Female students face uphill battle in leadership races

by MMC
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Adelusi Adeola Ayomide, a student of the Federal University of Nigeria, Oye-Ekiti, South-West, discovered her potential in politics on campus during her first year of studies.

Driven by her enthusiasm to lead and armed with some fundamental leadership skills emanating from her college experiences, Ayomide entered the world of campus politics during her third year. She ran for vice chair of the mass communications department, her field of study. Despite competition from another female candidate, Ayomide emerged victorious.

His leadership journey did not end there. She sets a new goal: to become president of the department. This time, his opponent was a male candidate. As she pursued her goal, Ayomide began to experience antagonism within her department. What she began to hear were claims that the role of department chair was reserved for male students.

Reflecting on his experience, Ayomide said News from the academic world: “When I was aiming for the presidency, I encountered skepticism due to my gender. This doubt affected my confidence and enthusiasm, which ultimately impacted my election performance. Even though the school did not impose restrictions based on gender, I felt coerced and lost the election to a male opponent. It was discouraging to distance myself from my true aspirations due to the weight of gender bias.

“Gender stereotypes confine certain positions to men and others to women. This prejudice limits women’s aspirations and undermines their efforts.

“I have personally encountered this stereotype that dictates which roles are “masculine” or “feminine”. When women express their ambitions, they often face opposition solely due to their gender. This model is not unique to me. I have seen friends who are passionate about politics, but held back by gender inequality,” she added.

A persistent problem

Bias and gender stereotypes have prevented female university students from reaching leadership positions for many years. Despite a large higher education sector, only a small number of women have had the opportunity to lead.

According to the most recent data According to the National Universities Commission, of the 2.16 million students attending Nigeria’s 170 universities, 931,523 are women, or 43.14% of the total enrollment. This gender gap is even more pronounced at the postgraduate level.

Of the 170 universities in Nigeria, News from the academic world found that nine female students from nine different universities have become student union presidents over the past 30 years.

In the early 1980s, about 30 years ago, Ahmadu Bello University in northern Nigeria had a female student president, followed by Usmanu Danfodiyo University in the same region which had its first female president in 2016. Similarly, the University of Maiduguri had a woman. president in 1994, and Kogi State University in the same region had one in 2021.

Furthermore, in 2016, the University of Benin in the Southern Region of Nigeria, Edo State, had a student president, and the Federal University of Agriculture, Ogun State, in the same region, also had a student president in 2019.

Similarly, Obafemi Awolowo University, also located in the same region, had a student president in 2015 and the Federal University of Education, Owerri had a student president in 2019.

However, there is a similar narrative in mainstream Nigeria politics. The imbalance prevails, with only two female governors and four vice governors among the country’s 36 states. The legislative landscape is dominated by a 94% male presence.

“A lived experience”

Dr Saratu Mera, a lecturer in educational administration and planning at Usmanu Danfodiyo University, north-west Nigeria, highlights the problem of gender inequality affecting female students’ participation in politics on the campuses of Nigerian universities.

“In our educational institutions, there is a clear problem of gender inequality that prevents female students from actively participating in campus politics,” Mera said. News from the academic world.

She unraveled the different facets of this issue, telling the stories of enthusiastic young students who harbored ambitions to lead, initiate change and voice their concerns on a broader platform. However, these aspirations were often stifled by traditional norms that relegated women to passive roles in the political sphere.

“Gender inequality is not just a term, it is an experience of many young women,” she said. “Stereotypes that characterize women as ‘too emotional’ or ‘lacking leadership qualities’ are barriers we must eliminate. These perceptions deter competent and passionate young women from entering the political arena.

“Transformation begins with awareness. We must foster a culture on campus that recognizes the contributions of women in leadership roles. By highlighting the achievements of trailblazing women in politics, we can inspire others to follow suit.

“Mentoring plays a central role. When young women find mentors who believe in their potential, they gain the confidence to free themselves from self-doubt. A mentor can provide advice, offer ideas and be a pillar of support throughout their journey.

Mera also highlighted the need for gender awareness programs within universities. “Education is essential to combat stereotypes and prejudices. By integrating gender awareness into the curriculum, we can educate students about the importance of equal participation in all aspects of university life, including politics.

“Our universities should be laboratories of democracy, where all voices can be heard, regardless of gender. It’s not just about numbers; it’s about fostering an environment in which every student feels empowered to engage, lead and shape the future. By tackling gender inequality, we can pave the way for more inclusive and equitable politics on campuses in Nigeria and beyond,” she said.

What are the students saying?

Ijoma Isaac, a microbiology student at the University of South West Nigeria, Lagos, has touched hearts with her kindness. In 2022, during her third year of studies, she feels a strong desire to get involved in campus politics. She decided to run for the position of social director of her department’s student association, competing against a male candidate.

Isaac led campaigns to share his vision and plans to improve the lives of those in his department. However, just before the election, she unexpectedly withdrew due to what she felt was persistent criticism from fellow students who doubted that a woman could hold such a position.

Isaac aimed not only to rise to a position of leadership, but also to break gender barriers in campus politics. She wanted to create opportunities for determined young women to participate, but the pressure of gender bias led her to step back.

Jirita Mohammed, a third-year economics student at Adekunle Ajasin University in Nigeria, also highlighted gender bias in campus politics. She explained that many people think women can’t take on leadership roles because of fears of harassment from professors and other pressures.

Despite doubts from a male opponent, Mohammed remained determined and aimed to become the first female president of her department. She highlighted his ability to connect with students and resolve faculty issues.

“When I ran for student leader, my opponent questioned my abilities. I asked why he wanted to fight me when I declared my intention. He first said he needed to be convinced of my abilities and the reasons for withdrawing.

“I claimed I was capable and wondered what the role entailed that I couldn’t handle. I knew my potential. Finally, they presented an opponent and I started my campaign journey,” she explained in an interview with News from the academic world.

Factors limiting women’s participation

Oluwafemi Fayomi, a lecturer in the department of political science at the Federal University, Oye Ekiti, Nigeria, spoke to News from the academic world on the resemblance between the politics of Nigeria’s higher institutions and the national political landscape, both marked by low representation of women in governance.

He noted that while women actively participate in political activities such as voter registration and supporting candidates, their participation in higher levels of political participation remains limited.

Factors such as fear of intimidation, political violence and financial constraints hinder women’s political engagement in higher institutions across the country.

Fayomi pointed out that elective positions in student unionism tend to favor male students, with the positions of president, treasurer, financial secretary, public relations officer, social director, sports officer and auditor being mostly held by men. . He stressed the need to encourage female students to leverage their numbers and support female candidates for elective positions in Nigerian tertiary institutions.

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