I come from an African community in south south Nigeria where women are seen as useful; as wives, care givers and for family multiplication. Girls are a delight for their deligence in domestic chores until they are married off with bounties from in -laws. The role of girls and women have been so defined even in political participation only to vote. Since Nigeria's independence in 1960, women in my community have been voting but none ever ventured to seek elective post. Not because they do not have what it takes, because they have been conditioned to accept that political office is not for them. I was worried by this and began a movement in 2012 called 'Esan Women Movement' with the aim of breaking cultural barriers to women political participation and calling for equal opportunity for women in voting and being voted for. While mobilising, sensitising and motivating the women on their political rights, I involved the men on the issue but they laughed and mocked the idea claiming women cannot lead men in politics. I went further to mobilize young girls to contest as ward counsellors, they all declined for fear of their fathers, fear of violence and fear of "no woman has ever sought elective position before". In 2013 during our local government election seeing no woman was ready to contest, I mobilised the women to agitate for appointive positions. This yielded little as a handful of women made the list. As Nigeria's 2015 general elections drew near, in 2014, I tried talking to the women to believe in themselves to participate but the responses were the same. In my dilemma I realised I was like the women too. What is stopping me from contesting? We have seen political participation as a mystery and this needs to be demistified. I began to consult with women groups and my political party on my interest in contesting for the Edo State House of Assembly. It was a tall ambition coming from a woman who was yet to cut her teeth in politics; and coming from a patriarchal culture of the Esan tribe. From my declaration, to my campaigns and the primaries it was a huge battle. I was mocked, plotted against, threatened to step down, called all sort of names. Women were told to aviod me or else they will be sent packing from their matrimonial homes . I exhausted my savings, energy and goodlooks. I began to borrow from my mother's rural cooperative to meet up. I did all that was required by the electoral body. I was interviewed and cleared for the primaries. I was challenged during the interview for contesting. I almost backed down, but each time I remembered that no woman has ever ventured into the political space to lead, I encourage myself to get to the end. At each campaign ground after my speech the men would rise to shake my hands and wished I was a man that I would have been their choice. The political leaders told me in confidence that they know I could represent the people but their hands were tied. The women wanted a change and saw me as that change. But then they are not their own owners in a society where husbands watches their wives and daughters at polling unit and monitors their votes. The night to my primaries I was approached by various persons to step down or be put to shame. I received all manner of threats. By morning all my followers disappeared and only two men went with me to the local government headquarters for the primaries. At the end of the primaries, of the 300 votes from the 300 delegates men and women, I only got ONE VOTE. Yes one vote and till date the most celebrated vote by all. I became a instant reference point. I am still celebrating my ONE VOTE because as a woman from my ward Ugboha in Esan South East Local Government, Edo state, I finally broke the yoke of non female participation in elective positions. I have demistified political participation and I am able to motivate women and girls better from my experience. Men honour me now and secretly come to me to say their wives should work with me. I am accorded a lot of respect any where I go even by those who threatened me to step down. I did not make it from aspirant to candidate but I made it for the women of my community, I won for all women. I won because women can now participate in politics in my community despite the odds.
Take action! This post was submitted in response to The Path to Participation Initiative from World Pulse and No Ceilings.