Promoting Access to Economic Resources For Women And Girls In the SMEs

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PAPER PRESENTED BY BARR. NKIRU JOY OKPALA, NATIONAL COORDINATOR, ASSOCIATION OF NIGERIAN WOMEN BUSINESS NETWORK (ANWBN) DURING THE 2017 WOMEN AND GIRLS SUMMIT, HELD AT THE NATIONAL CENTRE FOR WOMEN DEVELOPMENT (NCWD) ON THURSDAY, 16TH FEBRUARY, 2017, AT 9AM.

TOPIC:

PROMOTING ACCESS TO ECONOMIC RESOURCES FOR WOMEN AND GIRLS IN THE SMES

Introduction:

In addressing the above topic, it will be pertinent to understand the relevance of Women and Girls in every economy, particularly in an unstable, but growing economy like ours. There is no doubt that Women are a force for progress, and in a country like Nigeria, where women and girls constitute more than half the entire population of the Nation, their relevance in nation building and economic growth can never be over emphasized.

One major mistake we keep making in this nation is that we regard ‘Women and Girls’ as mere special interest group, forgetting that their numeric strength, and that they are even the major players when we consider the field of Small and Medium Enterprise. Females’ economic power enhances the wealth and well-being of nations. Indeed, we cannot have true democratic governance without the inclusion of women and girls. They must be accorded their rightful and equitable positions in all spheres and hemisphere of life – political, economic, and socially.

Scope of Economic Resources:

When we talk about economic resources, most minds tilt towards financial enablement, but that should not be so. Yes, there is no doubt that financial power is a major economic resource, but the scope of economic resources goes beyond that. It covers all the inputs used to create things or provide services. They are the factors used in production of goods and services. They can be divided into human resources, such as labor and management; and non-human resources, such as land, capital goods, financial resources, and technology. Misallocation or improper use of economic resources can cause businesses, or even the entire economy of a society to fail. Thus, the importance of promoting the economic resources of women and girls can never be over-emphasized.

Challenges to Economic Resources:

In order to properly assess the challenges or obstacles women and girls in SMEs face, as well as identify the opportunities for growth therein, the intersection of political, socio-cultural and environmental conditions must be analyzed alongside traditional economic indicators. Women are deprived of equal access to finance/capital, education, health care, inheritance, as well as decision making powers in the political, social, and business sectors. Factors inhibiting women’s access to economic resources include:

  1. Lack of access to credits/finance: Most female based SME operators finance their businesses through personal loans or re-invested profits. This is because they lack eligibility for credit facilities, or cannot meet the stringent conditions placed, or are not properly informed as to how or where to go about them. Some loan conditions equally demand consent of husband which places the woman on a disadvantaged position too.
  2. Lack of adequate access to education, training on New Technologies/ ICT Networks, or skills, capacity building in financial literacy/management. Women most times are unable to differentiate between business funds and family funds which can be spent on husbands and children.
  3. Women’s lack of knowledge about rights and laws (economic, social, political, and religious): A lot of wrong interpretations had been given over the real status of women on religious dictates, cultural/traditional demands, political participation as well as social relationship. Women had been termed a specie only to be seen, not heard, they had been regarded as second fiddle who are not equally entitled to political participation and leadership as men. These are wrong, and impede on their economic growth.
  4. Deprivation over Property inheritance which in fact, is a major indicator over financial acquisition through loans. Properties no doubt, are critical driving forces to easier access to credits, and financial acquisitions. In our respective societies or traditions there are different regulations on inheritance. Some exclude women and girls entirely, while some grant them half of what their male counter parts benefit. Yet they are expected to thrive in the same society and difficult terrain with these men.
  5. Illegal, Arbitrary and Multiple Taxation of Businesses by Government Agencies /Institutions: Small businesses are faced with numerous taxes. These include space taxes, signage, product registration, environmental-solid and liquid wastes, licensing, parking permits, local government, etcetera. Indeed, most of these taxes are duplicated or even collected based on the discretion of the tax officers. Most often, they are collected with unprofessionalism and molestation of the tax payers. A great number of them are not transparent, or verifiable. They end up depleting the already small economic resources of these women and girls.
  6. Lack of access to responsible health care/reproductive rights. Women and girls are enslaved as child-bearers without adequate medical care and sanitation. Thus exposing them to life-long medical and social dangers.
  7. Lack of adequate patronage to their produced goods, and poor Government Priority Patronage, due to preference to either the foreign alternatives, or their male counter-parts who have better bargaining powers, or due to lack of finesse because they are not properly informed on acceptable Packaging, Standardization or Quality demands.
  8. Lack of adequate representation in decision-making positions and governance structures, inadequate consultation and inclusion of Women-owned Business and Professional Associations in Political, Economic and Socio-cultural Issues at different tiers of governance.
  9. Violence: Women and Girls are the predominant victims of conflicts, sexual violence, intimidation and human trafficking. Most times when they are violated too, they find it difficult opening up or reporting to the right authorities because of the stigma, blame and molestations that would further come out of such. In all, they live with the trauma, and psychological imbalance developed out of such experiences.
  10. Bureaucracy and bottlenecks from Government Agencies: Lack of ease in securing business permits, registration documents and licenses at relevant areas of enterprise constitute huge problem, Nigeria is ranked very poorly at the World Bank’s Ease of Doing Business Report. There are Gender –neutral laws which still affect women adversely. For instance, women may not be able to withstand the bureaucratic and expensive registration processes at different business registration or licensing offices in Nigeria due to ‘Women’s double workday’ of domestic and business responsibilities.
  11. Lack of adequate Infrastructure – patchy energy supplies, bad transportation logistics, poor network connections.

The list is endless, but we have been able to identify the major ones that cut across our entire nation, and which adversely impact the access to economic resources of our Women and Girls in the SMEs.

 

Enhancing Access to Economic Resourses of Women and Girls in the SMEs:

In order to promote Access to Economic Resources for Women and Girls in the SMEs, the following steps must be taken urgently:

a). Education and Capacity Building: Education no doubt, is a vital tool that ensures human security and serves as a means to empower women and girls. Women and Girls lack capacity for dealing with economic and social needs in business management, thus, Entrepreneurial-ship should be inculcated as one major subject in the secondary and tertiary education’s curricula in Nigeria. Education is a key transformative way towards helping women and girls overcome barriers to accessing economic resources. Education and skills development are the sustainable interventions needed to effectively assist them in positively influencing their status.

The education model should be of two classes, one should assess the possible integration of entrepreneurial development and sustainability curriculum in the educational system with gender considerations, while the second should develop training programs to promote and improve teachers and public instructors understanding of how to coach and mentor girls on entrepreneurial development and sustainability as well as resource management.

In any case, we should bear in mind the fact that Entrepreneurial development cannot be achieved in areas where such basics as food, physical protection, health and education are not assured. Public and private sector partnerships with government can pave the way for companies to dedicate financial resources and skills to physically provide the essentials. Once these are achieved, then entrepreneurial development is possible. Above all, the success of such programmes culminates in the women themselves becoming mentors to other entrepreneurs and forming their own networks to support each other’s growth.

b). Enhanced access to Finance, Machineries and Tools: there is need for government to review policies on collateral to accommodate with ease, Women and Girls SMEs effectively.  The Central Bank of Nigeria’s Integrated access to capital and monetary policy should be continually reviewed and appraised to cut down interest rates for Women Owned Businesses. Other development finance institutions like Bank of Industry, Bank of Agriculture, should open more doors to these women. Efforts are being made towards these, but a huge lot still needs to be done. They should equally be addressed with openness and public awareness.

The Commercial Banks and Micro-Finance Banks as well, can be encouraged by the CBN and other relevant MDAs to develop their own unique models for Women SMEs too. Few banks are trying to engage in such activities, but in all honesty, what they are doing at the moment is like a drop of water in the ocean. They need to be encourage and equally be supervised by regulatory bodies to ensure they engage in positive actions that will address the needs of these women and girls.

c). Harmonization of Tax Policies: Having identified arbitrary, illegal and multiple taxation as a major impediment to promoting economic resources of women and girls, the tax body in Nigeria should endeavor to implement a harmonized tax system. It is not good enough to have a harmonized tax system on paper, without seeing in being practically implemented.

There is need to develop an automated tax systems, disseminate the approved tax list and eradicate nuisance caused through extortion and molestations. Further efforts should also be made by tax agencies to educate their staff on the need for professionalism in tax collection, stopping corrupt practices, and engaging tax payers as partners, not enemies. That way, the business environment will thrive for women and girls in SMEs as well as generate more funds for government.

d). Improvement in Communication Flow: Government should intensify efforts at information dissemination. Some good Policies in Nigeria are just on Paper, lying at the closets of office holders who do not understand the need to let the public and stakeholders concerned know about them. Government should ensure proper dissemination of information through the right channels. They can engaged women business associations and networks to aid in information dissemination at all levels, they should equally properly engage the media and stop being too hurdy and bureaucratic about these.

Sometimes too, there may be need to call up for workshops to let the women and girls know about these openings, however, the procedure and mechanism used for such too, should be guarded with sincerity of heart, and geniuses of purpose, and ensure the right people are actually reached.

e). Examination of the Patriarchal Culture, Re-orientation and Equity in Property Rights:

Most cultures that permeate the Nigerian society is patriarchal in nature. The idea of male supremacy still remains embedded, obscured and protected within most traditional institutions. This accords women an inferior and secondary position in society. This remains a major misnomer.

There is need for re-orientation by individuals, families, religious and social groups, institutions and agencies- governmental and non-governmental- on gender equality.  There is need for attitudinal change so as to institute the culture of respect for human and gender rights in both men and women. Policy initiatives on gender should be properly enforced.

Property rights are key elements of political and economic empowerment for women. Thus, customs that practice deprivation over Property inheritance which in fact, is a major indicator over financial acquisition through loans should be eradicated in line with the International Protocols Nigeria is Signatory to.

f).        Political Will and Genuine Commitment by Government and Support from other Stakeholders:

Establishing a gender friendly, responsive, equitable and egalitarian society requires the full support and commitment from all levels or tiers of governance. Federal Government should also be determined to formulate general or macro policies that will provide the direction for the States and Local Councils.

They must exhibit adequate and genuine political-will that would translate gender responsive policies and activities into concrete reality. They should be actively committed through involvement and participation in and identification with the gender equality and women empowerment plans and concerns.

Other stakeholders like the Development Partners, Non-Governmental Organizations and Civil Society Groups, as well as the Organized Private sectors should complement Government efforts at seeing that the laid out policies are properly implemented. They should support different programs and activities aimed at empowering Women and Girls, and building their capacities on acquiring and sustaining economic resources.

g). Political Empowerment of Women, adequate representation of women and girls in decision-making positions, consultation and inclusion of Women-owned Business and Professional Associations in Political, Economic and Socio-cultural Matters at different tiers of governance:

The political empowerment of women is considered as the main route to improving women and girls economic status.  When they are politically empowered, that provides them with a voice within key decision-making processes and they can propel direction of women SMEs within the nation onto a positive trajectory.

It is high time women learnt to support other credible women in politics. Even while doing so, women should remain aware of potential resentments from men, therefore, women need to bring the men in as partners, and let them see women as such, not as agitating contenders. We need to have them as ‘He for She’. We as women have the numerical strength, yet it becomes appalling that most times, when women contest political positions with their male counterparts, they loose disgracefully.

Further to the above, accusing fingers had also been pointed at some elected female politicians as shutting their doors towards women and general women concerns. That shouldn’t be so. Women must work together to walk far.

We must develop individual women leaders who then can build, mentor and reform women organizations which in turn will bring change in governance of societies, or policy areas and ultimately shape our society’s development towards market- oriented democracy.

Then again, there must be adequate consultations with women business and professional groups before issues bothering on enhancing the economic status of women are determined and implemented. That way, the real facts as to where it pinches, as well as how to correct the pains will be properly handled.

h). Proper Product Designs and Packaging: Sometimes, Women and girls are in a hurry to churn out their products and services to the market, without putting finesse, distinctions, and acceptable standards to them. That should not be so. There is also need for constant capacity building on product packaging, quality control, and standardization for women and girls in the SMEs by agencies like the SON. NAFDAC, NEPC, Trade Associations even the Customs. The general benefits when these women and girls are economically empowered will do doubt, be for the entire nation, not for the women and girls alone.

i). Access to Market and Market Information, as well as Government Priority Patronage of the Goods and Services produced by Women and Girls SMEs:

It is one thing to produce, yet another to sell. Government is a huge spender on Procurement, and if government engages the priority patronage of the Goods and Services of these Women and Girls SMEs that will to a very large extent, promote their economic resources.

There are equally huge opportunities which abound on the Web. Internet Education on economic affairs should be encouraged for these women and girls. For instance, there are Constant free and elaborate education on the internet by Organizations like the World Bank, United Nations Institute on Training and Research, International Trade Center, Geneva, and a host of them. Information sharing on these opportunities therefore, is key.  Trainings on ECOWAS Sub-regional Trade are equally found therein. Thus, the assistance of  NGOs, Associations and Women or Youth Groups, who are engrossed with such useful information that enhance products and Market Access can be sought, and such groups, encouraged to come up with the information.

j). Provision of Silos, and Incentives: These may include export incentives, tax –drawback for re-investment in particular goods and services where women SMEs have competitive advantages. Building of Silos for storage of agricultural produce for marketing, all these constitute means of promoting the economic resources of women and girls SMEs.

k). Provision of adequate Infrastructures: These include construction and maintenance of good road and rail networks for movement of Goods and Services, improvement on energy or power for production, telecommunications and internet connections and other business enhancing infrastructures.

l). Promotion of Good Health and Eradication of Abuse:

Health abuse, like female genital mutilation, early child birth, poor sanitation, have lifelong adverse scarring effects that the victims have to contend with. It is indeed an outright violation of women’s human rights. Some of these harmful health practices cause permanent psychological scares, some of them lead to retarded development resulting from the premature assumption of adult responsibilities by the young girls.

Eradication of all forms of violence and abuse against women will no doubt build up their confidence as business persons, and make them to compete favorably in the market place.

m). Push by Women and Girls: Women and Girls too, should be ready and willing to engage in self-development. Women and girls need to understand that even though most of these challenges to promoting economic resources are external. Some are internal and inherent in themselves as women. They should add up a little savings to build their accounting, bookkeeping and business management abilities to develop adequate human capital for engaging in a profit yielding business.

They should also network and seek out information on new technology, new policies, new openings and other things that could enhance their productivity. Time for insignificant gossips and unproductive comparisons, as well as lack of self-confidence should be reduced or totally eliminated and such times should be more engaged in business networking or information gathering, mentoring and positive personal research.

Women and Girls should always be proactive, map out business plans, determine short and long term expectations and drive towards actualizing them too.

Conclusion:

The Nigerian Government has severally expressed its commitment to gender parity and women empowerment. It has also theoretically proven to address women’s rights and economic empowerment by means of ratifying relevant Conventions and Protocols, subscribing to Policies Promoting Women’s Rights, Revising Legal Codes, and engaging in coming up with the Gender Equal Opportunities Bill which is still before the National Assembly.

However, a lot more still needs to be done.  There has to be collective efforts from us all to go far. All hands must be on deck, beginning from the families, to the schools, down to communities and government. We are signatories to the Sustainable Development Agenda. We have joined the world to say under Goal 2 of the Sustainable Development Agenda that by 2030, we shall ensure that all men and women have equal rights to economic resources, ownership of land, and other , properties, inheritance, natural resources; appropriate new technology and financial resources, including microfinance. We have also agreed to create sound Policy frameworks that are gender sensitive at all tiers of government. We have equally given our accent under  Goal 4, that by that same 2030, we shall ensure equal access for all women and men to affordable quality and technical, vocational and tertiary education, including university, and ensure they achieve the needed skills that will promote sustainable development, ensure gender friendly educational facilities, promote non-violent cultural practices. Above all, we have acceded under Goal 5 to Achieve gender equality and empower all women and Girls by ending all forms of discriminations and violence against them,   ensure their full and effective participation and equal leadership at all levels of government and decision making cadres. We have agreed to undertake reforms that will give women and girls equal rights to economic resources, and adopt legislations that will promote gender equality and empowerment of all women and girls at all levels.  We have even agreed to recognize and value unpaid care and domestic work, and promote shared responsibilities within the household and family. Thus, this time, men shall get their fair share of the kitchen jobs, we have to understand and build domestic expertise and knowledge.

Achieving the above goals is not only necessary for sustainable development efforts in Nigeria: it also demands a pragmatic approach to appropriate policy formulation, programme design, focused implementation and effective monitoring and evaluation in a genial climate of political will, genuine commitment and national re-orientation.

What more?  We must have a proper focus on institutional reforms in order to achieve these life-long lasting impacts on women and girls’ development and empowerment. We must build better political and economic environment that benefits the society as a whole.

Indeed, ANWBN, with the support of the Centre for International Private Enterprise (CIPE), had taken time to research into the business environment wherein Women and Girls SMEs operate in Nigeria and had come up with verifiable facts. We went further to develop a National Women Business Agenda which bears solutions that if properly followed, will address to a large extent, most of these issues so discussed, as well as create highly effective and competitive arena for Women and Girls SMEs to thrive in Nigeria. We are advocating for the buy-in of everyone, so that we can reach the right ears in government to address these cankerworms ravaging our society, and come up with better Policies that will enhance the economic resources of Nigerian Women and Girls in the SME field. It is a collective effort that will benefit our nation and speedily draw us out of our economic turmoil.

Thank you all!

Barr. Nkiru Joy Okpala,

National Coordinator,

Association of Nigerian Women Business Network (ANWBN).

anwbnetwork@gmail.com

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