An aeroplane is likely to fly safely with two engines as opposed to with just one. I am also not aware of any bird that is able to fly with just one wing. Same logic should apply to the economic prosperity of a country, particularly one that has each gender representing half of its population. If both women and men are equipped and economically empowered, sustainable and inclusive growth would be attainable.
A glance at the GDP structure shows agriculture accounting for over 20% of total national output. The contribution of women to the agricultural labour force ranges between 40–60%. Agricultural value chains reveal disparities in access to formal finance for women. The median capital available to female agriculturists is two times lower than what is provided to their male counterparts.
The lack of ownership of collateral, with tradition rarely ceding property rights to women, in addition to the absence of credit histories has stopped female agriculturists as well as women-owned businesses from accessing loans. The light manufacturing industry (that is, textile and garments as well as leather goods industry amongst others, which by the way accounts for 23% of total manufacturing GDP in Nigeria) has supported increased national output in other countries like Rwanda and Ethiopia is yet to do same in Nigeria. This industry is largely driven by women and so we need to explore sustainable ways to equip women within this industry and encourage new female entrants. Improving financial support for women would increase the number of new businesses, which in turn should boost economic activities and growth. It is worth mentioning that the CBN and the Bank of Industry have made laudable steps with providing financial interventions that support women inclined businesses and agriculturists but the impact is minimal, so a whole lot still needs to be done.
Education is a powerful tool and I am not just referring to knowledge sharing through the traditional classroom method. Skills acquisition through experiential learning is part of what I am referring to.
Uprooted, a documentary about the aftermath of the Boko Haram insurgency and changing gender roles in northern Nigeria, made it clear that gender inclusion across all spheres of the economy is a necessity. Before the attacks, the primary caregivers across households were the men! However, following the attacks they struggled to take care of their families as they had lost their farmlands – their major income source. The households that were able to manage were those with women that had acquired skills earlier. Skills such as bead-making, basket weaving, baking and sowing among others. After watching this documentary, I thought to myself, state governments need to formalise training of specific skills in their respective states. There is nothing wrong with equipping women with blue collar job skills – plumbing, carpentry, welding, tiling and so on. The demand for these services are high but the talent pool is very weak. To move this country forward, it has to be an all hands on deck approach. Placing pressure on just the male folks to do it all is no longer ideal.
Education as I mentioned is a powerful tool and can be used as a contraceptive. Research shows that as overall education levels rise, social norms concerning childbearing and parenting change. In addition, parents with children in school or with educational aspirations for their children may choose to have fewer children. Schooling often increases the costs of having children. One economic implication of reduced childbirths in a country is increased GDP per capita.
Weaving policies that are female-focused to boost productivity from the female economy is equally important. A major concern is the low level of female participation in decision-making roles. Women’s collective voice is very faint when it comes to policy direction and decision-making not just in Nigeria but across African governments. Ramping up efforts towards increasing the level of female participation in decision-making roles is important.
Rwanda has made deliberate and laudable steps to boost female representation in critical areas of its economy. The country has the highest representation of women in politics, education and the workplace in Africa. Other African countries that have made some effort towards female inclusion include Mauritius and Namibia. However, a lot of work is still required among African countries to support the advancement of women into decision-making roles.
The opportunity cost of ignoring the female economy is terribly expensive. The macroeconomic benefits of empowering the female economy are numerous and a boost to GDP growth is at the forefront.
Chinwe Egwim is a renowned Economist. She has notable practical experience in producing policy relevant economic research reports which cover fiscal profile, fx dynamics, interest rate, GDP growth trends, reserves management, inflation and sectorial trends (including power, transport, technology, agriculture, solid minerals and manufacturing) among others. She has over 500 economic publications under her belt. Chinwe is a member of the Board Committee on Research of the Nigerian Economic Summit Group (NESG). She is also the National Focal Point of a UN Economic Commission Development Project on Services Trade across Africa.