ABUJA, Nigeria – President Goodluck Jonathan, speaking at a Global Power Women Network Africa (GPWNA) meeting, identified poverty elimination as his main policy issue. He emphasized that eradicating poverty will also address other national concerns, such as gender inequality. The First Lady, Patience Jonathan, stressed the prevalence of gender inequality even more heavily, specifically addressing abuse and sexual assault of women and girls. She noted the stalling efforts to improve the situation of Nigerian women and blamed issues such as child marriage, lack of education, and deficient leadership.
According to the British Council’s 2012 Gender in Nigeria Report, the country has many areas where improvement is needed to improve gender equality. On average women are less educated than men and have less power in society. Although roughly two thirds of the rural work force is female, men are five times more likely to own land than women. Without land ownership, women are often left powerless when it comes to making life-changing financial decisions.
Women are also less likely to have access to the money necessary to embark on profitable business enterprises. Due to lack of capital, they are often unable to obtain loans and are forced to rely on savings when making investments. Furthermore, the gender wage gap is increasing. Women are less likely to hold permanent, high-paying jobs, and are paid less in those jobs. This is especially problematic when considering the judicial system. Men are almost five times more likely to hold a position as a judge or permanent secretary than a woman, casting doubt on the neutrality of the Nigerian legal system.
One way to work towards pay equity is to improve women’s education. The severity of female illiteracy varies geographically, with a 70.8% illiteracy rate for women aged 20-29 in the North-West regain. Meanwhile, in the southeast, where poverty rates are lower, the same figure is just 9.7%. This shows that eliminating poverty goes hand-in-hand with improving gender equality.
While education is free, parents must pay fees for items like textbooks and uniforms, and these extra costs often force poor parents to take their children out of school. Gender disparities result when families can only afford to send some of their children to school, in which case the boys are usually chosen. Even when girls are sent to school, the educational environment is often hostile. Male teachers and students have been accused abusing female students sexually, verbally, and physically. Understandably, an this educational environment often results in lower attendance rates and test scores for female students.
Maternal mortality is also much higher in poorer populations, because poor women are significantly less likely to seek medical care when giving birth. This issue requires a combination of education and improved accessibility. Nearly 90% of highly educated women give birth in a health center, compared with only 10% of uneducated women. Education also increases a woman’s use of contraceptives and decreases her fertility rate. Furthermore, with better education, women are more able to obtain high paying jobs, increasing their access to health care.
Given the potentially overwhelming nature of these issues, it is heartening to hear Nigerian leaders express their support in the fight against poverty and gender inequality. With its leaders’ influence, Nigeria can begin to take steps in both the fight against poverty and the struggle for gender equality.
– Katie Fullerton
Sources: British Council , GovTrack.US
Photo: Toonari Post