• Friday, March 01, 2024
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Elevating women’s entrepreneurship in Nigeria: Policy strategies for the future

Uddoh, CEO, Shecluded

Women entrepreneurs are the unsung heroes of Nigeria’s economic landscape, shepherding the dreams and aspirations of over 130 million young Nigerians and helming approximately 41% of the country’s businesses.

Their ever-growing influence underlines the pressing need for strategic, inclusive policies that will help these entrepreneurs transcend traditional boundaries and catalyze national economic development. Prioritizing women’s access to technology, markets, finance, and creating a nurturing entrepreneurial environment is not just beneficial—it’s essential.

Enhancing business opportunities for women: Access to markets and financial resources

Nigeria’s female entrepreneurs in small to medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) command a formidable 50% of the nation’s GDP, and their impact on employment generation is even more impressive. Close to 23 million women run micro-businesses, their success heralding significant leaps for the country’s economy. In fact, the McKinsey Global Institute suggests that addressing gender inequality could amplify Nigeria’s GDP by nearly 19%, or $90 billion, by 2025.

However, their potential is often hemmed in by limited access to the necessary financial resources to scale. A recent International Trade Centre study revealed that only 10% of commercial loans in Nigeria are directed to women-led businesses. Across Africa, this figure is even less – at a disappointing 7% of venture capital funding. To reverse this trend, policies focusing on the unique financial challenges of women-owned SMEs are essential. Echoing the policy activism of the G20 nations, the Nigerian government must heed these recommendations to bolster women’s entrepreneurship.

Migrating women-led businesses from informality to formality

The first step is to design policies that support the growth of women-led companies across different stages, making their transition from the informal to the formal sector smoother. Given Nigeria’s high unemployment rates, a considerable number of women operate within the informal economy. However, the transition to formal sectors is critical for business growth and for the larger economy.

Government strategies that accommodate the unique needs of women entrepreneurs, like simplifying business registration procedures and offering tax incentives for small businesses owned by women, will be instrumental.

Increasing capital access for women entrepreneurs

Secondly, it is vital to broaden the access women entrepreneurs have to financial resources. The government can establish dedicated funding mechanisms that offer affordable and accessible financial solutions to women-owned businesses, perhaps allocating a minimum of 2% of corporate taxes to these businesses. This would have a knock-on effect: fostering job creation, enhancing economic activity and growth, boosting tax revenues, and driving economic diversity.

Promoting gender-focused investment

Thirdly, to address the entrenched gender bias in lending and investing, the government should introduce incentives encouraging financial institutions to enact gender-sensitive policies, such as offering loans without collateral and providing credit guarantees. By offering government backing for loans granted to women entrepreneurs, lenders will have increased confidence, thus improving financial access for women.

Similarly, the government can incentivize investors to prioritize gender-focused investments. One such incentive could be national recognition awards for investors actively supporting women-led businesses. This could increase the reputation of investors and stimulate investments in women-owned enterprises.

Bridging the digital divide for women entrepreneurs

A glaring issue facing women entrepreneurs is the gaping digital gender divide in Nigeria, where 60% of women, particularly in northern Nigeria, lack internet access. This discrepancy, driven by social, cultural, and gender factors, can be bridged by strategic policies targeting the key challenges: affordability, low literacy levels, and social barriers.

While there is a growing number of Nigerian women involved in entrepreneurial and business activities, there is still so much room for growth considering the enabling effects of technology. Closing the current technology gap will result in economic and social gains for the country in terms of business growth, improved livelihoods and increased contribution to GDP. For example, with e-Commerce, women entrepreneurs can start businesses with lower costs, reach more customers, and have work and time flexibility that aids caregiving responsibilities. However, women need to have access to technologies and also the technical know-how to efficiently take advantage of these technologies.

Strategic policies need to be in place to tackle the main challenges hindering women from access to and use of technology which includes affordability, low literacy and awareness levels, and social factors.

Affordable internet access for women

In 2022, Nigeria ranked as one of the top five countries in Africa with the highest data costs, at $0.6 for 1 gigabyte of data. Besides the high cost of internet access, the cost of obtaining smartphones is quite prohibitive for the average Nigerian.

The United Nations under the International Women’s Day 2023 theme of “DigitALL: Innovation and technology for gender equality” recommended very important policies that should be adopted by developing countries to bridge the gap, one of which is that governments should work with private sector partners to expand broadband coverage in underserved areas and promote policies that would spur competition in the telecommunications sector.

Recognizing that affordable internet access carries immense potential for economic growth, the government should prioritize digital infrastructure investment, particularly in rural and underserved areas. Policies that promote competition in the telecommunications sector, partnered with efforts to lower the high cost of data could help bridge this digital divide.

Moreover, reducing taxes on mobile phones and related technology could improve accessibility. Despite a possible short-term decrease in tax revenue, such a move could lead to increased technology adoption and long-term economic growth.

Cybersecurity measures that protect women

The reluctance of women to engage with the internet and participate in online activities can be attributed to online gender biases, cyberbullying, and sexual harassment. To address these issues, the government should implement strategies aimed at combating these crimes. This can involve implementing robust cybersecurity protocols, enhancing data protection laws, and ensuring swift action against cybercriminals.

Additionally, the government should organize educational campaigns and awareness programs that promote online safety for women and provide women with the knowledge and skills to navigate the online world safely.

Digital literacy

Promoting digital literacy among women is crucial to harnessing the potential of the growing digital economy. The government should support pilot digital literacy programs such as the EQUALS Digital Literacy Project that catered to 208 women in Uganda and the Natview Technology digital literacy program that trained 180 women Kaduna state have shown that women tailored digital literacy programs must be accessible, community focused, and incentivized..

Moreover, by promoting scholarships and grant opportunities for young girls in STEM and digital literacy programs, and partnering with private institutions to improve ICT training, the government can broaden women’s access to digital resources.

In conclusion, by cultivating an enabling business environment, improving financial access, and enhancing digital literacy, the government can equip women entrepreneurs to excel in the digital economy. This commitment to fostering women’s entrepreneurial potential holds the key to realizing the transformative power of their participation in the nation’s economy.

.Uddoh CEO Shecluded