Experience worldwide shows that supporting a stronger role for women contributes to economic growth; it improves child survival and overall family health. Investing in women is therefore means to sustainable development.
Despite the above facts, however, women still face many barriers in contributing to and benefiting from development. The barriers begin with comparatively low investment in female education and health, they continue with restricted access to services and assets, and they are made worse by legal and regulatory constraints on women’s opportunities.
It was in view these that the Nigerian Association of Women Entrepreneurs (NAWE) at its annual general conference and 20 years anniversary recently in Abuja, called on the federal government to empower women for the greater economic development of the country.
The conference with the theme, “Repositioning Women for Greater Participation in Economic Development” looked at issues such as women as agents of change, obstacles to women’s full inclusion and the case of Nigerian women and how to reposition women.
Speaking at the occasion, Senator Nkechi Nwaogu, a former national deputy president of the association said the key to economic progress anywhere in the world lies in unleashing women’s potentials.
She said: “Increasing women participation in economic activities gives women more money to spend on food, housing and education which are crucial components for reducing poverty and promoting sustainable development.
“On an average, women re-invest up to 90 percent of their income into their households compared to men who invest 30-40 percent. Since this is the case, bringing women into the labour force is not only a lofty aspiration, it is the necessary missing link for sustainable development. We cannot get there if we leave women behind.”
In her presentation, Nwaogu highlighted the hindrances that women face in the society with statistics revealing that of the 1.3 billion people who live in absolute poverty around the globe, 70 percent are women.
She said: “For these women, poverty does not just mean scarcity and want but rights denied, opportunities curtailed and voices silenced. Women own less than one percent of the world property. Law and customs prevent women from owning land or other productive assets, from getting loans or credit, or from having right to own their home, no access to leverage from economic stability.
“Women work for only 10 percent of the world’s income and when they work for money they may be limited to a set of jobs deemed suitable for women invariably low-pay, low-status position.”
Though these impediments are not universal, every clime has its share but in some societies, more women have dismantled the barriers to prove that they are very strong forces to reckon with and many Nigerian women have proved to be more than mere bench-warming spectators even in the midst of the male dominated professional congregation.
Unlike before, when girls and women were not allowed to go to school, many Nigerian women today are changing the face of the economy. They are running successful businesses in various industries with professions such as scientists, engineers, doctors, lawyers, financial analysts, IT experts, policy makers and home makers.
Nwaogu said women hold the key to a future removed from hunger and poverty and urged the federal government to abolish all the laws, customs and the values that militate against women’s full inclusion in the national economy, adding that millions of women are still sidelined, unable to find a meaningful place for themselves in the formal workforce.
Some of those who get jobs are confined to the lowest rungs on the job ladder by a web of legal and social restrictions that limit their potential. Or they are confronted with a glass ceiling that keeps them from the most senior positions.
She said the obstacles women face have made them to play second fiddle in the society, ultimately shrinking their capacity to help the economy. She therefore urged government at all levels to invest more in women education, adding that education is one of the drivers of the economy.
Women integration is said to have widened the labour force, the intellectual pool in social, political and economic debate. The appointment of women into administrative posts has shattered the myths that the domain of politics and leadership in public sphere is purely for men.
Study shows that when women are supported and empowered, our society benefits. Their families are healthier, more children go to school, agricultural productivity improves and incomes increases.
The National President of NAWE, Adaeze Ozongwu, who said the association was born out of the need to enhance the promotion of the economic activities of women with a view of harnessing and channeling their full potentials towards national development, stressed that the association envisages capacity building, networking, mentoring, advocacy and economic empowerment of women.
She said NAWE will empower 100 women with N1 million each by the end of 2014 and demanded a new affirmative action of 50:50 by 20:2020.
The Acting Director General of National Agency for Science and Engineering, Dr. M. S. Haruna, said at the occasion that women have impacted in all fields of human endeavour, from engineering, science, banking, aviation and accounting to military the world over and have proven innate abilities to excel even in area hitherto considered exclusive to men.
He said his agency would collaborate with NAWE in the fabrication and production of simple implements, heavy machines and technologies required to run more sophisticated industries.
In his address, the Director General, Small and Medium Enterprises Development Agency of Nigeria (SMEDAN), Muhammed Nadada, said the world has come to realize and accept the indispensable role of women and their potentials in evolving a new socio-economic order in accelerating the pace of economic development, social awareness and political emancipation.
He said SMEDAN partners with business development service providers to reach out to women, adding that its programme includes training in entrepreneurship and business management, business planning and business plan preparation, marketing, finance, personal/business visioning, ICT, operation/production management and human resource management,
“If women are not engendered they would be endangered. Nigeria women now face “glass walls” that keep them from emerging as big time entrepreneurs,” the SMEDAN D-G said.