Stephanie Iyimoga

last updated Sun, May 21, 2023 4:19 PM

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Nigeria: The economic cost of women’s exclusion from politics, gainful labour

By Stephanie Iyimoga
| Updated 16:19 21/05/2023
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Nigeria's president-elect Bola Tinubu and wife. Photo Credit:Shengolpixes for Reuters

Nigeria, Africa’s largest democracy,  recently elected  Bola Ahmed Tinubu, a former governor of Lagos State, as its new president. Tinubu will take over a country with deeply rooted divisions, insecurity, and most economic indices on the red. 

Another issue the new president will have to deal with is the exclusion of women from political participation, which has significant economic costs for the country.

Historically, women have been expected to handle all household tasks like cooking, cleaning, and raising children, while being gentle and supportive to their husbands. Despite carrying these responsibilities, many women have been denied the opportunity to lead their households.

This raises the question of how they could be expected to govern society in any political context. This has been a prevalent notion, and addressing it will be essential for Nigeria's future development.

In today's article, I'll explore the economic cost of women's exclusion in Nigerian politics.

A male-dominated arena

According to the Inter-Parliamentary Union or IPU, Nigeria's National Assembly, comprising the Senate and the House of Representatives, has one of the lowest female representations globally, with only 3.6% in the House of Representatives and 7.3% in the Senate. This is way below the global average of 26.5%. 

Representation In the House of Reps. based on gender. Credit: Kehinde Ogunyale 

Men hold most of the power and influence, creating a situation where women are vastly outnumbered and struggle to make their voices heard. 

The Independent National Electoral Commission or INEC, also said only about 6.7% of elected positions in the country are held by women.

There have been efforts to address this issue, such as the proposal to reserve specific seats in the National Assembly for women. Still, even such proposals have been met with loud opposition from male politicians. 

Representation In the 1oth Senate based on gender. Credit: Kehinde Ogunyale 

A History of Women’s Participation 

Despite the setbacks, however, women's participation in Nigerian politics has undergone a transformative journey marked by notable figures and milestones.

Funmilayo Ransome-Kuti, a pioneering activist, established the Commoners' People's Party or CPP in 1954 to advocate for women's rights and Nigeria's independence. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, a renowned economist, became Nigeria's first female finance minister in 2003 and has served as the Managing Director of the World Bank. 

Dora Akunyili, as the Director-General of the National Agency for Food and Drug Administration and Control or NAFDAC, played a crucial role in reforming Nigeria's pharmaceutical industry. Ireti Kingibe, a prominent politician, is currently the senator-elect of the FCT. 

These women, among many others, have shattered barriers and made significant contributions to Nigerian politics, paving the way for increased female political representation. 

But the challenges remain, including cultural and societal barriers that hinder women's access to education, resources, and political networks.

Do better, get better: The political and social context

Women in Nigeria face significant cultural and social barriers when accessing education and employment opportunities. Deeply ingrained societal norms, such as gender stereotypes and discrimination, limit women's choices and options and contribute to their underrepresentation in the labour force. 

Additionally, women often face obstacles such as early marriage, household responsibilities, and limited access to credit and financial resources. Political factors also contribute to women's exclusion from education and employment, including inadequate representation in decision-making roles and insufficient support for gender equality policies. 

Gender inequality and women's exclusion from the workforce have been long-standing issues in Nigeria. According to the World Economic Forum's 2022 Global Gender Gap Report, Nigeria ranked 123 out of 146 countries regarding gender equality, highlighting the magnitude of the problem.

The gender gap in labour force participation can have significant economic implications, including reduced economic growth, household income, and the perpetuation of gender inequality. Cultural and societal norms, as well as inadequate access to education and training, are some of the factors that contribute to women's exclusion from the workforce in Nigeria.

The NBS, in another report, said only about 43.5% of women participate in the labour force, compared to 71.3% of men. This gender gap in labour force participation can negatively impact economic growth and household income and perpetuate gender inequality. 

Participation in Nigeria's labour force based on gender. Credit: Kehinde Ogunyale

The World Bank estimates that Nigeria's GDP could increase by up to 23% by 2025 if women participated in the labour force at the same rate as men. Policies and initiatives promoting women's economic empowerment and increasing participation in the labour force are needed to address this issue.

Including women in the workforce can bring about significant economic benefits. Studies have shown that increasing women's participation in the labour force can lead to increased productivity, higher economic growth, and reduced poverty.

In addition, a McKinsey report estimated that advancing women's equality in Nigeria could add $229 billion to the country's economy by 2025. These figures highlight the potential economic gains that could be achieved by promoting women's economic empowerment and increasing their participation in the labour force.

A New Sheriff, renewed hope?

The potential impact of Bola Tinubu on women's economic inclusion in Nigeria would depend on his policies and commitments towards gender equality and women's empowerment and his ability to implement those policies effectively. 

Bola Tinubu's proposed policies to increase women's representation in government by at least 35% and to promote female employment in all government offices, ministries, and agencies are steps towards improving women's economic inclusion and empowerment in Nigeria. 

However, the effectiveness of these policies will depend on the commitment to their implementation and enforcement. The success of these policies will also require addressing the social and cultural barriers that hinder women's access to education and employment opportunities in the country. Nevertheless, Tinubu's focus on women's economic inclusion and empowerment is promising for advancing gender equality in Nigeria.

To address the issue, policies and legislation must be implemented to increase female employment and break down cultural and political barriers. 

These include investing in education and vocational training for women, implementing affirmative action policies, providing childcare facilities, and promoting women's entrepreneurship. Studies have shown that these interventions can positively impact women's employment outcomes and economic empowerment.

Furthermore, the Nigerian government can also work towards increasing gender budgeting and ensuring that all policies and programs are gender-sensitive to ensure women are not left behind. 


women inclusion

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