Although it is 42 years after the ratification of the Convention on All aspects of Violence Against Women (CEDAW, 1979), discrimination is still widespread in law and practice. Over the last decade, 131 countries have added 274 gender-related amendments to legislation and rules, but it is documented that more than 2.5 billion women remain in countries with at least one restrictive rule. These laws limit women’s right to express their opinion about marriage, divorce, child custody, choices about having a career or beginning a business, among others.
Discrimination against women continues to be a major violation of human rights. One in five women worldwide has witnessed sexual and/or physical abuse at the hands of an intimate partner in the last year. While policies against domestic abuse were unusual in the 1990s, they are still in effect in about 146 countries. This is a significant move forward, primarily motivated by feminist activism, but more remains to be improved to ensure effective implementation and provide care and access to justice for victims.
Women can Contribute to Economic Growth
Globally, the gender disparity in labour participation among adults (25-54) has remained stagnant over the last 20 years. Just under two-thirds of women (62%) are employed, relative to 93% of men.
Moreover, while financial inclusion is on the increase globally, there is still a gender gap: 80% of women-owned companies with credit requirements are under-served, and women in developed countries are nine per cent less likely than men to have a bank account. Equal access for women to financial products not only unlocks economic opportunities but also allows women a voice in their own financial choices.
Globally, women between 25 and 34 years of age are 25% more likely than men to live in severe poverty. Many of these women need access to social security and public programs that can provide them with viable ways out of poverty.
The dream of economic equality remains unfulfilled for most women in Nigeria. According to the World Poverty Clock, the number of Nigerians who are severely poor – all who survive on less than $1.90 a day – is 94 million and increasing, rendering the nation the centre of poverty in the world. The true extent of the poverty crisis in Nigeria is made clearer when you realize that women, who make up 48% of Nigeria’s population, account for more than 70 per cent of those in severe poverty-more evident in women within the rural parts of Northern Nigeria). Gender bias not only holds women down but also restricts the country from reaching its immense potential. Nigeria’s gross domestic product (GDP) could rise by 23 per cent – or $229 billion – by 2025 if women were to participate in the economy to the same degree as men, according to a McKinsey report.
Collaborating with SMFB, Propcom Mai-karfi is helping women farmers and women small business owners access much-needed financing. In 2018, Propcom Mai-karfi collaborated with Standard Microfinance Bank (SMFB) in Adamawa State, North-East Nigeria, to create and pilot targeted loan products that correlate with the agricultural development and market cycles of target recipients. The goal was to promote financial inclusion for rural farmers and small businesses and prove that reducing the equity requirement for these target groups can lead to better repayment performance. By the pilot’s end, 5,793 farmers and smaller businesses, most of whom were women, received loans at 10% less than the Bank’s original ask. This decreased capital contribution to access loans and will help more farmers, especially women, obtain loans in future.
Education Can Promote Women Empowerment
Despite an improvement in girls’ education, almost half a billion women and girls aged 15 and over remain illiterate and only 39% of rural girls attend secondary school. However, figures suggest that, based on recent developments, the gender disparity in educational achievement can be entirely narrowed in 12 years, mainly due to advances in some developed countries. Increased access for women to education has been shown to raise the participation rate for women in work; postpone marriage and having children and make women less vulnerable to violence.
According to the UNESCO Institute for Statistics, 40% of girls are out of school in Nigeria, and even those who attend school have an average school life expectancy of 9 years compared to 17 years in the developed world.
Propcom promotes gender equality and the economic empowerment of women in northern Nigeria. This is based on the premise that Women Economic Empowerment is a critical aspect of poverty reduction, which is the goal of the programme. Propcom’s definition and approach to women’s economic empowerment go beyond giving women economic assets or unlocking economic opportunities for them. It involves ensuring that women have the power and agency to make and act on economic decisions, thus benefitting fully from the income earned.
Owing to increased access to maternity care, fewer women are now dying in childbirth compared to 20 years earlier. But women’s sexual and reproductive rights are far from being realized. In 2019, 190 million women of reproductive age worldwide who chose to prevent conception did not use any contraception procedure, up from 156 million in 2000. Increased investment in gender-responsive social security and public programs, such as health and education, is key to addressing these inequalities.
Women Belong In Places Where Decisions Are Being Made.
Control and decision-making are also largely dominated by men. Women’s presence in parliaments more than doubled from 11% in 1995, but men nevertheless occupy three-quarters of seats. Men still occupy 73% of executive posts and 70% of climate negotiators. In peace talks, the figures are much worse. Despite conclusive proof that when women are participating in structured peace negotiations, settlements are more equitable and permanent, women make up just 13 per cent of the peace negotiators and 4 per cent of the signatories.
Sub-Saharan Africa and Latin America have made the most annual gains in growing the political empowerment gap since 2012, although the gap in East Asia and the Pacific is diminishing. If we proceed at the current rate, almost 2 billion (approximately half) women and girls will still face inequality in public leadership opportunities by 2030.
Although access to formal decision-making remains minimal, women demand space and take on leadership positions not only in feminist groups but in several social justice campaigns, connecting gender equity, climate justice, labour rights, racial equality and more. Woman human rights advocates and campaigners face threats of physical violence, abuse and bullying. Financing for their jobs is also scarce. But new generations of young feminists continue to add momentum and creative tactics to the fight for women’s rights.
In conclusion, BBC estimates that 40% of Nigerian women are entrepreneurs, which is the largest percentage of female business owners in the country. Driven, creative and passionate about uplifting themselves and those around them, Nigerian women are also running more structured enterprises, exploiting technology innovations to create innovative companies, and organizing more than ever to support each other.
All that women in Africa’s most populated nation now need is a culture that is more inclusive and less patriarchal in the way it handles and reacts to their well-being, ambitions, and expectations. And it will take sustained focus and dedication from both the public and private sectors to make this a reality.
Gender equality is an ongoing issue in every country. Women have reduced access to schooling and health services, so many lack financial independence and are marginalized in decision-making throughout all levels. Progress in gender equality over the last quarter of a century, while gradual and steady, demonstrates that progress is inevitable.
At Propcom Mai-Karfi, we aim to challenge the gender disparity status quo by continually strengthening our work on social justice/inclusion and ensuring that women have a platform and participation in all of our initiatives and interventions.