National development: Women economic empowerment to the rescue?

It is a widely held belief that when more women are empowered and have equal chances to engage in economic life and governance the nation experiences rapid development, peace, and stability. Is this the solution Nigeria has been searching for? ENE OSHABA asks in this report.

Empowerment is the process of increasing the capacity, authority, and responsibility of individuals or groups to make choices and to transform those choices into desired actions and outcomes.

Economic empowerment on the other hand is a process that increases people’s access to, and control over economic resources and opportunities including jobs, financial services, property and other productive assets from which income can be generated.

For the President, Nigerian Economic Society (NES), Professor Ummu Aisha Jalingo, eomen empowerment refers to increasing the spiritual, political, social, educational, gender or economic strength of individuals and communities, including women’s ability to participate equally in existing markets; their access to, and control over productive resources, access to decent work, control over her own time, lives and bodies.

Jalingo stated this while presenting a paper titled: “What is Women Economic Empowerment and Why is it Important for National Development?” during the training for journalists covering Women and Women’s Economic Empowerment (WEE) organised by the Association of Communication Scholars and Professionals of Nigeria (ACSPN), recently in Abuja.

According to NES president, empowering a woman means increasing her voice, agency and meaningful participation in economic and decision making at all levels from the household to international institutions.

She added that this means enabling women’s self worth, their right to have and to determine choices, and the right to have access to opportunities and resources.

“It also means the right to have the power to control their own lives , both within and outside home, as well as the ability to influence the direction of social change to create a more just social and economic order, nationally and internationally.

“A woman has a voice to be reckoned with because she is a bridge builder. A woman should have access to opportunities when you send a boy to school and also allow the girls so she can stand on her feet just like the boys are given so she can access her rights in the society.

“Empowerment gives women self worth, the rights to have and to determine choices, the right to have access to opportunities, resources, the right to have power to control their own lives both within and outside the home,” she added.

Limiting factors

On her part, a lecturer at the Ebonyi State University, Prof. Ifeyinwa Nsude, said many factors hinder women’s economic growth in Nigeria.

She noted that top on the list was culture which she said ranks women below the status of men because of the patriarchal nature of the society.

The university don maintained that the root cause of the problems of women is that the laws guiding the Nigerian society were made by men, regretting that women are denied many rights such as the right to education, access to property, economic empowerment which concerns the general growth of the country.

Similarly, Prof. Jalingo said that gender inequalities in employment and job quality results in gender gaps in access to social protection acquired through employment, such as pensions, unemployment benefits or maternity protection.

“Globally, an estimated nearly 40 per cent of women in wage employment do not have access to social protection. In 40 per cent of economies, women’s early stage entrepreneurial activity is half or less than half of that of men’s.

“While 65 per cent of men report having accounts at a formal financial institution, only 58 per cent of women do worldwide,” Jalingo explained.

“Most of the 3.9 billion people who are offline are in rural areas, poorer, less educated and tend to be women and girls,” she added.

She further noted that women have remained backward economically due to their low representation in the public sector; even as she maintained that for many years counting inclusion of women in governance and leadership positions has not been adequately achieved.

“According to the world economic forum, electing more women in government not only promotes gender equality and strengthens democratic institutions but also makes real and substantive contributions to government spending and population health.

“Since its independence in 1960, Nigeria has not had a woman as president or vice president, despite women comprising almost half of the electorate.

“Also, in 2019, representation at national parliament was 93.8 per cent male and 6.2 per cent female, with only seven women among 43 appointed ministers.

“Female board members makes up 19 per cent of the total board composition across the various sectors listed on the stock exchange.

“Female management team members made up 23 per cent of the total board member composition across the various sectors listed in the stock exchange,” she added.

Why economic empowerment?

Prof. Nsude said the benefits of empowering women cannot be emphasised lamenting, however, that Nigeria was still a patriarchal country where most laws and policies have limited women’s attainment of economic freedom.

She stressed the need for all barriers militating against the empowerment of women should be addressed, saying that women’s economic empowerment is central to the attainment of their human rights.

Jalingo in her own submission said that empowering women economically increases national income, adding that gender equity in the labour market can deliver significant gains to national income.

“Women’s economic empowerment reduces income inequality: better economic opportunities and equal pay for women not only lowers gender inequality but also lowers income inequality. It is documented that lower income inequality in turn brings with it higher and more durable growth as seen in Venezuela and Sweden.

“It also improves economic resilience. Women’s empowerment enhances economic resilience because when more women work, economies grow. Women’s economic diversification and income equality in addition to other positive development outcomes,” she said.

Similarly, Prof. Jalingo emphasised that economic empowerment reduces gender economic bias, noting that when women are in leadership positions it enhances the lives of other women from increasing productivity and enhancing collaboration, to inspiring organizational dedication and decreasing employee burnout, the benefits of having women in the workplace are well documented.

Moving forward

The NES boss posited that achieving women economic empowerment was not a quick fix as it would take sound public policies, a holistic approach and long term commitment from all development actors.

She added that the economic empowerment of women was their right and smart economics, stressing that to address the gender gap and achieve inclusive economic prosperity picking winners was not enough.

She, therefore, tasked all relevant stakeholders and development actors on the need to reach and enhance opportunities for girls and women wherever they are.

The media was also tasked to amplifying the need for women economic empowerment, especially women at the grassroots, who contribute to the nation’s GDP, yet are not recognised or benefit from their labour.

This is against the background that women’s labour is usually underpaid or not paid for at all, this trivialisation has, sadly, been the norm over the years and experts are calling for more visibility of women’s contributions if their lives can be any better.

Prof. Nsude while stressing the role of media in changing the negative narrative on women said as the watchdog of society they were expected to contribute to economic empowerment of women by organising discussion panels on both indigenous and traditional mediums, putting women empowerment issues on the agenda and encouraging leaders to take action.

“When women are fully involved in any development strategy, the benefits are seen immediately- families are healthier and better fed, family income and investment go up, national income also go up. For instance Dr. Ngozi Okonîjo Iweala at the World Trade Organisation (WTO) speaks volumes of the capacity of women to turn things around,” she added.

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