By Ebere Agozie
Mrs Ifeoma Nzeh is a small holding farmer in Agungwu village, Ugwuoba, Oji-River Local Government Area of Enugu State who feeds her family and sells some of her produce to pay her children’s school fees. This had been the practice for ages with Nzeh paying for many of her wants and needs in the village through this small enterprise.
Hajiya Halima Hudu also has a farm in Chanchaga of Niger State as part of a cooperatives society initiated business for women. She has sheep, goats, crops such as corn, maize and millet were also sown in her farm. The emergence of COVID-19 added to her challenges which include the fear of herdsmen and kidnappers as well as rapists.
But their financial independence has been altered with the emergence of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) that happened on the World since December 2019. It came when children were preparing for their return to school. The little commodity they stored was sold to get the children back to school on time.
The COVID-19 pandemic is a new norm staring many Nigerian women in business – along with the rest of humanity – in the face. The prevalence and astonishingly spread of the virus had the whole world literally hyper-ventilating, wondering what had hit it.
At first, there was fear that, given the predominantly rural setting of Africa, and given also the fact that awareness about the pandemic has been slow in catching on, the worst was about to happen.
The expected annihilation may not have happened on the scale feared in Africa, but the presence of the coronavirus in the continent has remained a huge cause for concern.
Incidentally, many of the recommendations given by health experts as to the required distance between people have of course to do with what makes life pleasurable.
In Africa where there are basically no institutions that take care of the elderly and children with special needs, the challenge of taking care of them is dumped on the doorstep of women. Women as care givers do not only take care of the young children at home, feed and bathe them, but also their husbands and their aged ones.
Even as the typical belief or culture of African women revolve around domestic chores, some of these women are also the breadwinners of their homes and so must go out to work to put food on the table.
African women are very enterprising, and this could primarily be put down to the prevalent poverty in the continent and the need to ensure the welfare of their families. There are those that are involved in subsistence farming, there are others that engage in petty trade and commerce, there is the working class, and there are those that are in the corporate world, albeit not many of them in this last category.
There are equally the full-time, stay-at-home housewives, although this class is shrinking by the day as, increasingly, women in Africa perceived the need to get involved in catering for the family.
In this attempt to examine women entrepreneurship, we will look closely at the Nigerian situation. With regard to enterprise, Nigerian women can be spread into four categories.
The first group is the full-time housewives, the stay-at-home housewives. As the name implies, these women simply stay at home to take care of the family, raise the children and generally run the home, while the husbands go out to earn a living.
Most of them are to be found in the northern parts of the country, mainly due to religious constraints since, by reason of their religion, they are not expected to mix very freely with the public, among whom there are usually a lot of males.
This set of women is no longer as large as it was in the recent past as the increasingly dire economic conditions faced by most Nigerians make it necessary for more hands to be on deck in providing for the family.
A second category is the petty traders and the subsistence farmers. This sub group is the most prevalent in our society. They make up the bulk of women in Nigeria and are found in far flung parts. Nigerian women are so focused, so family-centric, that even when they go to toil in the farm for the family, they would still come home to cook for everyone.
Women farmers may be the predominant group, but one class that seems to be surging recently is those engaged in petty trading.
There is hardly any part of Nigeria, especially in the lower geographical half of the country, where you do not find women engaging in some form of trading or another. In most communities it is common to see women displaying their wares just about everywhere you look.
Usually, you see just a few items – confectionaries, food items, soup condiments, and the like. But they know how far revenue from such efforts goes in supplementing what the men bring home at the end of the day.
There are also other market settings which are generally dominated by women. These markets vary in size – from just a cluster of a few roughly constructed huts, to extremely large, well-organised and thriving markets that play host to thousands of traders, the majority of them, women.
Let us not forget also the working class women that abound in the civil service and in private concerns. A lot of women have built very successful careers in the public service and they, too, deserve accolades for contributing in steadying the ship of the Nigerian state.
It has actually been proven that women have shown a rare dedication and conscientiousness in the discharge of their responsibilities, such that are now much sought-after in many organisations. They have also, by this dint of hard work, succeeded in climbing to the highest reaches of such outfits.
These women, however, are among the few who were privileged to have been highly educated and exposed to opportunities that got them to where they are today, leaving the majority of the non-educated petty entrepreneurs to struggle daily to make ends meet.
Some of such women are Hajiya Bola Shagaya, an oil and real estate magnate, Uju Ifejika, and arguably the most prominent of them all, 65-year-old Folorunsho Alakija, who found her fame and fortune in the oil and fashion industries.
Nigeria is truly blessed, not only in terms of her abundant natural resources, but also (with her large population) in terms of her huge human resources. And a truly heart-warming proportion of this is made up of women.
All told however, the problem of COVID-19 has impacted rather heavily on Nigerian women, especially the rural dwellers, and just made their efforts to make ends meet more onerous.
It is therefore unimaginable that social distancing, as prescribed by the experts as an essential method to contain the COVID-19, could be practiced here by majority of Nigerian women entrepreneurs. Some of the women are stuck with men, some of who actually think that the coronavirus is an excuse by the government to siphon public funds.
These men will always demand for sex from their women, even when they are sick, and of course there are also the factors of culture and religion, and so to them, #Social Distancing is not applicable.
Sometimes culture and religion give the women no chance of objecting and they are therefore forced to succumb to their husband’s advances, which sometimes come in the form of commands.
It is clear that the incompatibility of social distancing and the desire to drive women entrepreneurship in Nigeria, and indeed other African settings, is a quandary to most African societies.
There is no easy way out of this predicament and the real or perceived inequality in the society does not help matters, either. It is therefore clear that the government organs responsible for public education have their work cut out for them.
More than anything else, there is an urgent need for a much more aggressive grassroots education to let them know that it is about their health, and that of everyone around them. Entrepreneurship in Nigeria, especially among women, will be the better for it as well as the health and economy of the country.
News Agency of Nigeria (NAN)