• Tuesday, May 28, 2024
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Exclusion has a face – and it is female

Exclusion has a face – and it is female

By Chinasa Collins-Ogbuo

“No women farmers, no food! No food on the table, no nation!”

This was the chant I heard during a recent press conference for small-holder women farmers in Nigeria; it would turn out to be the motto for the Small-Scale Women Farmers Organisation of Nigeria (SWOFON). The truth in the message was so resonant, especially with statistical data showing that women farmers are responsible for over 70 percent of the food production in the world. Food production is just one of the array of key contributions that women make towards society’s sustained survival and development, and therefore their contributions cannot be ignored. This is why we cannot stop advocating for women’s inclusion and empowerment until the exclusion gap is narrowed and women are truly seen and prioritised. The barriers to women’s inclusion across a range of issues and topics are typically linked to systemic limitations, societal and cultural norms, and policies that do not incorporate a female gender lens in their formulation.

Focusing on women’s financial exclusion as the theme that underscores the title of this piece, the 2023 Access to Finance Survey (A2F) by Enhancing Financial Innovation and Access (EFInA), revealed that 41 percent of women in Nigeria are financially excluded compared to 30 percent of men, and looking at the gender disparity in some of the enablers for financial inclusion, such as ID ownership, 36 percent of women do not own a National Identification Number (NIN) compared to 21 percent of men. These figures reinforce the persistent data gap between men and women in Nigeria, which has, sadly, increased from 10 percent to 11 percent for financial inclusion between 2020 and 2023 and for NIN ownership from 5 percent in 2020 to 15 percent in 2023.

Read also: Women farmers seek govt support to boost food production

With data like this, the big question is: why, after several advocacy efforts, including globally recognised events such as International Women’s Day, do we have a gap that’s widening instead of narrowing in Nigeria? One broad answer may lie in an article by a UN Women Delegate tagged “A Mother’s Call to Action” on championing gender equality. The author, Caroline Anukem, who happens to be my cousin, is a mother of four girls and a professional in the field of equality, diversity, and inclusion. With these roles, she is exposed to the challenges and obstacles girls are presented with owing to their gender. Her call to action is simple yet profound and implementable, but with likely recognisable dividends in the long term: “We must strive to create environments where girls and women are empowered to pursue their dreams and aspirations without discrimination or limitation, and it requires not only policy and legislative reforms but also a shift in cultural attitudes and societal norms that perpetuate gender stereotypes.”

It is true that shifts in cultural attitudes and societal norms are critical; however, those attitudinal shifts require significant and several shifts in mindsets, which can only be achieved over the long term. That said, policy and regulatory reforms are known to be pivotal in shaping and changing mindsets, which I believe inadvertently define societal norms and beliefs. The power of policies in shaping societal norms has been successfully demonstrated in Singapore with the education policy reforms that transformed the nation from developing to developed. In essence, actively advocating for policies, legislation, and regulations that take into account women’s nuanced needs and barriers in their design and implementation cannot be dematerialized.

In the spirit of uncovering lasting solutions, Mrs. Aishah Ahmad’s (former CBN Deputy Governor for Financial System Stability) profound statement in her write-up on International Women’s Day strongly comes to mind: “Until we realise that gender inequality is not just a human rights issue but also a missed economic opportunity, Africa may not achieve the inclusive growth that it so badly needs and has thus far proven elusive.”.

Women are significantly vital to economic growth, but the support to engender their contributions has truly proven elusive, especially when we know that over 7 out of 10 Nigerian women’s economic potential (likely to be micro and small business owners) remains unserved or underserved, according to data from Women’s World Banking.

Finally, following the conclusion of another International Women’s Month commemoration in March, let us remember that in Nigeria, exclusion has a face, and it is female—a female that is likely to be poor, likely to be living in a rural community, likely to be living in the North, and likely to be a small-scale trader or small-holder farmer. These are the women that need our help the most. I hope that this inspires you and all relevant stakeholders to include her.

 

Chinasa Collins-Ogbuo is the Advocacy & Communications Lead at EFInA (Enhancing Financial Innovation and Access) where her primary mandate is to lead strategic advocacy and communications efforts to enable financial inclusion deepening In Nigeria. I4ALL (Inclusion for all) is a multifaceted advocacy platform affiliated to EFInA (Enhancing Financial Innovation & Access), with the primary goal of ensuring that the poorest and most vulnerable Nigerians excluded from formal financial services are given a pathway to digital and financial inclusion.

Websites: https://inclusion-for-all.org/ , https://a2f.ng/

Email: [email protected]

LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/chinasacollins/