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Female Leaders Fear Women Being Sidelined in Nigeria's 2019 Elections

FILE - A woman casts her vote during a local government election in Lagos, Nigeria, July 22, 2017. Nigerian women fear being sidelined in the country's 2019 general elections due to discrimination, a lack of will from political parties and a shortage of female candidates.

Nigerian women risk being sidelined in elections next year, said female leaders, calling for greater training and support in a country where about only one in 20 lawmakers are female.

Few women are likely to win seats in Nigeria's 2019 general elections due to discrimination, a lack of will from political parties and a shortage of female candidates, politicians and civil society leaders said.

"Every party wants to put its best foot forward, and we are not sure that many are going to put women forward," said Olufunke Baruwa, head of the Nigerian Women Trust Fund, an advocacy group seeking to boost women's leadership.

Women occupy only 27 of 469 parliamentary seats, and the United Nations ranks Africa's most populous nation as one of the worst in the world for female representation in parliament.

Speaking this month at an event in the capital Abuja on boosting women's involvement in politics, several politicians said aspiring female leaders should be trained in skills such as fundraising and encouraged to join political parties.

"Instead [of focusing on the challenges women face], we should help women learn more about fundraising, negotiation, consensus," said Ebere Ifendu, the national publicity secretary of the Labour Party, one of Nigeria's main opposition parties.

Getting girls interested in and inspired by politics is crucial, said Olaoluwa Abagun, founder of the Girl Pride Circle Initiative, which helps girls obtain internships in parliament.

"If you walk into a room where you have adolescent girls, you most likely won't find them talking about politics," Abagun said at the event organized by the British government. "Even boys as young as 10 say: 'I want to be president.' ... We need to be conscious about investing in adolescent girls."

Nigeria's female lawmakers say more women are needed in government to support policies that affect women across the country, such as gender-based violence and maternal mortality.

Yet discrimination is a major obstacle, said Aishatu Jibril Dukku, a member of parliament from the northeast state of Gombe.

"Being a woman is a disqualification, especially in the area where I come from," she said. "As a contestant, I had to work twice as hard to convince my people that I can do it."

Female lawmaker Nnenna Elendu-Ukeje told Reuters last year that sexism and physical threats were scaring women away from Nigerian politics.

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