This article explores the perception that Nigerian women, like many women across Africa, are comparatively deprived socially, economically, and politically in relation to their male counterparts. This is no easy topic to assess given the large variety in conditions as a consequence of regional, religious, generational, occupational, and residential differences in women’s experiences. To try and take stock of the status of Nigerian women, the paper examines the effectiveness of public policy in improving gender equality as per international development agreements, and uses a literature review to identify constraints on women’s empowerment, and potential areas of opportunity.
In establishing the current extent of gender inequality in Nigeria, the report notes that there are twice as many women below the poverty line as men, and between six and nineteen times as many men as women in managerial positions, depending on sector. In order to explain such significant gender disparities, the authors point toward numerous ceilings that are placed on opportunities for women empowerment, split into three groups:
- Legal constraints: despite apparent legal protection for women in the Federal Constitution, this protection can be contradicted by gender-biased laws such as the need for female police officers to gain permission to marry. Additionally, the constitution removes only women’s opportunity to confer citizenship onto a foreign spouse, and there is significant variation in the legal rights afforded to women across the country regarding asset ownership and marriage.
- Political constraints: women are comparatively invisible on the Nigerian political scene, particularly at state and federal levels. The author suggests that both self-imposed and systemic constraints combine in a mutually reinforcing manner, with violence and male domination of decision-making leading to a lack of willingness on the part of women to engage. Additionally, the monetisation of politics and influence means wealthy political sponsors are unlikely to back female candidates.
- Socio-cultural constraints: the patriarchal nature of Nigerian culture is a key reason often given for the relative disempowerment of Nigerian women, together with a mix of cultural and religious beliefs that infringe on women’s rights and are integrated into customary law. The deep-set role of men in decision-making in the household, the lack of self-identity, the legally justified abuse and “corrective” violence, and the boy-child preference all serve to institutionalise gender inequalities, which are then internalised by the women themselves.
The second strand of analysis concerns the opportunities and resources possessed by Nigerian women, and which represent potential leverage points for their development. Individual women’s resources are discussed, with educational qualifications and access to key economic resources noted as the two key areas that promote empowerment.
Meanwhile, on the topic of collective women’s resources, three types of women’s organisations are identified: national umbrella organisations such as the National Council of Women’s Societies; those inspired by successive First Ladies; and local level women’s associations. Examples of the roles played by specific organisations in each group are presented, with the authors concluding that it is at the local level where women’s organisations have more influence.
Next, the study presents a survey of 600 men and women, from all religious and geographic backgrounds, regarding the position of women in society. Among the results are that men were more likely to think that women were well treated within their ethnic communities, while the majority of women responded otherwise. A stand-out statistic is the negligible number of male respondents who would accept women in positions of power and authority, although when it comes to encouraging women in other skilled sectors such as private-sector management, the response was much more favourable (75% of all respondents agreed). Following more in-depth analysis of the survey, the report closes with a brief comparative look at gender equality in Uganda, to see how unique or otherwise Nigeria’s challenges are.