Cross Border Trade
The British Council, with support from the UK Department for International Development (or UK Aid), recently released the Gender in Nigeria Report 2012 with the title “Improving the Lives of Girls and Women in Nigeria”. The report is a sober reflection on the nation’s development potentials, declaring that Nigeria’s 80.2 million women and girls are the nation’s “hidden resource”. According to the report, the Gender Equality Index ranks Nigeria 118 out of 134 countries. That is dismaying.
Women hold the short end of the stick on many fronts. They are the major producers of food in the rural areas, though incomes, land use and taxation systems are skewed against them. “Only 7.2% of women own the land they farm, which limits their access to credit and constrains entrepreneurship and business activity,” the report disclosed. Nigeria is said to have the highest rate of children out of school, and more girls than boys receive no formal education. A plethora of reasons can be adduced for this, including non-implementation of education policies targeted at improving the situation, as well as cultural factors and practices like bullying, corporal punishments, etc.
This imbalance reflects in the measurement and acknowledgement of women’s contributions to the economy. Gender and trade expert Eniola Dada’s Special Report in this edition of the newsletter sheds light on the often-discounted contribution of women who trade across West Africa’s many borders, an example of the many informal contributions they make to the society, polity and economy. They supply between 40% and 64% of the national GDPs of Benin Republic, Mali and Chad. The article also avers that women’s informal cross border trade cushioned the effects of the recent financial and food crises in a number of African countries.
Lack of recognition accorded these contributions can be understood from some of the findings of the Gender in Nigeria Report 2012. “Women are politically under represented,” the report said. “Their upper and lower house representation fell from 7% in 2007 to 4% in the 2011 election (the African average is 19%). Only 7 of 109 Senators and 19 of 360 Representatives are women”. And that is understandable in the light of another observation the report made: “More than two thirds of 1519 year old girls in Northern Nigeria are unable to read a sentence compared to less than 10% in the South”. The North accounts for over half of the nation’s population and has a fertility rate of about 7, making this statistic very significant.
The gender report advocates more investment in women and implementation of affirmative action policies. Though the report is a literature research with intention to “identify where change is happening and where further positive change is possible”, it is written in somewhat aspirational and passive tone that might prove to be a challenge to implementation.
Odoh Diego Okenyodo
NB: This editorial is a tribute to Ms Alvana Ojukwu, CDD’s Programme Officer for
Gender who died in a plane crash on June 3, 2012 while on
official assignment. Ms Ojukwu was a contributor to West Africa
Insight; the WAI newsletter and team miss her dearly.