8 June 2012

Nigeria: Gender Inequality - the Way Out

The 2012 Gender in Nigeria Report launched recently shows that gender inequality not only exists in the country but at highly worrying levels. There is a lack of gender balance in the economy, education, politics, health, access to justice and almost all areas of human development.

According to the report, "Nigeria's 80.2 million women and girls have a significantly worse life chances than men and also their sisters in comparable societies; 60-79% of the rural workforce is women but men are five times more likely to own land. In eight Northern states, over 80% of women are unable to read compared with 54% for men. 70.8% of young women aged 20-29 in the North-West are unable to read and write and only 3% of females complete secondary school in the northern zones. Nigeria ranks 118 of 134 countries in the Gender Equality Index". Parts of the six key conclusions of the report is that until women in Nigeria begin to contribute more to household cash income, their ability to influence spending at household level will continue to be limited.

Gender inequality in Nigeria also formed the fulcrum of discussions at the recent national gender policy dialogue organized by the World Bank and DFID across cities in the country.

Speaking on the situation, Minister of Women Affairs and Social Development, Hajiya Zainab Maina, regretted that the cost of gender inequality and the general poor condition of women is huge and that it is a major constraint to growth in the country. She said investing in girls and women is an investment in Nigeria's future development.

She said Nigeria is marked by huge geographical disparities and human development outcomes for girls and women are worse in the North, where poverty levels are sometimes twice as high as parts of the South (72% in the North-East compared with 26% in the South-East and a national average of 54%) and Hausa girls, for example, are 35% less likely to go to school than Yoruba boys.

According to her, "the impact of inequality on the lives of girls and women is reflected starkly in health and education outcomes, nationally and between North and South. Levels of gender violence are also high, notably in the South. Obstacles for women economic independence is an essential dimension of women's empowerment. Improving their access to and control over resources increases investment in human capital, which in turn improves children's health, nutrition, education and future growth.

Women own only 4% of land in the North-East, and just over 10% in the South-East and South-South. Land ownership and land tenure give women security and provide a key to access other resources and opportunities." She explained

Findings from the report also reveal women occupy 21% of non formal sector positions. Regardless of their educational qualifications, women occupy fewer than 30% of all posts in the public sector and only 17 % of this in senior cadre .More so, only one in every three employees in the privileged non-agricultural formal sector is a woman. Maina suggested that the public sector could highlight and address this issue by conducting a gender audit to identify where gender equity can be strengthened in recruitment, promotion and pay.

The development of girls' education is another important area of concern. Consequently for Nigeria to capitalize on the potential of its people, and ensure healthier, more educated, empowered and productive citizens, it must invest in educating the mothers of the next generation. Educated women are more likely to use health services and to have fewer and better-nourished children, and their children are more likely to survive. Girls who are educated will also contribute to future economic growth. Education policy can influence parental decisions about the need to educate the girl-child.

Nigeria has the largest number of out-of-school children in the world. Several reasons explain this: socio-cultural traits, poverty, early marriage, early childbirth, poor sanitation, and the shortage of female teachers.

The country also has one of the worst maternal mortality rates in the world with one woman dying every 10 minutes during delivery. That is 545 deaths per every 100,000 successful deliveries; nearly 50% of all Nigerian women are mothers before they turn 20.

Maina attributed this to the weak economic base of the women and their inability to access quality health care services. "Other reasons for high mortality are poor access to safe childbirth services, and lack of adequate and affordable emergency obstetric care." She said

Another area of great concern as shown by the report is the political representation of women. Women are underrepresented in all political decision-making bodies. Only 9% of those who stood for election in Nigeria's April 2011 National Assembly elections were women. That is out of the 360 members of the House of Representatives, only 25 are women, which is 6% compared to African average of 19%. The lack of women in decision-making positions may be one explanation for Nigeria's low investment in sectors that are crucial to human development outcomes, such as health and education.

Maina who for over four decades has been a woman activist, gender advocate and one time President of the National Council of Women's Societies reiterated her unflinching commitment to gender equity and the overall welfare of women in and out of government and strongly believes that women have the potential to transform Nigeria, stressing that achieving balanced development places a responsibility for change in all institutions of governance and social structures.

On the way out of the situation, she said, government, the parliament, the judiciary, civil society, development partners, institutions of faith and culture including all men and women have a role to play in:

Enhancing women's economic well being and opportunity to earn income through prioritizing agriculture and rural development.

Granting women more access to land for security and collateral.

Giving women more access to public sector positions or incentives.

Improved healthcare for women and children.

Ensuring that more girls stay in and finish school and thus delay early marriages and early childbirth.

Tackling the issue of gender violence especially in schools as a strategic step as well as stepping up campaign against child and girl trafficking.

The National Assembly should domesticate the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) and the African Union Protocol of women's rights by passing the Gender and Equal Opportunities Bill as soon as possible.

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