Nigeria and Its Women
Nigeria has a woman problem. The National Bureau of Statistics’ recent jobs report is dire all around, but worth noting is that 26.6% of women – compared to 20.3% of men – able and willing to work are unemployed, which marks a 5.4% year-on-year increase from what it was in 2017. This is also higher than Nigeria’s 23.1% total labour force unemployment rate. Things are not any easier in political representation either; heading into the election, Nigeria is on course to see even less women than the current 31 in the National Assembly, with only 3% of the candidates – 31 out of 938 – for NASS in the two major parties APC and PDP.
As we head into the forthcoming elections, let us ask: What do Nigerian presidential candidates have in store for Nigerian women in their manifestoes?
Both Atiku and Buhari have short sections on their new manifestos on showing their plans for Nigerian women focusing on economic opportunity. Buhari’s rather perplexingly says that it will “ensure the rights of women are protected under the constitution” (are you saying women’s rights are not currently protected? which?), and also states that he will reserve a minimum number (doesn’t give a percentage) of seats in state and national assemblies.
Atiku’s speaks of the need to increase women’s capacity to run for electoral office with an “Elect Me” program and recognizes the need to bring perpetrators of sexual violence to justice, but is also similarly vague in other areas, pledging to “break all barriers stopping women from reaching their best potentials” without mentioning what barriers these are, and says he will ensure the passage of gender equality bill “in an acceptable form” without saying what he would deem acceptable.
There is a school of thought that believes that if you increase economic outcomes for a group of people, all other things will automatically follow, but that is often not true when it comes to social change. In the United States, increased economic access for women does not automatically yield an enabling environment for women to thrive in workplace or in politics. A better judiciary has not automatically provided for more convictions of sexual violence perpetrators, as we have seen in other countries with more transparent and less corruptible judicial systems. Political will also does not automatically follow laws, as we have seen with the difficulties that young political candidates face with getting side-lined as parties refuse to hold parties at state-level. Nigerian political parties already have in their constitutions a 35% quota to fulfil the need for representation of women as candidates and in party offices, but the fact that women can get free forms is often used against them, so many women actually reject the forms to show their capacity to fund campaigns. An “Elect Me” project to raise quality of female candidates does not mitigate the risk of women being side-lined by a lack of adherence to due process within parties, nor will a quota with no political will to be used.
Indeed, social change is a result of effective advocacy and government policy backed by political will to act, but it is also the result of an ability to tie in both economic and the social outcomes. The economy is clearly tough for everyone, but it is clearly even tougher for women. Anecdotally, many women do seem to leave their professional jobs to do work with more flexibility like catering and trading, or get discriminated against the older they get by prospective employers for fear that they may soon get pregnant and require maternity leave. This makes sense given the high rate of underemployment in women – 25.9%, compared to 15.4% with men. If women are underemployed at a rate higher than men as the data suggests, what are the workplace policies that govern most places of work that makes is harder for women to thrive? How many companies have crèches on their premises so mothers can be rest assured that their children are taken care of while they work? How much maternity leave are women entitled to? What are the corporate governance practices that seem to be the bane of women’s existence in the workplace, and how do we make progress against them? What incentives will government provide to companies to make their workplaces more friendly to all?
Smart governments care about women-friendly socioeconomic policy not out of altruism, but because they want better economic outcomes and understand that no country develops with half its population in dire straits. The best policies are tides that lift all boats, and improving the quality of life and economic access is going to require the imagination to put in place good policies and the political will to back them up with action – for women, and for the rest of the country.
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