Economic Reforms, Women’s Employment and Social Policies 

Here’s a scenario you’ve probably heard before. Imagine a football coach with 11 starting players, 5 of them look alike and the other 6 look alike. They all have the required skills to play the game but the coach decides to use only the 1st 5 just because the other 6 are different. That coach is definitely going to lose whatever match they’re playing. That is what happens when you leave half of your team behind. We have lost as a human race because we benched women. A few countries have done well at bringing all 11 players to the field but Nigeria has not, and we are losing badly because of this. According to the Growing Economies Through Gender Parity report, Nigeria’s GDP can increase by 23% which is  $229 billion by 2025 if women participated in the economy to the same extent as men. So why is this not happening? 

What do things look like now? 

This article focuses on how economic reforms and social policies can change the status quo, so we won’t dwell too much on the different facets of the status. I’ll however provide some statistics and facts to give you a context of it all.  

  1. 45-50% of women participate in the labour force compared to 60% of men 
  2. This 50% form 45.5% of the Nigerian labour force. However, these women tend to work more in the informal sector and in low paying jobs.  
  3. There is a 39% gender profits gap in MSMEs in favour of men 
  4. Globally, women perform 75% of the world’s unpaid work.  

“Collectively, women do as much work as men if not more but the natures of work plus the circumstances under which they work and their access to prospect for development varies from men.” – Fapohunda, 2017 

Women are penalised from all perspectives in labour markets. Compared to men they are less likely to be active; more likely to be in lower-earning opportunities like farming and informal jobs; and earn less for a given level of education and experience.  

Being unemployed or holding a low-paying job, is not a problem per se if there are opportunities for a worker to progress, to increase their earnings and improve working conditions over their life cycle. However, if patterns of employment are determined early on, workers’ options are unequal from the outset and many people are locked into low-income activities without any opportunity for change. Removing barriers to allow access good quality education and building skills is therefore essential to breaking the cycle of (intergenerational) poverty” – World Bank, 2015 

How can we make things better? 

1. Education – More girls are out of school than boys and girls marry earlier than boys. This means they’re unable to get the education that they need for social advancement and they’re stuck in poverty and unable to contribute equally to the economy.  We need to provide incentives to make parents leave their girls in school and ensure that our schools are a conducive and enabling environment for our girls.

2. Legal  reforms – I’ll use the Gender and Equal Opportunities (GEO) Bill to summarise the legal reforms I think we need to have. Passing of the  GEO Bill  will bring about a lot of the reforms we need in place. The bill has been in the National Assembly since 2015 and it is yet to be passed. The bill proposes a number of things, but we’ll focus on these two:

a. A minimum of 35% of all offices in the public and political sphere be reserved for women, and the same when it comes to the economy and employment be it private or public. A usual argument against this is that it kicks meritocracy. I disagree with this. Most times, qualified women abound for these positions but they just don’t have access to or the favour of the decision makers so they get passed over. It is also good that the law should be in place so that it makes the society begin to groom women to fill these roles. This is a simple law of demand and supply 

b. Elimination of discrimination in employment – it is an open secret that married women are sometimes passed over for jobs because of the chance that they might get pregnant and that even when they do get pregnant and return to work after, their progress slows down. We know that men and women are not subjected to the same criteria, this is not just against women, it is against men as well. The bill will ensure that all institutions take deliberate steps to guard against things like this, and they will be penalized if they violate the law. When this bill is passed into law, it will change the face of things in Nigeria and give women a legal backing to take hold of all the opportunities hitherto withheld from them. 

3. Social reforms – This involves mindset changes that we have to make as a people to make things work. 

a. Women need to stop asking for a seat at the table and walk up to those tables and make space for themselves or better still, create tables of their own. A lot of women have conditioned themselves into needing to be liked, so instead of standing up for themselves when they need to, they shrink themselves and keep quiet so that people won’t think they are shrews. That needs to stop. Women, you don’t need anyone to like you for you to make progress in life. As far as you’re not hurting anyone, make space for yourself in the places that matter. Do this by speaking up and ensuring you have value to give in whatever sphere you’re in. This means you have to constantly build your capacity. 

b. Men need to do more housework – I stated that women do 75% of the unpaid work, this is mainly housekeeping and child care. Even when both a woman and her husband are fully engaged in the workforce and share the bills, the men still contribute less in the home front. This puts a limit on how much value the women can provide in the workplace. Men need to take longer and mandatory parental leave, that way they’re able to help the woman recover faster and make her return to work easier. 

c. Support – there are a lot of networks out here that women can get support from. We have WIMBIZ,  AWNBN,  BPW,  AWEP  and more. Leverage on the experience and network of other women in these bodies to chart your own course. As more women begin to rise in formal employment, it makes room for the women in informal and low paying unemployment to move up too. It allows rural and urban women to come together to build one another.  

4. Financial inclusion and technology:  

a. 36.6% of adult Nigerians are unbanked and women make up 56% of that number. If women are financially excluded, it reduces their access to financial services such as credit and many more. The government needs to get more women financially included. Nigeria has taken steps to improve access to credit information and that’s a good beginning for us. Our NIMC (National Identity Management Commission) and finance sector can learn from India on how to make this coverage total. 

b. Technology is an enabler and some sort of equalizer. We need more women to be digitally literate so they can build on this. They also need to be connected to the digital ecosystem. Having a smartphone and internet access greatly increases the chances of a woman’s advancement. 


Success Stories/Case Studies 

  1. India has improved the state of their financial inclusion via their Aadhaar program which has captured the data of 99% of their adult population and their wide network of savings and credit groups; they have over 8 million of those. Women are therefore able to access financial services and as a bonus, more government services can reach them. They also enacted a law that mandates equal wages for men and women, and ensures that child care is provided at work sites. 
  2. Iceland fines companies that have a gender pay gap. By passing the GEO bill, this may become something that can be done in Nigeria. 
  3. 92% of Finland’s companies offer flexible work schedules and this has made it easier for women to contribute to the workforce. One possible positive side effect of the COVID pandemic is that Nigerian employees will explore alternative ways of working. It is the hope that the days of being in the office for fixed, long hours are a thing of the past.
  4. The Liberian government is doing a lot of education, capacity building and financial inclusion focused on women. 

In closing, I take us back to the starting point, half of the Nigerian population is benched and unable to contribute fully to the country’s economy. Out of all the solutions listed above, I’m sure there is at least one you can take action on immediately, do that. Leave no one behind! 


This article was written by Simi Olusola


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