On August 14, 2020, the Nigerian National Statistical Agency i.e. the National Bureau of Statistics released the unemployment figures for Q2 2020. One of the things that the report shows is how unfavorable the labour market is to women.  

  Q3 2018  Q2 2020 
  All  Women  Men  All  Women   Men 
Working age population  115,493,000  Unavailable  Unavailable  116,871,186  60,271,076 (51.6%)  56,600,161 
Labour force  90,470,592  40,694,182 (44.9%)  49,776,409  80,291,894  38,626,981 (48.1)  41,664,913 
Unemployment rate  23.1%  26.6%  20.3%  27.1%  31.6%  22.9% 
Underemployment rate  20.1%  25.9%  15.4%  28.6%  31%  26.3% 
Combined rate  43.1%  52.5%  35.8%  55.7%  62.6%  49.3% 



  • Working age population refers to those between the ages of 15 and 64 
  • Labour force refers to those among the working age population who are able and willing to work 
  • Underemployment refers to people working less than full time hours, which is 40 hours, but work at least 20 hours on average a week and/or if they work full time but are engaged in an activity that underutilizes their skills, time and educational qualifications. 

The first thing I’ll be exploring here is why we have women forming the larger proportion of the working age population (51.6%) but a smaller proportion (48.1%) of the labour force. This is caused by a myriad of reasons which includebut are not limited to, the following: 

  • Gender stereotypes: According to an ILO report, 22% of men and 17% of women in Nigeria believe women should not have paid jobs outside the home.  
  • Women not getting affordable care for children and/or family members: According to the ILO, this decreases their chances at participation by 5% 
  • Education: Women receive less education. According to a 2016 NBS report, senior secondary enrolment was at 46% for girls and 54% for boys and completion rate was 28.7% for girls and 33.2% for boys 
  • Girl child marriage 

Now we explore the actual unemployment rate. This shows us that as of Q2 2020, even though women are willing and very able to work, 31.6% of them still do not get jobs compared to 22.9% of men. If we look at the combined rate, 62.6% of women are much more likely to be unemployed or underemployed than 49.3% of men. This is simply saying that for every 2 women that are in full employment, we have a corresponding 3 women that are either unemployed or underemployed. 

To take this further, not only are women employed less, they’re paid less! A 2009 UNDP report revealed that Nigeria’s gender pay gap was one of the highest in the world. This report shows a mean annual pay difference of N125,333,333 between men and women. Why do women get paid less? 

  • According to the NBS, 65.3% of senior positions were occupied by men compared to 34.7% by women between 2010-2015.  
  • Occupational segregation: women get stuck in occupations that in Nigeria pay less such as teaching, sales, clerical, etc. We have fewer women in occupations such as engineering, ICT, banking and project management. 
  • The gender gap in education limits the occupation options that women have available to them.  
  • Direct discrimination: For example, some employers think women should be paid less because they have men who are the actual breadwinners. So they don’t pay them based on the value they bring to work. 

According to the ILO “The data is clear: women want to be in paid employment, but a persistent set of socio-economic barriers keep them out of the workforce. Identifying and quantifying these barriers allows us to develop smarter policy responses for eliminating them.” I couldn’t have said this better.  

We need to do work on the following to ensure women participate more in the labour force and that the gender pay gap is reduced: 

  1. The education gender gap has to be reduced, we need to have more girls starting and finishing school. We call on the government to ensure that schools are conducive to learning for girls. The National Orientation Agency has a lot of work to do in sensitizing parents about letting their female children start and complete school. 
  1. Make the work scene more favourable for women – there are companies who will only hire single women because they think married women are less dedicated and will get pregnant thereby reducing the time they have to offer. It is highly unfair to use the fact that women get pregnant to discriminate against them. The coronavirus pandemic has shown us that work can be accomplished in a myriad of ways that do not include being physically present in a formal office space. New ways of work that allow women to work from home and offer flexible hours need to be incorporated. The bottom line should be about getting the work done, not about how and where it gets done.  
  1. Women doing paid work outside the home needs to be normalised. This will require a lot of us to think differently.  
  1. For Nigeria, we need to ensure the GEO bill is passed into law.  

Closing the gender gap in the labour force is not just good for women, but for the global economy as a whole. 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. 


  • NBS 2016 Gender Report 
  • NBS Q3 2018 Labour Statistics Report 

This article was written by Simi Olusola

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