According to the IMF, “Closing gender gaps and promoting gender equality is smart economics,” especially for low-income countries such as Nigeria.
Considering the prevalent gender inequality in Nigeria, it is heartening that the International Monetary Fund (IMF) has enjoined the government to close the gender gap in major aspects of the society. The international financial agency says gender inequality in Nigeria is high compared to her peers.
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Monique Newiak, an economist in the IMF’s Africa Department and co-author of Nigeria’s latest economic review, gave the advice in an interview on Nigerian economy recently. According to the IMF, Nigeria’s economy could further grow by as much as 1.25 percentage points on the average if the government could reduce gender inequality in critical aspects of society such as the labour market, education, legal rights and political representation. It says: “Closing gender gaps and promoting gender equality is smart economics.” This, the organisation noted, has become expedient globally for several reasons, especially for low-income and developing countries such as Nigeria.
Also, based on its cross-country analysis, there is no doubt that lower gender gaps are highly associated with higher growth rates across countries. It also shows that if Nigeria reduces gender inequality in the labour market, political representation, education, legal rights, and improve health outcomes for women, the economy will witness a significant boost.
The IMF’s advice is in tandem with the United Nations (UN) position on closing the gender gaps. Both are in agreement that the problem of gender inequality in Nigeria is rising and that discrimination against women at critical sectors of the society— the economy, politics, corporate world, education, traditional ownership of land and assets, including inheritance rights—are on the increase.
It is disheartening that in spite of the advances women have made in the socio-economic sectors, their representation in politics and the corporate world is below five percent, whereas women constitute almost 50 percent of Nigeria’s population.
It is also a fact that in the workplace, men and women do equal work, yet women are discriminated against by reason of their gender.
This can explain why the UN recently declared gender equality as the unfinished business of our time. It reinforced the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW), which was adopted by the UN General Assembly in 1979. As the IMF and UN have noted, it is high time Nigeria closed the gender gaps because gender equality is essential for the achievement of sustainable development.
Therefore, any tradition or custom that discriminates against women belongs to the medieval era and should be jettisoned. The Supreme Court of Nigeria, had, in a landmark judgment in 2014, held that Igbo Customary Law that forbids the female child, regardless of the circumstances of her birth, from inheriting or partaking in the sharing of the property and estate of her father is a violation of her right to freedom from discrimination enshrined in Section 42(1) (2) of the 1999 Nigerian Constitution (as amended). In that judgment, the Supreme Court held that “any culture that discriminates against a daughter from her father’s estate or a wife from her husband’s property by reason of God-instituted gender differential should be punitively dealt with. We completely agree.
Sadly, the National Assembly has not done much to close the gender gap through legislation. Last year, a watered down version of the Gender Equality Bill passed a second reading in the Senate and was consequently referred to the Committee on Judiciary Human Rights and Legal Matters. Since then, debate on the Bill is stalled.
Six months earlier, the essential contents of the bill were rejected by some senators on the false premise that enacting a law that will give women equal rights with men was “un-African.”
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We call for the promotion of the ‘affirmative action’, initiated by the administration of former President, Dr. Goodluck Jonathan, that gave women significant representation in political appointments and in other critical sectors of the economy. Discrimination against women under any guise is antithetical to any known democratic norm or reason.
Unarguably, some Nigerian women have proven their mettle that they can do things as well as men, if not even better. And many of them have broken the glass ceiling in areas previously thought to be the exclusive preserve of men.
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The time is ripe to implement affirmative action at the universal 35 percent ratio in appointments as suggested by the United Nations. Rwanda is a worthy example of an African country that has adopted it and is reported to have exceeded the recommended ratio. Nigeria should strive for gender equality as one of the ways to boost the economy.