It was not an easy task conceptualising leadership training for young female activist and experienced women in politics. How do you have a training geared at awakening the interest of young females between the ages of 15 – 30 while also strengthening the skills of the older women on lobbying and advocacy for political leadership? We in the Governance team at ActionAid Nigeria had thought to bring the two groups together as a way to enhance the strategic leadership of females in the political, economic and democratic space, but during the planning stages, I began to question if the idea would really work. It turns out that I needn’t have worried!
There was no dull moment from the beginning of the three-day leadership training which kicked off on the 9th of December 2014. The fifteen young women activists and ten women already in politics were uniformly and immediately enthused by the opportunity to discuss, learn and strategize. The older women were excited and eager to share with the younger ones their experience in navigating the political space in Nigeria. It is a space built for men, they told them, but it will accommodate women – if you are twice as tough.
So then, what does it take for a woman to be in politics and remain in it? The female politicians had a lot to say. I listened in, as intrigued as the young participants. A number of points the women said stuck with me, such as:
“Men will intimidate; be determined.”
“If you love politics, be a good mixer.”
“Its free and fair is a lie; there will always be one gun shot or another.”
“If you cannot stand challenges, don’t think about politics.”
“As a woman you must maintain your integrity and decency, else you will fail.”
“Watch out for the men, they will harass you sexually, when you resist they call you a stubborn woman, but then you earn their respect.”
The sessions fluidly moved on and the two groups openly and vibrantly discussed specific challenges and tried to identify resources available to women, and how to access these resources to enhance their political leadership.
One big challenge the women identified was the lack of funds to finance their campaigns. Men who hold wealth or are in influential positions want to support male politicians. There are few women in Nigeria who are independently wealthy or as highly influential, and of those who are, they still would rather support male politicians.
The interactive session ended with the women providing suggestion for taking this 3-day initiative forward by strengthening women’s followership and campaign structures. Each woman, representing a state in Nigeria, also developed a plan of action on how to widen their reach to other young women and pledged to mentor them. On the part of the younger girls, they strategized on how to get more of their peers involved in school leadership and other leadership positions open to young women.
My function was to facilitate, but even I was caught up by the enthusiasm and ideas coming from these women of all ages. Throughout the three days, the room was charged with a great sense of momentum and serious reflection that was infectious. As one participant said: “We came in empty, but we are going back fully armed; not with guns, but with information for our communities, local government, state and nation’s good.”
If this training proved anything, it is that the women of Nigeria are ready and eager to lead. Now it is up to all of us to create a political and public space where they can.