If the economic, political, social and cultural lot of Nigerian women improved up to the current level of their male counterparts, Nigeria will be radically better than it is across all developmental indices.
Today is International Women’s Day, and so it is expected that every channel of communication will be surfeit with materials celebrating women. A great deal of such praise and thanksgiving for women will happen in Nigeria even as the country continues to be dominated by the culture of patriarchy, chauvinism, and misogyny which continues to pull down the majority of her women socio-economically. The problem is, by keeping women down, the Nigerian society is, in fact, preventing itself from rising to the promise of its full potential in every facet of socio-economic development; from education to gainful employment as well as across political and cultural participation. Thus, rather than join in the chorus of largely empty platitudes to the Nigerian women, this special day is better spent analysing the facts that so blatantly make the case for female empowerment so timely.
Simple Economics. According to 2013 estimates by the National Bureau of Statistics, women constitute 49.53 percent of Nigeria’s total population, that puts their total number at just under 87 million. 70 percent of women live under the poverty line, that is about 61 million people, which is nearly 70 percent of the total number of Nigerians below the poverty line. Now, if the number of absolutely poor women were to fall to the number of their male counterparts, Nigeria’s poverty level would fall by more than 10 percent; a historic achievement for the country. Pulling women out of poverty on such a large scale will require increasing female employment, with 28.5 percent of women in the labour force currently either unemployed or underemployed in comparison to 20.2 percent among their male counterparts. It will also require ramping up female education.
Basic Education. Nigeria’s education system is in crisis with infrastructural resources and enrollment levels below internationally acceptable standards. A bump in the educational achievement of women is the quickest way to pull the country out of the basket of deplorables in the education sector. For example, just 47.9 percent of girl children are currently enrolled in primary schools as against 60 percent among boys. It shows that, from the outset, women are not being prepped to contribute to the economy in any meaningful, concerted ways. Much of their contributions have been accidental, as housewives and mothers desperately seek means to provide food for their families – especially their children. The measures they resort to often do not offer opportunities for advancement, a circumstance that is deplored by the Beijing Platform for action – the pre-eminent international guideline for improving the status of women. Hence, whatever they add to the GDP in this desperate struggle to survive could actually grow if there are deliberate actions to make that the case.
Health. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), “health is a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity”. Statistics have again and again proven that, on the average, women live longer than men in Nigeria. The life expectancy figures are put at 56years for women, and 53 for men, yet WHO’s definition of health indicts the general and default healthcare arrangement available to Nigerian women. The subjugation of women in different ways, the learning opportunities that are not available to them, the abdication of their share of family responsibilities by men are all capable of creating a status quo that thoughtlessly extracts the case for mental health from WHO’s definition. And who can be mentally complete in this sort of environment! It is three more years of torture than the man. These arguments that suggest that women do not enjoy adequate health in Nigeria can be supported by the fact that they are the more vulnerable gender when it comes to HIV/AIDS. Their choices are limited, or are taken away from them by the maybe default or purposeful patriarchal system under which Nigeria operates.
In the context of this essay, to feminise Nigeria will entail a conscious dismantling of blocks; not the ones that uplift the man, but those that limit the woman and nominalise her contributions to society. It is not to be a case of charity towards women, but a proactive masterstroke to improve Nigeria’s developmental deliverables for the benefit of all.
The origin of the International Women’s Day celebration is Western and purely labour-related; and the movement has, since it began, achieved a removal of the fetters that restrict women’s growth in the workplace. Trade, social, and security relationships amongst nations have largely familiarised the world making the comprehensive liberation of women a resounding theme across the globe. But those who merely mouth or commemorate it without establishing progressive precedents in tow do themselves no favours. So, here comes another day to either fill the air with empty, patronizing platitudes, or to review our developmental scorecard and take the path that nations before us have taken to great effect.