Alarm from World Economic Forum and the Race to Bridge Nigeria’s Gender Gap

Former Lagos East Senatorial District candidate of Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), Princess Abiodun Oyefusi, has reacted with disappointment over the just-concluded zonal congress of the party that took place on 12 April 2021 in Osogbo, the Osun State capital. She frowned at a process that failed to give adequate attention to women participation, despite the passing of the 35 per cent affirmative women representation agenda by PDP headquarters.

This development brings to the fore the latest gender gap report of the World Economic Forum (WEF). The WEF estimated that it will take another 136 years to attain global gender parity in political and social issues. This is an increase from the previous estimate of about 100 years.

Measuring parity on the basis of economic participation cum opportunity, education, health and political empowerment, data from the forum showed that the gap in political empowerment has widened by a significant margin since its 2020 reports.

Economic participation has nonetheless improved by a small margin. However, WEF estimated that the economic gender gap will take a whopping 268 years to close. According to WEF, “progress towards gender parity is stalling in several large economies and industries.

“This is partly due to women being more frequently employed in sectors hardest hit by lockdowns combined with the additional pressures of providing care at home.

“While the proportion of women among skilled professionals are growing, income disparities and the scant number of women in managerial positions still pose some problems.”

Over the years, emphases have been made concerning how gender gap can turn or upturn the economic fortunes of any country. Gender equality has been shown to stimulate economic growth, which is important, especially in countries with higher unemployment rates and less economic opportunity.

Nigeria ranked 128 in the Global Gender Index for 2020. This is a significant improvement from 133 in 2018, but a slight shortfall when compared to Nigeria’s ranking in 2017, 2016, and 2015 which peaked at 122, 118, and 125 respectively.

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Meanwhile, one wonders where the latest report on gender gap by the WEF stands in the face of various empowerment programmes and engagements for women across the country, and the fact that there is still a lot to be done. For instance, the Nigerian government efforts in mitigating the impact of the pandemic on businesses through the National Economic Sustainability Plan largely incorporated MSMEs owned by women. The MSMEs Survival Fund of N60bn and Guaranteed Offtake Schemes of N15bn had 45% of women as beneficiaries.

Before then, the Federal Government brought about a Special Cash Grant to empower 100 million rural women as part of its social inclusion and poverty reduction agenda. The Minister of Humanitarian Affairs, Disaster Management and Social Development, Umar Farouq, flagged off the disbursement of N20, 000 to women under the Grant for Rural Women Project in the Federal Capital Territory (FCT), Abuja, January 2021.

Asides the 2000 women beneficiaries in the six area councils of the FCT, the cash grant included about 125,000 poor women across the states of the federation. The cash grant was aimed at increasing the income and productive assets of target beneficiaries.

In addition, the Director General, National Centre for Women Development, Mrs. Mary Ekpere-Eta, early this month, disclosed that the Federal Government is spending N5.6bn for women empowerment and fight against Gender-Based-Violence for the year 2021.

A BBC report had stated that 40% of Nigerian women are entrepreneurs, which is the highest ratio of female business owners in the world. Several players in the banking industry in recent years have also been pushing various empowerment programmes for women.

One of the leading financial institutions which have taken gender equality and women’s empowerment to another level is Access Bank. The bank promotes gender equality and women’s economic empowerment through three-pronged approach: Women in the workplace, Women in the marketplace, and Women in the community.

In 2006, Access Bank began that journey with the establishment of its Gender Empowerment Movement (GEM). After working through the GEM to invest in women for eight years, the programme evolved into a robust plan and was named the ‘W’ Initiative.

The W initiative remains the home of everything Access Bank has to offer women. It has helped to build on Access Bank’s position as the Bank of choice for women in the markets and communities. In furtherance of its commitment to women economic empowerment through the W initiative, it has deployed programmes such as: W Academy, W Community (The W Community is made up of the Young Professional, ‘W’ in Business and W & Family).

The Access Women Network (AWN) is another laudable programme which has seen a positive trend in female representation in the bank, especially in its senior leadership roles, increasing to 34%. This is a clear indication of Access Bank performing above industry average and as stipulated by the Nigerian Sustainable Banking Principles to have women occupy 30% of the Bank’s senior roles.

If the report by WEF is anything to go by, it then means there are still a lot of measures to be taken to fill in the gap seeing the numerous benefits accrued to low gender gap. It is however clear that Nigeria is already taking concrete steps to bridge the gender gap. What the country needs is to consolidate on what she has put in place for women. Players in the private and public sector can also aid the efforts.

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Even so, as WEF reports stated, the gap in political empowerment has widened by a significant margin. Nigeria’s political space is one of the areas with high gender gap. A UN Women publication in 2019 had said Nigeria has one of the lowest rates of female representation in parliament across Africa. In the global ranking, Nigeria stands at 181 out of 193.

Findings reveal that in the 2019 general elections, only 5 out of 73 presidential candidates were women. Women in the same national polls consisted of just 12% of the candidates for senatorial seats and were 560 in number as opposed to 4139 in the race for places in the House of Representatives. According to the Centre for Democracy and Development, only 62 women came out on top making up 4% of elected officials.

Some have said women should be encouraged to vie for government positions. But it goes beyond this. Much of the problem with women getting involved in politics or doing well at all stems from the male chauvinistic tendencies that dominate the social attitudes of many citizens. It is entrenched and in reality, will take time to change. However, continuous public orientation can be a game-changer.

According to the National Bureau of Statistics, “women constitute almost half of the Nigerian population and its workforce. Yet the kind of work they do, the condition under which they work, and their access to opportunities for advancement at workplace differ from that of men.”

Several countries across the world including Nigeria need to start dealing with the primacy of misogyny and male chauvinism, while addressing other intersectional gender imbalances and their root causes.

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