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  • Background to the Study

In recent times, nations of the world have witnessed increased discussions and heated debates on gender issues with an emphasis on women’s liberation, emancipation, empowerment, protection of the rights of women, rights of lesbians, rights of gays, bisexuals, and transgender issues. These gender discussions and debates have been devoted to gender identity and gender representation. Gender identity refers to the simple ability to label oneself as a man or woman. While gender representation relates to one’s ability to control or influence decision making in terms of resources and political control. Men and women differ in their activities regarding access and control over resources, participating in decision processes, and, their involvement in social and political activism. 

It is widely accepted that the ability of a nation to establish a just, equitable, balanced, viable, healthy, and prosperous society depends largely on an all-inclusive political process and the economic activities of the nation. In the wake of democratic governance, gender discrimination remains a major issue in political processes and socio-economic development in most societies around the globe. Nevertheless, few women participate in political activities or hold relevant decision-making positions. This brings into question the representative nature of existing political structures. In view of the various forms of discrimination inherent in gender studies, this study looks at women and political participation. Available data on women’s participation in politics and positions of power, decision-making in the public and private spheres, and civil societies indicates that despite efforts, initiatives, and operational strategies put in place, resistance to the advancement of women in positions, professions and fields traditionally dominated by men still persists.

In Africa, this gap in political participation along gender lines work against women, marginalizing them in both socio-economic and political spheres. It has left women economically weak, politically disadvantaged, and largely excluded from the structures of political power in their societies. Howard (2006:114) argue that African women are the invisible farmers of African agriculture because of their extraordinary labour contributions to farming, noting that rural women work 2–6 hours longer than rural men daily. He contends that development planners fail to recognize the important role of women in the development process. This situation no doubt undermines the socio-economic and political development of African women.

The exclusion of women from political processes in Nigeria can be traced back to the colonial period when women were forced to give up many of their political rights. As a result of colonization, the resurgence of women’s movements demanding greater political participation in Nigeria took place later than in other countries. For instance, women living in northern Nigeria received suffrage as late as 1978. Mrs. Margaret Ekpo of the famous Aba riot of 1929, Madam Tinubu of Lagos and Egbaland, Mrs. Funmilayo Ransome-Kuti of the Abeokuta Union of 1948, and Hajiya Gambo Sawaba of the Northern Element Progressive Union (NEPU) were among the women who made their mark on the political scene during that time (Walter, 2018).Though women enjoyed high democratic authority in southern Nigeria, this was not a general phenomenon because men had always been dominant in the political structure, with women complementing them.

Gender has come to be a very crucial instrument for shaping society. Based on this, the world’s governments adopted Gender Equality and Women’s Empowerment as part of the third Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) in 2000. Previously, United Nations Conferences such as the Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW, 1997), the World Conference on Women (Beijing, 1995) and the Security Council (2008) all focused on gender equality and women’s empowerment in the democratic structure. With this, most Nigerian women still have little influence and control over economic resources. This is a situation that has wasted the potential of women and has brought about a decline in economic development.

Just like women in other patriarchal societies, the subordinate position to which Nigerian women are subjected predisposes them to various acts of gender-based discrimination. Being a patriarchal society, male dominance is reflected in marriage institutions where a woman is regarded as the property of the man. She has no right to make any decision that concerns her except with the permission of her husband. Also, in political and governing institutions where the Ministry of Women’s Affairs has a male as commissioner or permanent secretary, and in religious institutions, such as the non-inclusion of women in the Board of Elders in some churches, Some public and private institutions would not employ women because they would go on maternity leave, or if they are employed, they are not paid salaries during such leave.

After the election of Olusegun Obasanjo as the president of Nigeria in May 1999, the morale of Nigerians was at its lowest ebb because of several problems that characterized the past military regimes. These problems included unemployment, which is still a problem till date, a high level of corruption, the near total absence of infrastructure, malfunctioning public utilities, inefficient state enterprises and so on. Within a few months of democratization, political, economic, and institutional areas of reform to deal with these issues were identified. Over the years, many reforms have been initiated. These include the liberalization of key sectors of the economy, the restructuring of government budgeting and taxation laws, governance and institutional strengthening, and debt management (Okonjo-Iweala and Osafokwaako, 2007). Along with these reforms, several policies and programmes were put in place to improve education and health, and reduce women’s disadvantages in labour market outcomes in general. A specific example of female empowerment in democracy is the government’s appointment of more women with expertise into top government positions.

President Goodluck Jonathan’s administration appointed the former vice president of the World Bank, who happened to be a Nigerian, (Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala) as Minister of Finance. Mrs. Dora Akunyili was appointed as the Director General, National Agency for Food, Drug Administration and Control (NAFDAC) under Obasanjo and Minister of Information under Goodluck Jonathan. In addition, several regulations and electoral acts were put in place to ensure that political and non-political appointments and elections and government contracts were awarded based solely on merit. Education enabled more women to participate in elections in 2003, 2007 and 2011. The 35% affirmative action appointment of women into strategic positions during Dr. Goodluck Jonathan’s administration has received a tremendous boost till date, with the present democratic government doing its best to carry the women along.

Drama is one sector that has gotten a firm foothold in the discourse concerning women’s issues. The art of dramaturgy is a palpable human phenomenon that draws its motivation and inspiration from human experiences within society. Since drama derives its source from human experiences, it logically is a melting pot for addressing issues of women’s empowerment positively or otherwise, according to the point of view of the dramatist. While for ages, female portrayal in dramatic works was, to say the least, lacklustre, the momentum gained by the feminist movement enhanced the portrayal of women in contemporary society, and this is receiving massive reconstructions that see contemporary female characters crafted in bold, confident, and assertive roles. In Nigerian society, one theatre scholar/practitioner who has been at the forefront of positively overhauling the image of women in her works is Irene Isoken Oronsaye Salami-Agunloye. This study examines Salami-Agunloye’s crafting of female characters in her play More than Dancing within the context of her traditional Bini society and her larger Nigerian society. The study sets out to determine issues of social justice and women’s participation in politics as portrayed by the dramatist in her play, More Than Dancing.

  • Statement of the Problem

The independent National Electoral Commission did not issue any data about the number of women registered to vote in the 2011 election. However, Agbalajobi (2010) estimates that half or slightly over half of the 73.5 million registered voters are women. Despite this high percentage of the population, women are underrepresented in government decision-making bodies. In Nigeria, there is no legislative framework securing quotas for women in political parties and national elections. Section 40 of the constitution confers on all citizens the right to democratic governance and the right to participate therein, and Section 77 (2) states that every citizen in Nigeria who has attained the age of 18, residing in Nigeria at the time of registration of voters for purposes of an election, shall be entitled to be registered as a voter for that election. However, in practical reality, as experienced in the country’s political exercise, there has been an apparent lopsidedness in terms of the participation of women in politics vis-à-vis their male counterparts.

The marginalization of Nigerian women in politics and decision-making by men is as old as Nigerian society and actually predates the advent of colonialism in southern and northern Nigeria. It is believed that the marginalization of women in political participation and decision-making processes has been responsible for the exclusion of the interests of women in governance and developmental paradigms, and Niger State is not an exception. Women are poorly represented in political parties, which is partly because male characteristics are mostly emphasized in the criteria for eligibility as candidates for such positions.

According to the 2006 National Census report, women constitute almost half of the population of Nigeria; that is, 69,086, 302 million out of 140,431, 79 (49.2%) (Census, 2006). Despite this teeming population of women, none has ever emerged as president or vice president in the history of Nigeria. The only positions that women can get are two or three ministerial positions, a few directors, a few senators and other positions that are not key in the development of Nigeria.

This is why the researcher is interested in examining social justice and women’s participation in politics using Irene Salami Isoken’s More than Dancing.

  • Purpose of the Study

The main purpose of this study is to examine social justice and women participation in politics using Irene Salami Isoken’s More than Dancing. Other specific objectives of the study are to:

  1. Examine factors that deter the participation of women in politics as seen in the primary text.
  2. To find out instances of social injustices against women as presented in the primary text.
  3. Find out how social justice for women can promote women participation in politics.
    • Research Questions

The following research questions guided the study:

  1. What are some of the factors that deter the participation of women in politics as portrayed in the primary text?
  2. To what extent does the writer portray instances of injustices against women in the text?
  3. How can social justice for women promote women participation in politics?

1.5. Significance of the Study

This study is significant especially now that women have continued to bear the scars of abuses, injustices and maltreatement in all spheres of social life because of their gender. Abuses like rape, denial, abandonment in the marriage institution have been on the increase in modern society when one should have expected a change of attitude towards women by their male counterparts. This research will aid a better appreciation of women and remove, possibly, those barriers that have continued to pin women down in politics. It will also encourage better participation of women in politics since the men have failed woefully in politics.

1.6. Scope and Delimitation of the Study

This study covers social justice and women participation in politics. The study is restricted to Irene Salami Isoken’s More Than Dancing which is a drama text. Furthermore, other literary works shall also be consulted to buttress the points raised in this study. The study will only restrict itself on the instances of injustices against women that have continued to prevent women from active participation in politics. Because of time and financial constraints, the study will limit itself to textual analysis of the primary text and other source materials. The findings derived from this study will by used to generalize in order to cover other impediments against women in human society.

1.7. Author’s Biodata

Irene Isoken Oronsaye Salami-Agunloye hails from Edo State, an ancient Kingdom, located in that region of the nation now known as south-south Nigeria. A Professor of Theatre Arts, her academic pursuits took her through the University of Ibadan (South-Western Nigeria) and Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria (Northern Nigeria). She lectures at the University of Jos (North Central Nigeria). She has at various times been the Head of Department of Theatre and Communication Arts; President, Nigeria Association of Women Academics; National Secretary, Nigerian Participatory Rural Appraisal Network; National Vice President and Treasurer at different times of the Society of Nigerian Theatre Artists (SONTA), President Jos Club of the Federation of Business and Professional Women (Emotan… 2001) She has successfully actualized her callings as daughter, wife, mother academic and mentor to many. As an academic, she is the author of many works including the many plays including More than Dancing which is being studied in this research work. Not content with realizing her full potentials as a human being, she reaches out to motivate and inspire the younger generation to actualize their own potentials by initiating the Shade Tree Theatre and Street Care Africa (More than Dancing, 2003).

1.8 Theoretical Framework


Feminist theory examines women in the social world and addresses issues that are important to women, a particular emphasis on issues that are important to women from the perspective, experiences, and viewpoint of women. The feminist theory posits that all people are created equal and that culture and attitude of individuals are responsible for promoting gender conflict and that nobody benefits from making one gender subordinate to the other. The theory emphasizes that the potentials of women are suppressed. Feminists argue that society holds the false belief that women are, by nature, less intellectually and physically capable than men; thus, it tends to discriminate against women in the academy, the forum, and the marketplace. It is in line with this that this study hinges on the fact that women are deprived political participation because they are seen as inferior to men. When this theory is applied to Irene’s More than Dancing, it aids a better interpretation and understanding of the author’s agitation in the text.


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