by Odafe Freeborn
(Pls credit writer/funders if re-used)
Empowering women in grass roots communities can be a pathway out of poverty, and an avenue to scale-up employment opportunities in rural communities.
This is because women are mostly responsible for the well-being of the members of their families, especially in providing food and taking care of children and the elderly.
Women have also been recognized by many reports to be generally involved in all the stages of community development programs, beginning from the identification of family needs, down to the execution and evaluation of community projects.
In Abuja, the Federal Capital Territory, which consists of six area councils including the Abuja Municipal Area Council AMAC, empowerment seems to be a regular programme reported frequently by the media.
However these interventions in reality neither alleviate the people in the grassroots from poverty or provide them economic sustenance capacity to become financially independent to contribute meaningfully to nation building through or have substantial means of income and livelihood.
Abaji women, their prowess and plights
The women in the rural Abaji just like in other councils are mostly involved in farming and petty trade, however they have little significance to make impact or contribute to social economic development.
Many of the women in the remote villages are uneducated and decry lack of financial support, unemployment, insecurity, lack of education, gender inequality amongst others as factors limiting their abilities to make meaningful contributions to the society.
Asiya Umar, a 22 years old petty trader, is one out of the few educated girls in Abuja, a local community in Yaba-Abaji. She sells beans cake popularly known as Akara in the early hours of the morning and early evenings.
Asiya, the first daughter of a widowed mother says she needs financial support to take care of her mother’s health, expand her business, sustain funding of her siblings education and for her to return to school.
“I have a national diploma, my father died when my admission to start my HND in Kogi state poly came out and because of lack of money I could not continue but am happy that my younger ones are still going to school.
“My mother is always sick, that is why I took over this akara frying business because it is our only means of income for now, so if I get more money, I will be able to help my mother and I may go back to school’’ said Asiya.
Similarly, Patience Alheri, a fashion designer in Abuja-road also called for skill and financial empowerment. According to her “I will love to go to Aba or Lagos to learn more on sawing and I need financial empowerment to buy an industrial machine that I can use to sew, weave and make button holes.
“If I have this type of machine and I am able to buy a generator, I will not be outsourcing my jobs again and it will help me grow my business and I will become popular like some of the known designers here’’ she said.
Many reports have noted that to address grassroots issues, the government, non-governmental organization, well-meaning individuals and other stakeholders must strive to provide sustainable empowerment programme with the capacity to create and sustain wealth.
In an interview with Mrs Abiodun Essiet, the Executive Director of Abiodun Essiet Initiatives for Girls, she said that the government at all level owed women at the grassroots conducive environment to thrive and overcome limitations.
She said that stakeholders also need to partner to empower them especially financially for them to be able to achieve financial independence.
“The government and stakeholders needs to partner to empower these women for them to be able to combat barriers limiting them from attaining self-worth and financial freedom
“Government has the sole responsibility of empowering women in order for them to be able to contribute meaningfully to the society, however we know that they cannot do it on their own.
“That is where the support of NGOs, individual donors and sponsors comes into to assist the government to ensure that every one is a part of nation building,’’ she said.
Findings on women input to national development
According to a research survey by AKSU journal of administration and cooperate governance, the contribution of women to the socio-economic growth of developing nations has received little attention in terms of their roles in development process, and Nigeria is not an exception.
The report states that the agricultural sector employs 60-70% in most of African countries, the dominant activity in rural Nigeria where women’s contribution is higher, and the overall contributions of women to the growth of the Nigerian economy.
“The 1% increase in women’s contribution raised the level of GDP by 58.4%: that income generating activities of women to include agricultural produce, marketing of farm produce, crafts making and food processing.
“And despite all the efforts women put in development, their capacities are not optimally utilized due to socio-cultural and political hindrances such as access to land, loans, education.
“Other hindrances are gender issues which lead to marginalization and non-inclusion of women in the nation’s decision-making positions,’’ it stated.
Similarly in a publication the Nigerian Television Authority (NTA) and by Premium Times, the Nigeria Country Director, African Development Bank (AFDB), Ousmane Dore, said Nigerian women contributed close to 70 per cent of agricultural workforce yet got less of accruing returns.
This he said was in spite of women’s huge labour investment, adding that productivity was low and they often had limited roles in decision making on the farms.
Dore said that the lack of ownership of land by women and other productive assets due to existing social norms had created a significant negative impact on the family income and the nation’s GDP at large.
In my interview with Mr Ifunnaya Ogbonnaya, the Executive Director of Christian Empowerment Forum (CEF), an NGO that empowers especially women and youths in the grassroots said that generally women constituted a major percentage of the grassroots stakeholders in rural economic development programs and yet their impact were underreported.
Ogbonnaya said that the lacked or inadequate representation of women in the decision making structure of government and private institutes places them at the receiving end of poor policies.
According to him, where there is adequate representation of women in decision forum, it would provide opportunities for women to advocate for favorable policies that would grant them access to businesses, life skills, financial and other resources empowerments.
This he said would help women get education, develop skills and gather resources to start, run, own businesses and even become employers of labour.
Ogbonnaya urged the government to synergise with stakeholder and ensure policies that were in line with women’s economic empowerment projects, he added that when women are empowered and their input gained publicity, the government would see the need to focus on their development.
Findings on interventions in Abaji
It is believed that several economic empowerment schemes have been set up at the national level to help empower Nigerian women especially those in grassroots.
In 2019 and 2021, groups like the Oyanbo’s foundation and Senator Philip Aduda empowered youths and women in Abaji with back to school empowerment and skill acquisition programme respectively.
Also in a report by the FRCN, In 2022 the Federal Capital Territory, FCT, Minister of State under the Muhammadu Buhari , Dr Ramatu Aliyu inaugurated a people oriented project and empowerment programme aimed at adding value to the lives of the residents of Abaji Area Council.
The project empowered residents with motor cycles for commercial bike riders, water pumping machines for farmers and grinding machines for women, amongst other empowerments schemes.
However during the course of my investigation, efforts to identify beneficiaries of the project and to see how well the empowerment has transformed their lives and alleviated them from poverty was fruitless.
Many resident in the council said there have been no sustenance of the empowerment programme, adding that only support and empowerments by NGOs and well-meaning individuals from within and outside the council were constant.
In an interview, Mrs Ramatu Muhhammad, the Kebba town women leader in the council said that by providing women with resources, training, and education, they could develop skills and confidence to break financial barriers and other social limitations.
According to her, one time empowerment is not enough to break through from poverty or gain financial freedom.
“Women make enormous contributions in the family, and strengthening them especially economic is the major critical way to reduce poverty, improving health and encourage education for children goals,’’ she said.
Similarly, the Etsu of Lafia-Yaba said that sadly grassroots women were mostly sidelined from developmental projects in the community, but included in numeric population activities where benefits were general.
“There is need for development experts to link economic empowerment programs directly to women’s in the communities and ensure a follow-up mechanism be put in place to ensure that the benefits where received strictly by women and not hijacked.
“Also women’s empowerment is not just about economic empowerment but also about addressing gender inequality in a comprehensive approach that involves multiple sectors and stakeholders,’’ he said.
Speaking with an Economist and Policy Advocate, Mr Deji Alayegbami, he said no meaningful empowerment could be made in the absence of a financial budget, transparency and accountability.
Alayegbami said that many factors could also mar the execution of any empowerment programme especially when proper data was not gathered and the population of the targeted group to be empowered is not captured.
“In 2022 in former President Buhari led-administration, there was a reduction in the women’s economic project allocation and many women groups lamented the ordeal.
“This was in spite the government’s promise to be committed to women’s economic development, yet the budget to tackle their plights and to redirect and reengineer the status of women by tackling poverty, unemployment and insecurity was reduced.’’.
This He said indicated the lack of political will towards ensuring that women were truly empowered to make meaningful contribution to nation building, because empowering women was beyond sustaining the home front and gaining financial independent.
He suggested the prioritization of specific projects with the ability to boost national productivity and increase the living condition of the people, adding that the economic strength of a nation is a reflection of its citizens living conditions.
On her part, Mrs Aver Akighir, the Executive Director of Hope Alive Possibilities Initiatives HAPI, said that women empowerment should begin with the implementation of the 35 percent affirmative action for women, which would give opportunity for women to make favorable contributions to decisions that would either affect them positively or negatively.
Other groups have also recommended women empowerment policies be included in all government programmes and not just streamlined to government activities for women alone.
“This investigation is for the Gender the Agenda project of Gender Strategy Advancement International, GSAI, supported by the Wole Soyinka center for investigative journalism and the MacArthur Foundation’’.