BusinessDay

Nigeria lags African peers on gender equality reforms

Twelve years after it was first introduced, Nigeria’s Gender and Equal Opportunities Bill is still far from become a law, while some African peers are enacting new laws to advance equality of economic opportunities.

Last Wednesday, ahead of the 2022 International Day of Women, a coalition of 229 women groups condemned lawmakers for refusing to amend the constitution to advance inclusion.

A recent World Bank report on women, business and the law noted that African countries like Gabon, Togo, Angola, Benin and Burundi had enacted and implemented comprehensive legal reforms to achieve greater equality of economic opportunities for women.

In the World Bank gender report for 2021, Nigeria scored 63.1 out of 100, lower than its Africa peer countries like Gabon ( 82.5) Togo (81.9), Benin (80.6), Angola (79.4), Burundi (76.3), and Sierra Leone (72.5). Egypt scored 50.6, an improvement from the previous year.

Compared to the previous year’s index, Nigeria’s remained unchanged at 63.1, while Gabon, Benin, Angola, Burundi, Sierra Leone and Egypt improved from 57.5, 75.5, 73.1, 73.1, 69.4 and 45.0 respectively in 2020. Togo declined from 84.4.

The annual report measures laws and regulations across 190 countries in eight areas impacting women’s economic participation – mobility, workplace, pay, marriage, parenthood, entrepreneurship, assets, and pensions. It captured reforms that occurred from October 2, 2020, to October 1, 2021.

“Sub-Saharan African regions showed the largest improvements in the Index in 2021, though they continue to lag behind other parts of the world overall. The region implemented comprehensive reforms, achieving the second-highest improvement in the index last year,” the report said.

It also highlighted some of the reforms that the countries took to improve gender equality. For example, Gabon stands out with comprehensive reforms to its civil code and the enactment of a law on the elimination of violence against women.

Angola enacted legislation criminalising sexual harassment in employment. Benin removed restrictions on women’s employment in construction so that they could work in all the same jobs in the same way as men. Burundi mandated equal remuneration for work of equal value.

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Sierra Leone made access to credit easier for women by prohibiting gender-based discrimination in financial services. Togo introduced new legislation that now prohibits the dismissal of pregnant workers from work.

Egypt enacted legislation protecting women from domestic violence and made access to credit easier for women by prohibiting gender-based discrimination in financial services.

Globally, women and girls represent half of the world’s population.

Gender equality and empowerment is one of the 17 Sustainable Development Goals by the United Nations to be achieved by the year 2030.

It requires urgent action to eliminate the many root causes of discrimination that still curtail women’s rights in private and public spheres.

“While progress has been made, the gap between men’s and women’s expected lifetime earnings globally is $172 trillion – nearly two times the world’s annual GDP,” said Mari Pangestu, managing director of development policy and partnerships at World Bank.

“As we move forward to achieve green, resilient and inclusive development, governments need to accelerate the pace of legal reforms so that women can realise their full potential and benefit fully and equally.”

According to data from a 2021 Global Gender Gap Index by the World Economic Forum, Nigeria ranked 139th position out of 153 countries, the worst ranking since 2006.

Analysts say cultural practices that elevate patriarchy are major impediments and are constraining opportunities for women.

Commenting on the Gender and Equal Opportunities Bill, Tinu Mabadeje, a nonviolence training consultant, said pinned the blame for the failure to pass the bill on the female leaders at the top.

“These so-called women did not push the bill enough because if the first lady and the 36 state first ladies had mobilised themselves and other female leaders from all sectors of the economy, they would have been able to mobilise more than enough women to head straight to the National Assembly,” she said.

She advised that women aiming for higher positions should pursue appointed positions and not elective ones.

“When women lead in government, we see bigger investments in social protections and greater roles against poverty,” said Deodata Mukazariye, a representative of the United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women.

According to the World Bank report, women in Nigeria face gaps in economic empowerment and challenges to the exercise of voice and agency.

Last December, Nigerian lawmakers turned down the GOE bill over concerns it might infringe on Islamic mores.

“When women are given the same opportunities as men, they enter and remain in the labour force, strengthening economies and enabling development,” said World Bank.

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