By Edel-Quinn Agbaegbu
In every country around the world women face multiple constraints and gender-based discrimination both domestically and in work places. In all spheres of work both private and public, women are subjected to occupational segregation and multifaceted barriers such as lack of access to capital, financial resources and technology, as well as gender-based violence due to cultural mindsets and stereotypes.
Besides, there is growing informality of labour, income inequality and humanitarian crises. These obstacles undermine women and make it harder for women to get an equal footing with men in the world of work and are even worsened through legal barriers which further compound gender inequalities. Tradition, cultural values and religion are being misused as tools all around the world to restrict women’s rights, entrench sexism and defend misogynistic practices. Women still predominantly occupy jobs that pay less and provide no benefits. They earn less than men, even as they shoulder the enormous and economically essential burden of unpaid care and domestic work.
The records of the 61st Commission for the Status of women (CSW61) of the United Nations Women revealed that only 50 per cent of working age women is represented in the labour force globally, compared to 76 per cent of men. This is worse in Nigeria where participation rate is about 48.4 and 64.0 for women and men respectively from 2017 Gender Development Report (GDR).
An overwhelming majority of women globally are in the informal economy, subsidizing care and domestic work, concentrated in lower-paid and lower-skill occupations with little or no social protection. Nigeria’s 94.6 million women live and work in rural areas where they provide 60-79% of the rural workforce and make up only 21% of the non-agricultural paid labour force. About 6 million young women and men enter the labour market each year with a success rate of 10% in the formal sector of which only 3.3% are women. This is the unchanging world of unrewarded work and a globally familiar scene of withered futures where girls and their mothers sustain the family with free labour and lives whose trajectories are very different from the men of the household.
Although the world of work is changing fast through innovation and increasing mobility, it should have significant implications to empower women, whose work has already driven many of the global gains in recent decades. Technological advances and globalization we know are bringing unprecedented opportunities for those who can access them. Latest technologies and sectors are fast developing and present employment opportunities for women, but they need to support the educational aspirations of these resilient women and provide them with access to relevant education and training. Women and girls have the potential to transform nations and what happens to them matters. Investing in Women today will improve skill, productivity and growth, while leading to a more peaceful and healthy tomorrow.
Though Nigeria is classified under low human development countries and ranking 152 out of 188 in Human Development Index (HDI), concerted efforts must be made to step-up and address this daunting task of providing opportunities for her women so as to maximize their potentials. Sensitive changes should be made from the beginning of the educational path for girls in an extremely difficult environment if we must invest in our future. Research on the role that education plays in development emphasizes its capacity to transform the long term position of women in society (Ganguli et al., 2011).
The Gender in Nigeria Report, 2012 provides a comprehensive view of gender in Nigeria. It assesses progress in key areas, including: employment and livelihoods, education and health, political representation, and violence. It finds that women and girls suffer systematic disadvantage and discrimination that is magnified for those in the poorest States and sectors of society and recommends policies to improve the lives of women and girls and identifies priorities for action.
Only 9% of those who stood for election in Nigeria’s April 2011 National Assembly elections were women. This is below the global average and well behind South Africa and Rwanda, demonstrating the lack of women in decision-making positions which may be one explanation for Nigeria’s low investment in sectors that are crucial to human development outcomes, such as health and education. For instance, despite the policy commitment to free primary education, the evidence is that in practice primary education is not free of cost to parents. Excellent policies and intentions have not translated into budgets or actions to make the changes required for sustainable development.
Nigeria has one of the lowest rates of female entrepreneurship in sub-Saharan Africa. The majority of women are concentrated in casual, low-skilled and low paid informal sector employment. Women occupy fewer than 30% of all posts in the public sector and only 17% of senior positions. The public sector could highlight and address this issue by conducting a gender audit to identify where gender equity can be strengthened in recruitment, promotion and pay.
I salute the 2017 theme for International Women’s Day on March 8, which focused on “Women in the Changing World of Work: Planet 50-50 by 2030” is to ensure that Every Woman should enjoys her right to decent work in line with the International Community Commitment in the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. This year’s session took place at a critical juncture, as the world of work is spurred by technology and at the same time adversely impacted by climate change, humanitarian crises, rising informality of labour and economic inequality. Remarkably, it has been noted that rising income inequalities hit women hardest and harm social cohesion which may exuberate conflict especially when some social solid groups are perceived to be excluded from opportunities.
Nigeria incidentally is among the thirty most unequal countries in the world in respect to income distribution and ranks 118 of 134 countries in the Gender Equality Index (GEI). The 1999 National Gender Policy (NGP) is yet to bear fruit while the implementation of the Convention on the Elimination of all forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) has stalled. Yet, her human development indicators are worse than those of comparable lower middle-income countries (NGR 2012). Evidence has shown that Nigeria women and girls no doubt have significantly worse life chances than the men and also their sisters in other societies. Therefore, achieving gender equality in the world of work is most imperative for sustainable development especially in Nigeria.
From the excerpts of the UN Secretary-General’s Message for International Women’s Day on March 6, 2017, he noted thus;
“Women’s rights are human rights. But in these troubled times, as our world becomes more unpredictable and chaotic, the rights of women and girls are being reduced, restricted and reversed. Empowering women and girls is the only way to protect their rights and make sure they can realize their full potential.
Historic imbalances in power relations between men and women, exacerbated by growing inequalities within and between societies and countries, are leading to greater discrimination against women and girls. Denying the rights of women and girls is not only wrong in itself; it has a serious social and economic impact that holds us all back. Gender equality has a transformative effect that is essential to fully functioning communities, societies and economies.
Despite some improvements, leadership positions across the board are still held by men, and the economic gender gap is widening, thanks to outdated attitudes and entrenched male chauvinism. We must change this, by empowering women at all levels, enabling their voices to be heard and giving them control over their own lives and over the future of our world.
Women’s access to education and health services has benefits for their families and communities that extend to future generations. An extra year in school can add up to 25 per cent to a girl’s future income. When women participate fully in the labour force, it creates opportunities and generates growth. Closing the gender gap in employment could add $12 trillion to global GDP by 2025. Increasing the proportion of women in public institutions makes them more representative, increases innovation, improves decision-making and benefits whole societies.
Gender equality is central to the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, the global plan agreed by leaders of all countries to meet the challenges we face. Sustainable Development Goal 5 calls specifically for gender equality and the empowerment of all women and girls, and this is central to the achievement of all the 17 SDGs. I am committed to increasing women’s participation in our peace and security work. Women negotiators increase the chances of sustainable peace, and women peacekeepers decrease the chances of sexual exploitation and abuse. Within the UN, I am establishing a clear road map with benchmarks to achieve gender parity across the system, so that our Organization truly represents the people we serve. Previous targets have not been met. Now we must move from ambition to action.
On International Women’s Day, let us all pledge to do everything we can to overcome entrenched prejudice, support engagement and activism, and promote gender equality and women’s empowerment” he emphasized.
In a similar way, CSW members acknowledged that providing equal pay and social protection will create decent work for paid care and domestic workers. In her own message on International Women’s Day, the UN Women Executive Director Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka said “We want to construct a different world of work for women. As they grow up, girls must be exposed to a broad range of careers, and encouraged to make choices that lead beyond the traditional service and care options to jobs in industry, art, public service, modern agriculture and science…”
The growing international women’s movement has been strengthened by four global United Nations women’s conferences and has helped tremendously to make the commemoration a rallying point to build support for women’s rights and active participation in the political and economic arenas. It recognized that new technologies are changing the structure of labour markets and are providing new and different employment opportunities that require skills for women and girls ranging from basic digital literacy to advanced technical skills in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) and information and communications technology (ICT).
For the first time, the transition of informal and domestic workers into the formal economy was a key issue of discussion for the Commission where members agreed on the need of promoting decent work and paid care in the public and private sectors, increasing the provision of social protection and wages that guarantee an adequate standard of living and ensuring safe working conditions for women. The Commission also called for strengthened efforts in both public and private sectors to retain women in the workforce and seek more gender balance in managerial positions.
Measures such as increased flexibility in working arrangements, facilitation of breastfeeding for working mothers, development in infrastructure and technology, the provision of affordable and quality care facilities for children and other dependents and adapting education systems to allow pregnant adolescents, as well as single mothers to continue and complete their education were highlighted by the Commission to advance women’s economic empowerment. Legal and policy frameworks must also be enforced to end sexual harassment at the work place. The Commission recognized the importance of women’s access to sexual and reproductive health-care services to enable them to participate fully in the labour force.
The principal output of the Commission is the agreed conclusions on priority themes set for each year and concrete recommendations for governments, inter-governmental bodies, institutions, civil society actors and other relevant stakeholders, to be implemented at the international, national, regional and local level. They reaffirmed that the realization of the right to education, as well as access to quality and inclusive education, contributes to the achievement of gender equality and the empowerment of all women and girls. It noted with concern the lack of progress in closing gender gaps in access to retention in and completion of secondary and tertiary education and emphasizes the importance of lifelong learning opportunities. With the empowerment of indigenous women being the emerging theme of this session, the Agreed Conclusions urge the full inclusion and development of indigenous women in economic life, including through the establishment of indigenous-owned businesses.
In welcoming the Agreed Conclusion, Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka said, UN Women Executive Director, in welcoming the Agreed Conclusions. “We have heard from all quarters the accepted imperative to put this knowledge into practice. It will take action throughout society; by all those who spoke to represent the commitment of young and older, of civil society and parliamentarians, of men and women alike, to embrace the great promise of finally making space for women to thrive. There has never been any excuse for the inequality that exists. Now we are seeing a healthy intolerance for inequality grow into firm and positive change.”
Let us build on these commitments and amplify those recommendations establishing clear road maps towards closing the gender gap and generating growth for a transformative effect that is essential to fully functional societies and economies in view of Planet 50 -50 by 2030. In Nigeria, what we need to get there is a benchmark for an equal world that empowers women at all levels giving them control over their own lives and the future of the world.
Executive Director Every Woman Hope Centre, a Nigeria- Based NGO and Publishers Of Lifecare Magazine