By Grace Oriaku
While women constitute about 50% of the Nigerian population out of which about 35% are involved in any sort of entrepreneurial activity which can be classifies as micro, small, medium and large enterprises, female-headed households also known “rightholders” constitute 14.6%, as reported by the World Bank in 2015.
With a recent report by the National Bureau of Statistics revealing that more than 50% of Nigerians in rural areas live below poverty line, the magnitude of poverty is well pronounced among female-headed households which are mostly the vulnerable and socio-economic deprived group.
A report published in 2018 by the UNHCR observes immense challenges faced by rightholders in gaining adequate access to assistance in the North East, as “humanitarian interventions often don’t cover their households’ basic needs”, while they particularly reported to lack access to adequate food including condiments, firewood, clothes for themselves and for their children and access to shelter.
Similarly, in South East, a study published by International Journal of Research and Review in 2018 reveals the extent of food insecurity and poverty among female-headed households triggered by poor access to credit facilities, extension services and to education in the region.
Reports from related engagements by Mothers And Marginalised Advocacy Centre (MAMA Centre) disclose that while poverty level across states in Nigeria is feminized and more concentrated among Individuals living in female-headed households.
Studies by MAMA Centre have also revealed that women have less access to agricultural extension information on new technologies and crop varieties, due to the wrong societal perception, even when agricultural productivity is largely dominated by women. This has limited appreciation of potential benefits the country would have derived from gender equity in agricultural innovation, extension and support as observed in Ngwo palm oil producing community in Enugu state.
As related to equal accessibility to factors of production, reports have confirmed that less than 20% of the women own their own farmlands and less than 5% have access to agricultural credits to enhance productivity and income. Fulfilling the most basic needs by poor households remains a serious daily struggle, just as they lack productive resources.
The burden of the socio-economic deprivation suffered by the rightholders is captured in a report published by the World Bank in 2000, which discloses that their family budgets have had to be reviewed downwards several times below humanly tolerable levels, as poverty constrained them from providing the basic needs of the household members.
The degree of marginalisation was observed by the Former Deputy Governor of Central Bank of Nigeria, Kingsley C. Moghalu in 2013, when he lamented that African women have been historically disadvantaged by culture and societal practices in a culture in which many women cannot own a land and property that are frequently required as collateral for bank loan, and venture capital is almost non-existence.
Another report by US Department of State’s Country Reports on Human Rights Practices in 2018 stresses that many customary practices also did not recognize a woman’s right to inherit her husband’s property, and many widows became destitute when their in-laws took virtually all the deceased husband’s property. Just as the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) corroborated that women are unable to enforce their property rights before the courts because of a lack of awareness regarding these rights, lack of financial security and the fear of conflicts with in-laws.
In paid-employment, women including the rights-holders have been marginalised in all spheres including various inequalities that featured in under-paid or poorly paid employment rewards and other benefits. This to large extent, exacerbates the existing socio-economic deprivation, unequal struggles and poverty level among the rightholders.
It is noteworthy that the continued societal discrimination against rightholders increases their vulnerability with minimal chance to access social facilities including housing. It has been reported that some women, in order to avoid this discrimination, sometimes on the advice of their agent, take a man—friend, uncle, brother, cousin, with them to pose as their husband when they are visiting and negotiating house or apartment rentals.
While no law bars women from particular fields of employment, at the same time, no law provides for equal remuneration for work of equal value, nor prohibits gender-based discrimination in hiring. Since the United Nations Commission on the Elimination of all forms of Violence Against Women (CEDAW) was ratified in Nigeria, such bill as the Gender and Equal Opportunity bill—an adaptation of CEDAW, has faced deliberate and regular rejection National Assembly.
Moreover, Violence Against Persons Prohibition (VAPP) Act which has been passed is yet to become active or implemented by the governments at all levels. Despite the law, reported cases of violence against women is alarming across the country. The National Gender Policy which has also been reviewed to include 50% affirmative action is only being paid lip service.
It has become imperative for the National Assembly to reconsider prompt passage of Gender and Equal Opportunity Bill to guarantee the rights of women to equal opportunities in employment, equal rights to inheritance, equal rights in marriage and divorce, and equal access to education, property/land ownership and inheritance.
Government at all levels must commence full implementation of VAPP Act and the amended National Gender Policy to sanction violence and unchecked discrimination against women in all spheres including paid-employment; and ensure equitable distribution of resources in favour of women.
Well-informed and independent judiciary is paramount to achieving appropriate judicial interpretation and constant re-assessment in line with Constitutional provisions, of the cases involving gender discrimination, marginalisation and abuse.
Grace Oriaku is a rightholder and Champion under the aegis of The Voice Nigeria Project implemented by MAMA Centre in Enugu state.