Today in Nigeria, UNICEF reports that there are about 15 million Nigerian children of school age out of school, the highest rate in the world. Of all those, 5.5 million are girls; again the highest number of girls of school age out of school anywhere in the world.
I start with these damning figures because the main barriers to fair treatment of and equal opportunities for women are rooted in debilitating cultural habits that favour boys over girls in the wrong belief that women do not need education to fulfil what many consider their gender roles. Sadly, it’s not only the political class in Nigeria that has failed women and girls, it is all of us.
“When we build up women we build our nation and our communities.”
Not only do I write this in my book, for me it is a steadfast belief and absolute truth. Rather than dwell on the unfair hand that women have been dealt though, on this day, I want to focus on the how we can so better and even lead the rest of the world in terms of being respecters of womankind.
Some may say that gender parity is a problem of the privileged in the Nigeria that we live in today. I refer those people to the wisdom of Nelson Mandela:
It is important that government structures understand that true freedom and prosperity cannot be achieved unless…we see in visible and practical terms that the condition of women in our country has radically changed for the better, and that they have been empowered in all spheres of life as equal.
There are five major areas in which women in Nigeria have lived with inequality:
1. access to education for young girls;
2. access to finance;
3. women’s marital protection rights;
4. violence against women, and
5. the poor ratios of women representation in political and corporate leadership in Nigeria.
On access to education for girls, I propose that the federal and state governments in Nigeria make primary and secondary education mandatory. Because poverty and cultural habits reinforce the disadvantages to girls in this regard, I believe we must now be more creative with the kinds of incentives that should be trotted out to facilitate compliance. An example will be a kind of household subsidy to families below the poverty line who comply with laws and policies to ensure the education of girls.
Beyond incentives, it is vital to engage traditional rulers and other custodians of culture in our country in a structured and consistent dialogue on why it is in the broader interest of the society for girls to go to school.
On access to finance, I have five recommendations:
• The Central Bank of Nigeria should create and enabling policy environment for the establishment of women’s banks by the private sector, that can provide funding to women to start their own businesses or grow pre-existing businesses, with minimal collateral.
• Financial institutions and the governments should partner to provide venture capital and private equity funding to female-owned businesses.
• Banking institutions should increase their products tailored to women’s preferences and constraints.
• The CBN should revamp its micro-finance policy, which has so far not achieved the vision that inspired the institution of microfinance banking in Nigeria, to serve mostly women and be owned mostly by women. This is why microfinance has been successful in Asia but has not succeeded in Nigeria: the concept was predominantly female-oriented, while in Nigeria microfinance has been erroneously operated as mini-commercial banks.
• Financial inclusion policy, training and advocacy in Nigeria should be more specifically focused on women in order to bridge the gender gap and also improve access to finance more broadly. Failure to take this approach is why Nigeria has remained far from meeting its goal of reducing financial exclusion by 80 per cent by 2020, to which the CBN committed Nigeria in the global Alliance for financial inclusion.
On women’s marital protection rights, I really believe that we as a people first need a complete reorientation about the purpose of marriage to both men and women. We are way past the years of ownership of others’ bodies and dreams. A woman’s ambition cannot continue to be made contingent on the things that men “allow”.
While we undergo this reorientation, we must simultaneously begin to implement policies that protect the rights of women during a divorce settlement or death of spouse based on cultural/family dynamics and traditions should be more vigorously developed and implemented, especially at the state and community levels.
On violence against women, I believe we have been more reactive than proactive so far. Response to violent treatment of any woman must not be limited to commentary on social media. The perpetrators of the violence must be held accountable every time.
Also, more State government must strive to emulate the Lagos State’s Domestic Violence Response Team which has greatly encouraged victims of all forms of abuse to promptly report their experiences without any fear of being stigmatised or even reprimanded.
On the poor ratios of women representation in political and corporate leadership in Nigeria, I strongly believe the solution lies in the political domain. recommend the following:
• Female and male voters should inflict “political punishment” on all members of the national Assembly that voted against the Gender equality Bill by campaigning and voting for their defeat in the 2019 legislative elections.
• The election of a presidential candidate, whether man or woman, with a clear program and track record of support and advocacy for female gender equality in Nigeria and beyond.
• The adoption by the next President of Nigeria of an aspirational policy target of 50:50 gender parity in appointments to the cabinet and other political appointments, and in no event to achieve a gender gap closure rate of less than 40 per cent of political appointees being qualified and competent women with proven track records.
• The revival and sustained implementation of the national Gender Policy adopted by the federal Ministry of women and Social Affairs in 2008 in consultation with state governments and international development agencies.
• The prioritisation of constitutional and human rights of women to freedom from discrimination over conservative interpretations of religion in national and state legislation, bearing in mind that Nigeria is a secular and not a theocracy.
Implementation of these policies requires better education of both genders at all levels on the rights of women, and the socioeconomic dividends gender equality yields. In our homes and in our schools, we must do what it takes to move women—and therefore our country—forward.
I’d like to leave you with this: A World Bank research paper estimates that the opportunity cost of not investing in educating girls is a loss of GDP up from anywhere from 1.2 to 1.5 per cent. Nigeria’s GDP grew at under 2 per cent last year.
“When we build up women we build our nation and our communities.”
By Professor Kingsley Moghalu, President, Institute for Governance and Economic Transformation and Nigerian 2019 presidential candidate.