The 2017 International Women’s Day provided an opportunity to again consider how gender equality and women empowerment can be globally fast-tracked, especially in Africa.
Despite significant advocacy and progress made since the last decade towards gender equality and women empowerment, there is still a wide gap between projections and reality. The United Nations’ Millennium Development Goal three (MDG3) sought to promote gender equality and empower women, likewise, Sustainable Development Goal five (SDG5) seeks to not only promote gender and empower women but all women and girls. Despite the lofty targets, only five countries have closed the gender gap by 80% or more and only sixty four (64) countries have closed the gap by between 70% and 80% (World Economic Forum, 2016).
Aside Rwanda, which occupies the fifth (5th) spot globally, many African countries still struggle with a widening gender gap. For Nigeria, the Nigerian 2015 MDG End Point Report reveals that the country failed to meet the goal. Apart from strong progress made in gender parity, especially in basic education and percentage in labour force, the country registered weak progress in women empowerment.
Prevailing patriarchal culture and practices remain major obstacles to eradicating gender inequality in Nigeria. Nigerian women are constantly faced with unfavorable work conditions for, insecurity, low education, restriction in economic, political, and technological participation and leadership, discrimination in property ownership, and unequal pay structure, to mention a few. 60% of the 10.5million out of school Nigerian children are girls (UNICEF 2015). The country ranks 180 of 193 countries in women in national parliament (Inter-parliament Union) with only 4% of seats held by women in the upper house whilst men hold the remaining 96% (World Economic Forum 2016). Furthermore, women constitute only 42.4% of the country’s labour force (World Bank, 2014), earn 23% on average less than male counterparts (World Economic Forum 2016) and make up 70% of the agricultural workforce, but remain highest in poverty (AFDB, 2015). Yet, women suffer more during economic downturns and instability.
Despite these obstacles, half of a country’s talent base is women. In fact, 50% of the population of Sub-Saharan Africa are women (World Bank, 2015) and no nation can succeed when operating with half of its talent population. It is rather troubling that although one of the aims of the SDGs is to promote gender equality and women/girl empowerment, it will take 80 years for women around the world to achieve economic equality with men, according to Thomas Reuters Foundation.
Favourable work environment for women: On average, Nigerian women earn 23% less than their male counterparts (WEF 2016) and only 1.9% of adult women get their main source of income from the formal sector compared with 4.3% of adult men (EFinA Access to Financial Services in Nigeria 2014 Survey). Women remain constantly exposed to unfavourable work conditions that negatively impact on their wellbeing.
The private sector and all businesses as a whole need to realise that creating gender diversity in workplace as well as women-friendly work conditions will not only increase business revenue and ensure a sustainable business but also, it will attract and retain irreplaceable potential to the business.
Government’s commitment to gender equality: One of the strategies proposed for going forward with the developmental goals, as expressed by the office of the Senior Special Assistant to the president on MDGs and the UNDP Representative in Nigeria, is the need for a renewed sense of commitment from both the government and international development partners. The government is bestowed with the responsibility of making the first thrust towards instituting, promoting, and protecting the rights of women, while condemning and eradicating unhealthy gender stereotypes in the country. Unfortunately, a bill that was supposed to guarantee women’s equal rights with their male counterparts was on 15th March, 2016, a week after the 2016 International Women’s Day, dropped by the Nigerian Senate for the third time, on cultural and religious grounds. The Gender and Equal Opportunities Bill was supposed to curb all forms of violence against women including sexual abuse and discrimination; solicit for adoption of special temporary measures to eliminate discrimination and ensure equal opportunities for majority of Nigerians. Furthermore, the act sought to appropriate measures against gender discrimination in political and public life and prohibit violence against women, as well as protect women on event of husband’s death, so as to retain right to children and be able to inherit husband’s properties.
Still, if gender equality or women/girl-child empowerment is ever going to be prioritised in Nigeria, the government must show a more dedicated commitment to driving gender laws, strengthening girl-child education, promoting women empowerment, and protecting women and their rights.
Patriarchal Cultures: According to the Nigerian Population Clock (as at 07-03-2017: 17:27:45), men make up 50.6% of the Nigerian population while women, 49.4%; a very close ratio. Moreover, there are about 50.0million adult women in Nigeria (EFInA 2014). Therefore, African men will need to grow past the patriarchal stereotypes, recognise women’s potential and contribution in developing economies. Incidentally, women have become strong economic forces in developed world.
Woman be bold for Change: It is a known fact that African stereotypes and patriarchal culture are the root of the alarming gender inequality rates on the continent, if compared with developed Europe, Americas, and the Pacific. Sub-Saharan Africa still has a gender gap of 32.1% making the region the 3rd highest in closing the gender gap, next to South Asia and Middle East/North Africa and Nigeria ranks 118 out of 144 countries in global gender gap (WEF 2016).
It is however unfortunate African women have long accepted and played second fiddle to men till now. But, as the world celebrates the 2017 International Women’s Day, with the theme ‘Be bold for change’, women around the world are challenged to be bold to take on roles, fight for their rights, overcome low self-esteem, develop guts, re-invent, be hardworking, resilient, and participate in governance/leadership. Women are responsible for every point they are in their lives and are all responsible for the growth of the economy.
And according to the COO of Facebook, Sheryl Sandberg, ‘the shift to a more equal world will happen person by person, we move closer to the larger goal of true equality with each woman who leans in’ and we would rather say, with each woman who is bold for change.
Women’s empowerment, as well as their active involvement in leadership and business would lead to a contribution of about $28trillion to global economy, which is about the size of the economies of the United States and China put together (Thomas Reuters Foundation). World economy would be accelerated when all talents, including those of women are put into use.
Every year, the International Women’s Day is celebrated on the 8th of March, to cheer the existence and significance of women in the world. With 2017 theme, ‘Be bold for Change’ and celebrations held across the globe, African women, government, the private sector, and men all have a role to play to help make a more gender inclusive world, for the development of the globe.
EFInA (2014), EFInA Innovation Grant Round 6: Digital Financial Services for Women: Landscape of Women’s Financial Inclusion in Nigeria: Window Two: Enhancing Financial Innovation and Access
EFInA (2014), Access to Financial Services in Nigeria 2014 Survey: Key Findings: Enhancing Financial Innovation and Access, Dec. 2, 2014
OSSAP MDGs (2015), Nigeria 2015 Millennium Development Goals End-Point Report (Abridged Version): Office of the Senior Special Assistant to the President on Millennium Development Goals