Policy Dialogue: Communique Issued At The End Of A One Day Policy Dialogue On The National Women Business Agenda Held In Abuja On The 25th Of March 2021
The Association of Nigerian Women Business Network (ANWBN) with support from the Centre for International Private Enterprise (CIPE), the International Organisation for Migration (IOM), Union Bank Nigeria (UBN), Wema Bank and Nexim Bank organized a One-day Policy Dialogue on the Women National Business Agenda (WNBA) detailing the effect of insecurity, poor access to finance, poor road network, erratic electricity supply and low female representation on women owned businesses in Nigeria. The dialogue which had participants drawn from the Federal Ministries of Women Affairs, Transport, Trade and Commerce, Finance, the Nigerian Police, the Central Bank of Nigeria, the National Assembly, CIPE, 52 Women Membership and Professional Groups of the network, the Media, and Partners.
The event themed; Women Leadership and Economic Equality: #ChooseToChallenge had keynote messages delivered by the Hon. Minister Federal Ministry of Women Affairs, Dame Pauline Tallen, OFR and the former Minister of Education, Dr. Oby Ezekwesili. Goodwill messages were delivered by the Hon. Minister of Transport, Rt. Hon. Rotimi Amechi, the Hon. Minster of Information, Alhaji Layi Mohammed, the Director, Centre for Women’s Economic Empowerment, CIPE, Washington, Barbara Langley, Representative of IOM, Elizabeth Oladimeji and members of the Governing Board of ANWBN, Iyalode Alaba Lawson and Chief Mrs Nana Okuribido. This was followed by a documentary on women entrepreneurs’ perspectives on the effect of the priority areas business and the presentation of the women business agenda policy document by Mrs Olakitan Wellington, the Chair of ANWBN Advocacy Committee, as well as a welcome address by the National Coordinator, ANWBN, Mrs. Modupe Oyekunle.
Similarly, a panel session involving the AIG, Nigerian Police, Dr. Aisha Abubakar –Baju, DSS, Director, Risks Assessment, Central Bank, Folakemi Fatogbe, Technical Assistant to Hon. Minister, Federal Ministry of Women Affairs, Princess Jumai, Mr Dapo Akinosun, Mrs Maureen Okafor, discussed the priority issues of insecurity, poor access to finance, gender inequality, poor road network and electricity supply, respectively. The session was moderate by the Chair of ANWBN International Women’s Day, Mrs Foluke Ademokun. The panel x-rayed the priority issues covered by the business agenda and was enriched further with comments, questions and experience sharing by a combination of over 300 physical and virtual participants.
The dialogue, which was a second in a couple of women national business dialogues organized by AWNBN on key priorities for women entrepreneurs, assessed Nigeria’s economic environment and proffered suggestions for women leadership and economic equality in Nigeria.
The ANWBN policy dialogue generated a range of observations on the gender dimension of governance, processes and programing of security, credit, road and electricity infrastructure as well as political participation at all levels, and how these impact the growth of women-owned businesses.
Participants observed that:
1. Insecurity and Gender-Based Violence
Though personal safety and security is the responsibility of the individual, the government has a role to ensure the safety of persons and property, while providing an enabling environment for business to thrive. Participating female farmers observed that in addition to loss of produce and physical violence, women farmers are rapped, and unable to return to their farms for planting due to the fear of incessant attacks. This, the farmers noted, have implication for food security in the nation, and requires the declaration of a state of emergency. Insecurity is the bane of economic growth nationally, as the spate of violence specifically targeted at women, such as, theft, physical and sexual assaults, and rape are considered major hindrance to the growth and development of women-owned and women-managed businesses, since they are unable to invest in security equipment and personnel.
The under-recruitment of women in the security agencies and lack of training on gender for security personnel are contributory to the lack of gender-inclusive governance in security. The low enrollment of women in security agencies demonstrates gender imbalance in the security architecture and may be a contributory factor to the lack of gender-sensitive policing in Nigeria
The lack of community (particularly, women’s) inputs, to policing may have increased violent acts such as kidnapping at the community level.
2. On the economy: Access to Credit
The lack of collaborations between women membership and professional groups, squander potentials and result in substantial loss to the productive capacity of the economy as women businesses are the drivers of Nigeria’s informal economy. Whereas there are over 46 credit opportunities between NEXIM and the CBN, women entrepreneurs are largely unaware of these opportunities and the funds rather than benefit women in targeted sectors ended being disbursed to ineligible recipients.
The recapitalization of microfinance banks is hampering access to credit for women entrepreneurs, who are largely beneficiaries of microcredits. Specifically, the recapitalization process may result in bankruptcy for the only women owned microfinance bank in Nigeria; NECA’s Network of Entrepreneurial Women (NNEW) Microfinance Bank.Poor information process and management hinder women from accessing and benefitting from public sector policies and programmes. Women have not demonstrated gender equality as a viable opportunity for economic growth and a thriving democracy, sufficiently.
3. Gender Inequality
Patriarchy, social norms and cultural barriers impoverish and disenfranchise women, and limits society’s growth. To respond to the perpetuation of inequality and exclusion, women entrepreneurs need to speak with a collective voice, engage with other vulnerable groups of society and male champions to advance the course of women. Low cadre officers preside over gender desks at government ministries, departments and agencies and lack the authority to take decisions on matters relating to women empowerment and gender equality as appropriate.
Standing at 128 out of 153 countries globally, and 27 out of 53 countries in Africa, Nigeria ranks as one of the countries with the highest gender gaps according to the 2020 World Bank’s Global Gender Gap index of economic and political measurement. While gender inequality is further exacerbated by COVID-19, women have been excluded largely from the management and economic recovery plan of government to mitigate the effect of the disease on health and economic infrastructure.
4. Infrastructure (Electricity and Poor Road Network)
The nature of women’s businesses (trade, service and agriculture) suggests their reliance on public infrastructure and services. However, in their current state, public infrastructure and services do not empower women entrepreneurs. Women because of their income level are more likely to use cheapest means of transport and erratic public power supply for business. The centralization of electricity generation and distribution is a barrier to the growth of women owned businesses due to poor supply. The lack of electricity also amplifies gender based violence, as women entrepreneurs are forced to limit business operations due to the fear of attacks under the cover of darkness.
Women are not financially capable, technically knowledgeable and sufficiently informed on renewable energy and as such cannot leverage the energy market for innovative opportunities provided by the renewable energy sector.
Following these observations and deliberations by participants, the following suggestions were made to address the gender gaps identified in the outlined priority areas:
1. The high rate of Insecurity and Gender Based Violence.
The cost associated with high rate of insecurity is enormous, particularly, as it relates to rising inflation, food insecurity and gender-based violence. Therefore to mitigate the cost of insecurity to women entrepreneurs, participants urged the Federal Government of Nigeria to priotise security by declaring a state of emergency to enable women entrepreneurs and their livelihoods assets thrive. All security agencies are requested to make recruitment information accessible to women to engender gender-inclusive hiring across agencies, and also promote gender responsive policing
To make the Police service oriented and modern, the participants called for a speedy passage of the Police Reform Bill 2019 into Law. Recognising the concerns on State Police, participants suggested a review to accommodate features of community policing that will help protect women from rape, physical harm and financial loss.
2. Access to Finance
Further to the evidence that women-owned businesses are poorly served by credit programmes in-terms of value, participants suggested that the Central Bank of Nigeria Development Finance programmes should intentionally target and support women with funding and technical skills. This should be followed with regular monitoring of commercial bank’s development specific lending scheme to forestall violation of quota.
The government should advance gender-responsive policies deliberately to create a viable environment for women to synergise economic and political opportunities.
Women economic well-being is tied to women active participation in the political space. Therefore economic and political processes must synergize to advance policies that are gender responsive. It is important that barriers inhibiting the participation of women, in terms of economic and political policies be restructured. Economic and political policies must consider the needs of women differently from men. To strengthen women empowerment (particularly, access to credit) participants recommended active inter-agency collaboration, specifically, collaboration between the Central Bank of Nigeria and the Federal Ministry of Women Affairs.
3. Gender Inequality
To address issues associated to gender inequality, participants recommended a revised engagement strategy that is resource- centred and partnership focused, particularly, with male champions and allies. The resource-centred approach makes a business case for gender equality and women empowerment as smart investments for Nigeria.
To fastrack decisions on gender equality and women empowerment, it was recommended that ministries, departments and agencies of government should assign senior cadre officials to their respective gender desks, where possible such desks should be upgraded to departmental / directorate level.
To ensure women entrepreneurs speak collectively and be heard, it was recommended that the Association of Nigeria Women Business Network serve as a collective voice and be recognised by all departments of government as the platform for engaging and communicating with all women membership and professional organisations, as well as, women entrepreneurs in Nigeria. It was anticipated that the collective power of the ANWBN would be useful as a one-stop-shop for shared vision, information capacity development, and collective communication. Participants recognised that developing the capacity will maximize value chain opportunities for women entrepreneurs. Interfaced data management process was strongly recommended to ensure empirical data was available for gender reporting and auditing and will support the optimization of women’s contribution to the tune of 50%.
4. Infrastructure (Poor Road Networks)
The development of alternative modes of transportation (i.e. railways and waterways) encouraged to compliment road services, provide cheaper means of transportation and ensure durability. Replicate the Refurbishment Investment Tax Credit scheme at state government level to encourage the involvement of women businesses in private participation in the six Geo political zones.
5. Inadequate Electricity Supply
Re-activate the Electricity Privatisation Agreement to enable States, Corporate organisations and individuals particularly, women-owned enterprises and women to generate and distribute electricity independent of the National Grid. Also, implement the National Renewable Energy Efficiency policy, which targets power generation with energy efficiency capacity .
Participants suggested utilizing public-private-partnership (e.g. with commercial banks such as Sterling Bank) to generate alternate power supply. Efforts at enhancing infrastructure was also recognised as a potential for curbing insecurity.
Mrs. Modupe Oyekunle
Mrs Foluke Ademokun