Does Empowering The Woman Raise Economic Growth?


Good morning, ladies and gentlemen. I am truly honoured and privileged to have been invited to speak to this distinguished audience today on the Topic: A rising tide raises all boats …., Does empowering the woman raise economic growth? It is great to be here among friends, colleagues and likeminded progressive individuals, who care about the good life and the good society. Let me start by thanking the CPPA (Center for Public Policy Alternatives, Nigeria) and Canada’s International Development Research Centre (the IDRC) for your continuous investments in creating innovative solutions for the improvement of the lives and livelihoods of women in the developing world and, most pertinently, in Nigeria and Ghana.

I have started by referring to the love haboured by our host organizations, and most of us here, for the good society. The good society concept is one that has been with us since Aristotelian times. It has come to mean many things to different people. Indeed, many political and philosophical ideologies have adopted the “good society” phrase to support several oftenfleeting movements. Nevertheless, one clear thread runs through every concept of the good society. That thread is the acceptance that the good society refers to and means the greatest possible happiness or felicity of the largest number in a society. The idea of the happiness of the majority is a concept that came to be dubbed ‘utilitarianism’ by Jeremy Bentham and John Austin, his acolyte. Indeed, in philosophy ‘happiness’ is defined as the wellbeing of society.

I have gone into this concept of the good society as argument for the proposition that a society that fails to promote the happiness and wellbeing of its women folk cannot be correctly described as a good society. And how can a society that represses or holds back more than 50% of its population be said to be aiming for the happiness of the largest number? There are several indices and Gender reports that show that in Nigeria and, indeed, very large portions of Africa, the woman is still severely held back. The BIG question is Why?

It is now well accepted that the level of female participation in every economy is a leading indicator of the efficiency and level of development of that economy. Promoting gender equality is therefore smart economics and is the right thing to do to take Nigeria and Africa to the promised land of qualitative development. We simply cannot transform our world unless the place of women within it is transformed.

The questions that we must urgently address in trying to evaluate the current place of women in our society are:

Do women have equal access to finance or property?
Do women and girls have equal access to Education?
Do they have access to healthcare?
Do they earn equal pay for equal work?
Are they allowed to take equal part in the political space?
Can they get the top jobs in organisations?

The current data all suggest that the answer to these questions is an emphatic NO!

What, then, we must ask is WHY the situation is so dismal even at the end of the 2nd decade of the 21st Century and more than a 100 years after the suffragettes in the United Kingdom fought for British women to have the right to vote. Why do the voices of women remain so evidently missing?
A statement by Phumzile Mlambo- Ngcuka, UN Under- Secretary -General on the 2018 theme for IWD- illustrates the ill effect on society of the suppression of some of its segments. She said: “Healthy societies have a mix of voices and influences that provide the checks and balances, the differing threads of experience and perspectives, and the debate that shapes good decision – making. Where voices are missing, there is an important gap in the fabric of society. When those voices count in the millions, we know there is something wrong with our world. Similarly, as we see and hear those voices rise in strength and solidarity, we feel the power of something right.”

Clearly, nothing will change until all segments of our society are confronted with these glaring deficiencies and inequalities and their detrimental impact. The advocacy for change has been going on for some time. Whilst it must continue, it is also time for proactivity.

There are varying platforms that aim to push this issue of women empowerment to the forefront of discussion, and to keep it at the forefront. They must continue in their efforts until gender parity, equity, equality and justice is achieved. We must identify those initiatives that have sought to provide a roadmap for the redressing of female inequality. The UN SDG 5 talks about achieving gender equality and empowering women and girls. That is a useful blueprint. However, the Beijing Platform for Action adopted by the UN’s conference on Women provides a plan of action. It addresses 12 critical areas of concern to Women. They are:

1. Women and poverty- the face of poverty and oppression is female
2. Education and training of women – women have been left behind especially in the rural areas
3. Women and health – thousands of women die every day from child birth and malnutrition
4. Violence against women – domestic violence, rape, lawful chastisement in the penal code and other legislation?
5. Women and armed conflict – bear the brunt of wars, rape, slavery etc
6. Women and the economy- women are 52% of the population. 70% of the people working on the land are female. But women only own 4% of the land in NE Nigeria, 10% in SS & SE and have little or no access to finance. Women own only 20% of the land globally. In the private sector, the picture is not very different. Only 5% of CEO’s are women. Only 11.7% female representation on Company Boards.
7. Women in power and decision-making – the statistics are appalling. No female President or VP, no female Governor, no female Senate President. Only 7% female participation in politics. Only 16%% representation in the cabinet. The National Gender policy requires 35% representation. Women are absent in the highest levels of decision making.
8. Institutional mechanisms for the advancement of women -They do not exist. Put enabling legislation in place. Set gender targets. Government to lead and drive advocacy and awareness. Pass relevant legislation and gender friendly policies.
9. Human rights of women – in Constitution, but not enforced. Domestic violence, rape, Penal Code? – Lawful chastisement?
10. Women and the media- very little visibility, no voice
11. Women and the environment
12. The girl-child- 15 million children out of school. The majority are female.
In identifying these areas of concern, Beijing showed a clear path to concerned Governments that there are concrete policies and steps that they can adopt to turn things around. What, then, we must do is to push governments around the world and especially those of the countries of Africa in which women remain supressed to demonstrate greater political will for the empowerment of women. They can do this in several ways. These include:

1. By enacting new legislation and enforcing existing laws and policies that delay early and forced marriages and in appropriately punishing those who flout those laws;
2. The 12 states in Nigeria that have not adopted the Child Rights Act must be pressed to do so urgently in the best interest of our children and to put measures in place for implementing the provisions of the Act;
3. All barriers that make it difficult for young girls to go to school (associated costs) must be removed. With the current scourge of the Boko Haram insurgency, that means that security around schools that have girls must be beefed up. Perhaps, less segregation of schools will help;
4. Nevertheless, the schools must be girl child friendly and sensitive to cultural norms;
5. Governments must incentivize girl child education through scholarships and social protection policies.

Most of these recommendations were made by the Civil Society Legislative Advocacy Centre (CISLAC) and I wholeheartedly agree with them.

Why is change towards the empowerment of women so critical to the wellbeing of society?
At the World Bank’s 2017 Economic Forum on closing the gender gap, it was concluded that gender parity and women’s economic empowerment is fundamental to whether and how economies and societies thrive. On the scale of gender parity, Nigeria is ranked a lowly #122 while Ghana is appreciably better ranked, at #72. This is out of 144 countries that were assessed. We in Nigeria clearly have a lot of work to do and a long way to go. We can change this picture very quickly if we take the right steps now. Ensuring the full development and deployment of half of the world’s talent pool has a vast bearing on the growth, competitiveness and future-readiness of economies and businesses worldwide. One of the development indicators as I’m sure we are all aware is the UNDP’s Gender Development Index (GDI), which measures gaps in human development achievements by accounting for disparities between men and women in three dimensions:

1. Health
2. Knowledge
3. Living standards

Again Ghana outranks Nigeria at #139 and #152. Still, neither has any bragging rights as the assessment is made for 160 countries.

In Nigeria, efforts to pass laws that address gender imbalances and discrimination such as the gender and equal opportunities bill have been delayed and voted down by the male dominated NASS in 2016; the bill which prohibits societal and workplace discrimination and promotes equality, full development and advancement of all persons has been largely criticized based on promoting anti-family activities. In preparing ourselves for transitioning Nigeria we need to actively unleash the talent of our women and girls who represent 52% of the 200 million population. The recent kidnapping of the Dapchi schoolgirls as well as the 2014 incident in Chibok speaks to a deeper issue beyond the act of kidnapping itself- but speaks to the broader concerns of girl child education in some parts of the country, where the education of girls is actively discouraged not just by fanatics, but also by many in their local communities including their families for a variety of cultural and economic reasons.

According to the McKinsey report titled “Women Matter Africa”, African companies with at least a quarter share of women on their corporate boards had earnings before interest and taxes (EBIT) nearly 20 percent higher than the industry average. Of course, numbers do not always reflect influence, and there remains crucial work to be done – not just in Nigeria, but in the larger sub-Saharan Africa – to ensure that the number of women in leadership positions reflects an equitable redistribution of power. Nonetheless, representation matters, and is a good first step to take in realizing the worthy goal of gender equality.

Benefits/Effect of Empowering Women
A widely cited McKinsey Global Institute study suggests that closing gender gaps in labour-force participation rates, part-time versus full-time work and the composition of employment would add 12-25% to global GDP by 2025. Other studies, using a variety of methodologies, find similar potential gains.

Companies with greater gender equality in their workforce and top management reap a variety of benefits. Such companies are better able to attract and retain female talent, to motivate their female workers, to understand and respond to the needs of female customers and address complex problems by incorporating more diverse views. Several new studies confirm that companies with more women in top leadership and board positions enjoy higher financial returns.

Total agricultural outputs in Africa could increase by up to 20% if women’s access to agricultural inputs was equal to men’s.

Finally, the motivation for women’s empowerment is basic fairness and decency. Young girls should have the exact same opportunities that boys do to lead full and productive lives.

Research has shown that the performance of organisations and indeed countries improves significantly when women are enabled to fully participate and contribute. The business case has been made for female participation and inclusion. Women’s economic empowerment raises all boats and can drive economic growth. But this will only happen if we appreciate the fundamental importance of gender equality and women’s empowerment as the most important undertaking for our societies, economies and the international community as we enter a defining time for inclusive development, peace and security, with women’s leadership as a key driver.

The theme for this year’s International Women’s Day has never been more apt: The Time is Now! The time is now for decisive action and for a step change. Now is the time to formulate the right policies and enact the right legislation that will facilitate the ease of entry and participation by women at all levels into the service and natural resource sectors, as well as their mobility across and within sectors. The time is now for real advocacy and campaigns to change mind-sets; to shape the agenda so young men and boys learn to value and respect women and girls and so men and women change the way they behave. We need to alter the way we listen to women and the way we look at them. Women are not possessions/chattel to be traded, sexual objects, play things or child bearing vessels. They are human beings, individuals with brains and dreams. They are key contributors to society. They are equal partners in progress and in addition perform a critical biological role in procreation. Now is the time to develop the right attitude towards empowering women and break the limiting cultural and institutional barriers that have impeded progress for so long. Now is the time for male feminists to step up and speak up in a He4She campaign! Targets in both private and public sectors need to be set and worked towards since the gap is so wide. And to be clear, women’s economic empowerment is NOT about tokenism, lowering standards or male bashing, but about equity and parity for all human beings. And when we speak about women’s economic empowerment, rights are a central concept, encompassing:

 Equal access to, ownership of and control over land, property, productive assets and resources including finance and capacity building;
 Equal Access to decent work and full and productive employment;
 Economic independence for women and a full ability to freely assert their autonomy and exercise their choices;
 Full access to decision-making in all economic decisions that affect their lives and the lives of their families, communities and societies.

To those who say it can’t be done, let us look to our fellow African countries like Rwanda- ranked #4 in the global gender gap rankings -63.8%, (ahead of Sweden!) and the impact this has had on their country, Namibia at #13, South Africa at #19- 41.9%, Botswana at #46, all ahead of the United States. Ladies and gentlemen, I have a simple message for you all today: It is time for us to embrace a 21st century – modern view of women’s economic empowerment and leap frog western economies.

This must be a tipping point. We must amend and create policies to close the gender inequality gap by addressing issues of women’s empowerment and economic development. Let us put our collective brain power to work to secure the future. Kenya made constitutional reforms and adopted new policies to improve female representation on Boards. Norway imposed quotas – 40% representation of women. They achieved it in 2 years! So it can be done. Gender equality needs to be at the forefront of Govts agenda and deliberate plans and steps must be taken for things to change. Furthermore, CEO’s of Companies must make gender equality a priority.

Women empowerment means ‘enabling women to take an equal place with men and to participate equally with men in the development process to achieve control over the factors of production on an equal basis with men” for our collective prosperity.

It is an inalienable right enshrined in our constitution. It is a human right!

Once we can achieve this, the tide will rise for Nigeria and indeed Africa.

Let us Raise the tide for women so that all boats can rise. Yes, empowering the woman raises economic growth.

As Gloria Steinem said: “the story of women’s struggle for equality belongs to no single feminist or to any one organization but to the collective efforts of all who care about human rights.’

Our systems, structures and cultural norms still entrench inequality. The culture of gender-based poverty, abuse, discrimination, and exploitation must end with a new generation of equality that lasts.

“Any society that fails to harness the energy and creativity of its women is at a huge disadvantage in the modern world” – Anchor Tian Wei

The Time is Now for all hands to be on deck! We must seize this opportunity to unleash the huge untapped potential in our female population. Women must also seize this moment to remove the mental, physical and social shackles and barriers placed on them to learn, grow, lean in and be free to do the things that will enhance them and enable their progress.

I want A prosperous Africa based on inclusive growth and sustainable development.

I want an Africa whose development is people- driven, especially relying on the potential offered by its women and youth and well cared for children-AU Africa Agenda 2063.

I believe we can achieve this by enhancing women’s voice in decision making, leadership and peace building; by promoting women’s economic empowerment and by ending violence against women and girls.
Thank you for reading.
God Bless
Amina Oyagbola
WISCAR Founder/Chairperson
Managing Consultant
AKMS Consulting Ltd
+234 (0) 813 985 0482
+234 (0) 813 985 0480

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