proportion of women in politics do not rank highly on the continent, however.

In 2011 the Jonathan administration was credited with appointing women to close to 33% of cabinet positions. This was more than the 30% reserved for women under affirmative action guidelines contained in the National Policy of Women that was adopted in 2000. However, since then, the number of women in top government positions has dropped.

In January this year, only seven out of Nigeria’s 29 cabinet ministers were women, representing slightly fewer than a quarter. A cabinet reshuffle on 18 March brought in two new female ministers, taking their share to 31%.

As for parliamentary representation, Nigeria ranks among the lowest in the world with only 6.7% of MPs being female.

Conclusion: Both claims are wrong

Female representation in politics across Africa has increased in recent decades. But Nigeria, the continent’s most populous nation and largest economy, is not among the best performers.

The claims made by the first lady and the women’s affairs minister were important ones; all the more important as politicians of both main parties seek the votes of men and women across Nigeria in the run-up to Saturday’s presidential elections.

With only nine ministers, or under one third of the current Nigerian cabinet, female, they were also both plain wrong. ALLAFRICA

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