By Prof (Mrs.) Kathleen Okafor
Today, globalization is no longer a choice but a mandatory index in business models. To achieve and maintain prosperity, all economies must ensure that their men and women are all well positioned to take advantage of new opportunities and challenges offered by the global market. Undoubtedly, there is growing worldwide realization that gender equality is good for economic growth and critical to poverty reduction.
Also, that where gender inequalities constrain women’s participation in political and economic activities, economic growth and private sector development are also constrained resulting in less investment less competition, and lower productivity.
For Nigeria, there is reasonably parity in the population between males and females. This is also the trend with respect to the labour force. However, in the micro-business space, the trend is skewed in favour of men having 59% whilst women accounting for 41% of business ownership and 3.4% of female employment within micro-enterprises.
The World Bank’s Country Assistance Strategy recognizes that “women are more likely than men to be poor and (more) vulnerable to adverse shocks than men”. Up till about 30/40 years ago, it was still widely believed that a woman’s place is in her husbands’ homes, the kitchen to be precise. Many cultures still believe that it is a waste of time and resources training a woman. Most women still end their education in primary schools because funds are modern reserved for training the male children.
However, the paradigm is changing and modern labour economics command the education of women for the common economic good. As a powerful force for growth and development, policy makers need to consider the role of women in the dynamics of national development and labour market policies, programmes and initiatives may be developed to promote their participation in the labour market. However, the relatively low level of female labour force participation and the significant regional and ethnic variations in Nigeria are in conflict with equity and efficiency goals and enhancement of national productivity.
In that regard, Nigeria still falls short of the need for giving males and females’ equal Opportunities and access to advance socially, economically and politically. Evidence abounds of several forms of gender-based discrimination in low participation in politics, access to resources (land ownership and credit) and opportunities for (education, training, occupation).
As the political parties prepare for elections, women groups need to come out strong negotiate the following incentives, with the political parties and the government;
waiver of deposit for the elections, interest free loans for the elections,
time-off work with guarantee to return after the elections,
Monthly allowance of
N30,000 (per participating woman) for domestic help and creches till the conclusion elections.
Weekend crash training programmes on the Constitution, grass root mobilisation.
4 weeks training on drafting manifestos, campaigns and virtual home management.
Impact of Women on the Economy:
Current Statistics put the total percentage of women workers (participants) engaged in one form of activity or the other in the economy at 43.1% as opposed to men’s 56.9%. This picture appears nice statistically but can be misleading. Key leading sectors in the economy by way of income yield or reward have not been favorable to women in terms of participation. There are the construction industries where women participation is 0.2% relative to men’s 3.2%, transportation and communication business where women are 0.5% relative to men’s 6.8%, andadministration/defense, where women participation is only 2.5% as against men’s 7.0%. In other industries, their levels of participation are favorable quantitatively but negligible when viewed in terms of administrative positions occupied. Of much significance is the extentwhich women participate in matters of decision –making within the hierarchies of institutions.
Thus, a much higher concentration of women is found at the lower level of economic activities and are therefore less likely to influence policy decisions to their favor. Some have argued that in fact, women are naturally mothers, and their greatest pleasure and true fulfillment lie in maternity, the one out of a few things that women are good at. These kinds of ideologies about women have tended to marginalize women and have belittled women’s work in the home and outside the home and therefore women’s contribution to economic well-being of the home and society.
In order to correct this imbalance, and to overcome the issue of marginalization of women especially given the fact that women constitute more than half the active work force in Nigeria, there is every need that women’s voices should be heard and be part of major decision making in the country. In fact, if the human resources of a nation are supposed to be an asset, then it will be unthinkable to marginalize almost half of the labour force, which happens to be women, in Nigeria. Their political rights and participation even though guaranteed under 1999 Constitution, does not reflect their numerical strength in the country.
Currently, the Nigerian banking sector is seeing a surge in the number of women at its top echelon. Presently, eight women serve as Chief Executive Officers (CEOs)/Managing Directors (MDs) of the country’s leading banks. With eight out of 23 commercial banks in Nigeria run by women CEOs, a new era of women leadership in the financial sector has set in. Still, the 26 per cent representation of women at the top echelon of banks falls short of the 40 per cent board position set for the lenders by the Central Bank of Nigeria.
Banks are increasingly under pressure to ensure diversity within their boardrooms with some scholars seeing board diversity as a demographic phenomenon entailing age, gender, and ethnicity. Recent International Finance Corporation (IFC) report on gender equality says there is evidence of improved performance in banks led by women CEOs.
The report recounted that Chief Bola Kuforiji-Olubi, was the first woman to be appointed to chair the board of a bank, United Bank for Africa (UBA), in 1984. Later in 2012, under the leadership of the then-Governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) Mr. Sanusi Lamido Sanusi, the apex bank approved the Sustainable Banking Principles, mandating banks to ensure that at least 40 per cent of the management team is women. The banks are also required to disclose in their annual reports, statistics on female representation. This, is the administration’s bid to institutionalise corporate governance principles and best practices in the banking industry.
It is refreshing that more women have held key positions in Politics. The former Minister of Finance and the Coordinating Minister of the Economy was a Woman, who is now the Director General of World Trade Organization. Also, the current Minister of Finance, Mrs. Zainab Shamsuna Ahmed, is a Nigerian Accountant who has been serving as Minister of Finance, Budget and National Planning since 2019 is just among the few women puling giant strides in the socio-economic and political sector. Senator Nenadi Usman too was Minister of Finance. Paullen Tallen, was Deputy Governor, Plateau State, Minister of Women Affairs, etc. for 2023, Women demand Board membership and/or CEOs of NNPC, CBN, AMCON, INEC, the Mint. The appointments will send a signal to both men and women that the urgency is real.
Central to women’s constraints to political participation are the care and protection of their children during political and economic engagement and the sustenance of their marriages. With the increasing case of incest and molestation of children by parents and other associated vices, the country needs to consider the ages of the children and others the arrangements made for their accommodation, education, welfare and general upbringing, as well as the conduct of the parents. By and large, factors which currently influence the custody of children include the following;
Age and sex of children:
Undoubtedly, some women politicians include people of questionable character. Such women should not have the general belief that it is better for the custody of very young children to be left for their mother will depend on the circumstances of the case.
It is generally believed that girls should be in the care of their mothers and boys with their fathers. Again there is no rule of law in that respect which the courts are bound to observe. It will depend on the circumstances of the case
The Wishes of the Children
The child’s view may be taken into account. The wishes of the children need to be treated with caution as thesame may be coloured either by his age or a parent’s influence.
Adequacy of arrangement for the child
It should be emphasized that the mere fact that a spouse has material wealth cannot per se be regarded as being in the best interest of a child of the marriage.
Medical and Psychological Factors
If custody of a child has been with a parent for a considerable period of time, care must be exercised in the change of the custody. This may result in psychological harm to the child.
Provision of Child Maintenance in Nigeria
The poor state of our economy obviously affects marriages and incomes particularly of housewives and other women. Where the husband has lost his job, working women have had to maintain the home. In Nigeria, maintenance is only for children less than 21 years of age. However, in special circumstances, award of maintenance may be made for a child of more than 21 years of age (section 70(4), Matrimonial Causes Act).
In determining the maintenance, all circumstances of the case, including the income, earning capacity, property and other financial resources of the party to which the maintenance order applies, as well as his/her financial needs, obligations and responsibilities, physical or mental disability of the child, the manner in which the child is being or is expected to be trained are all considered.
(Section 4 of the first schedule to section 55(14) of the Child’s Rights Act, in conjunction with section 70 of the Matrimonial Causes Act).
Many women seem to prefer periodical payment or lump sum payment to the child or to the applicant for the benefit of the child.
Under the Child’s Rights Act, Maintenance orders or child support terminate when the child reaches 18 years of age because under the law, a child is a person under the age of 18.
Gender inequalities can also adversely affect the outcomes of trade and macroeconomic policy reforms and their ability to translate incentives into economic development. Empowering women in the economy and closing gender gaps in the world of work are key to achieving the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and achieving the Sustainable Development Goals, particularly Goal 5, to achieve gender equality, and Goal 8, to promote full and productive employment and decent work for all; Goal 1 on ending poverty, Goal 2 on food security, Goal 3 on ensuring health and Goal 10 on reducing inequalities. We would assess the impact of women to Nigeria’s economic development through analysis of women’s participation and representation in the private and public sectors.
Women need the enforcement of the Child’s Act to have rest of mind that where their marriages breakdown, the children will be taken care of.
Another key issue is the residential property women can return to. The State and Federal Governments need to allocate women who have contested elections lands to enable them have a residence should they return home and find that husbands who resent their success have shut them off their matrimonial homes.
The welfare of children is not only the material provisions in the house, good clothes, food, air conditioners, television, but it is more of the happiness of the child and his or her psychological development.
Enforcing the Law of Defamation and Libel:
My experience as a legal practitioner for some Town Unions confirm that accusation of women of immorality is largely aimed at denigrating and intimidating courageous women. In many cases, men who see women in organizations where women seek contracts, or in political arena returning late from political meetings, level such accusations. The effect of the accusations, usually unfounded, have a devastating effect on the women’s reputation.
The poverty and insecurity in Nigeria demand that such male chauvinism and criminal defamation should be socially reprehensible and punishable by law. The rule of law must be used for social reengineering and enhancement of gender balance. Most religions require at least 2 eyew:itnesses to substantiate such accusations. The economic loss to women is usually much. The Rule of Law is about equality of opportunities. Actions for defamation should be brought and women organizations given locus standi to pursue the matter.
On another side, sexual harassment of political and business lots must be attacked ferociously and decisively with the collaboration of the women themselves. Institutions and laws alone cannot redeem women. In the instances of women in agriculture when men harass women for sexual gratification before granting them land for a fee for agriculture, women would hold Smart phones to record any inanities.
The urgency of involving women is now.
Prof. (Mrs.) Okafor, Prolific Writer cum Law Lecturer at Baze University, lives in Abuja.