Nigerian politics is heavily promoted in media these days, and voters almost entirely rely on the media for political information. Gender bias in media coverage of politicians, unfortunately, harms female candidates’ electoral chances and jeopardizes the political lifespan of current female legislators. Female political actors in Nigeria do not get enough attention in the media either.
In 2020, the Global Media Monitoring Project (GMMP) research found that only 16% of news subjects in political and government stories in Nigeria were women. Although women in Nigeria have been represented by powerful voices in politics, taking the example of Margaret Ekpo, one of the country’s first female elected politicians, deep-rooted gender inequalities remain profound and undeniable.
Women’s right to have a voice always questioned
Despite efforts by different stakeholders ahead of the 2019 general elections to increase women’s participation in politics, the number of women elected to public seats has regrettably declined. Only 62 women were elected in the 2019 general elections, out of 2,970 who ran for various political positions. Only 11 (0.3%) and 7 (6.4%) of the 109 Senators and 360 House of Representatives members elected in 2019 were women, respectively.
Politics is a place where people are ready to question women’s ‘morality’ and their right to be heard. One of many examples is how Ms. Ken-Ohanenye, a lawmaker, was recently referred to as a “Female Presidential Aspirant” in a Peoples Gazette Twitter headline without mentioning her name or qualifications. The online newspaper also opted to emphasize her “vow to fix Nigeria in six months” over everything else in her manifesto.
Ms. Ken-Ohanenye’s competence was severely questioned in the comments, with derogatory language directed at her reliability and looks. The tweet highlighted the psychosocial impact these representations have on the reactions female politicians in Nigeria receive.
The impact of pushbacks against Nigerian female politicians
Apart from influencing women’s political career chances and thus directly contributing to their underrepresentation in politics, media portrayals of women politicians in Nigeria are likely to reinforce people’s perceptions of politics as a domain for men. This, in turn, may dampen young women’s political ambitions and dissuade political parties from picking female candidates, resulting in future underrepresentation of women.
In general, media bias could influence voter bias, which could lower women’s political aspirations while increasing men’s. The prevailing level of media coverage of Nigerian female politicians has a negative impact on female visibility in the political arena in primary and general elections.
A vicious and sexist cycle
Women’s representation in Nigeria is a problem that extends beyond politics and media. Women in leadership roles continue to be undervalued and overburdened by their gender roles across the country.
This disparity has a direct impact on women’s representation and coverage in politics, creating a vicious and sexist loop that inhibits women in positions of power from receiving more than minimal representation.