Closing the Opportunity Gap for Women

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To help ensure equity and not equality, the Convention on Business Integrity in partnership with Oxfam, is conducting a gender impact study on the local sourcing strategies /policies of some selected companies in Nigeria. The organisation held a dissemination launch of the report on findings and results from the field, which took place in Lagos recently. Abimbola Akosile and Chiamaka Ozulumba report

The usual clamour for balance between sexes focused more on gender equality than on gender equity. But with women acquiring more technical skills and with the classification of gender along the lines of roles rather than sex, there has been a subtle shift in the general mindset.

Now the preference in various sectors of the economy is for the latter rather than the former, as a viable development indicator, which ranks high among other indicators contained in the global 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), which were adopted by nearly 200 member-countries of the United Nations in September 2015.

Vital Stakeholders

The Convention on Business Integrity is a business membership organisation with a mission to promoting ethical business practices, encouraging transparency and fair competition in private and public sector.

CBi is centred on finding viable alternatives to corruption as a means of sustaining business growth through better access to markets, finance, and entrenching corporate governance principles.

Oxfam believes that empowering women to participate in the economy is essential in building stronger economies, achieving internationally agreed goals for development and sustainability, and improving the quality of life for women, men, families and community by reducing all forms of poverty.

Both organisations are currently involved in a project which seeks to help businesses better improve local sourcing of raw materials through leveraging the female talent pool in Nigeria.

Proper Context

The recession in Nigeria since early 2016 and the continuing economic decline saw the downward spiral in the oil and gas sector and the subsequent rise in the agricultural sector. Calls have been made on ways to make the agricultural sector the money spinner for the economy.

At a recent dissemination launch of the report on the project which took place in Lagos, the findings/outcomes of the project were highlighted and shared with companies, stakeholders, donor agencies, suppliers, aggregators and major players in the agricultural value chain.

In the study carried out by the CEO of the Convention on Business Integrity (CBI) Soji Apampa in partnership with Oxfam, Business Innovation Facility and UKAid, it was discovered that there was marginalisation of female farmers, which created a huge opportunity gap for them within the agricultural sector.

In Nigeria, about 49 per cent of the population are female and at least 70 per cent of them live in poverty, according to an erstwhile federal Minister of Women Affairs.

The estimated number of Nigerians considered poor has worsened from approximately 17.1 million in 1980 to about 112.47 million in 2010, which was about 70 per cent of the population at that time.

Agric Scenario

With the fall in global oil prices the current administration has shifted its focus from being oil dependent, to seeking non-oil sector growth and diversification of Nigeria’s economy of which agriculture is now the main focal point of the economy as it recorded a 4.1 per cent year on year growth against a contraction of 13.7 per cent in the oil sector and it continues to be a viable alternative source of foreign exchange earnings for the country.

With 70 per cent of the country’s population poor and mainly small-scale farmers with women comprising at least 50 per cent of the agricultural labour force, and with women high on the poverty poll, Oxfam in line with its gender friendly nature strives to empower women as their growth is essential to building stronger economics, achieving internationally agreed goals and improving the quality of life for all.

According to the National Bureau of Statistics, food, beverage and tobacco companies are the biggest segment of the manufacturing component of Nigeria’s GDP at approximately N4.29 billion.

Also, the agriculture and consumer goods sectors (where most food, beverage and tobacco companies are grouped) of the Nigeria Stock Exchange have the highest aggregate capitalisation.

Thus large food and beverage (F&B) companies given their dominance and influence in the economy and international leverage, need to be studied for their local sourcing policy impacts on women in their relevant agricultural value chains.

This is helped by the fact that F&B companies are starting to pay increased attention to opportunities to source materials locally due to the increasing pressure on a weak naira.

They could negotiate access to subsidised land for their suppliers with state government involvement as in the case of the Kaduna state government, which cleared some 40,000 hectares of land in Ladugga and about 15,000 hectares in Ruwansenyi to promote contract farming which is available to companies for free.

This is done on the stance that these companies employ smallholder farmers to work on these lands, and companies like Olam Nigeria, Dangote, Flour Mills and TGI group are already taking part.

Study Findings

With about 11 F$B companies signed on initially, just five were eventually used in the long run in the study namely Guinness, Nestle, Chi Ltd, L&Z and Friesland Campinas.

The main bulk of the study was carried out in the Northern region of the country where women face strive competition against their male counterparts in farming.

The study found that women are grossly marginalised and segregated as they are mainly not involved in the planting process but in the post-harvest handling.

Thus, a call was made to fully involve the women more through sourcing, which saw Guinness and Nestle responding, and the greater proportion of their top agricultural raw materials supply companies are female owned.

At Nestle, their policy tends towards equal opportunity for both gender with a ratio of 50:50 of women to men cassava suppliers and 40:60 women to men in grain suppliers. Meanwhile, the diary processing companies, such as L&Z and Campinas have the Fulani women as their primary source of all the raw milk they purchase.

According to reports, about 90 per cent of national food production comes from small-scale farmers, with women comprising over 50 per cent of the labour force in Nigeria’s agriculture sector. Generally in the North, women do not have access to land and they are disadvantaged in all spheres.

In the study it was discovered that women are heavily exploited with earnings ranging from N0 – N1,000 for women while N5,000 go to the men, and although the women dominate post- harvest activities they still manage to be confined to lower paid activities in comparison to men; thereby widening the opportunity gap.

In the study also, 80 per cent of the women were 50 years or less compared to 76 per cent of the men, while more younger women are involved in farming than the men, even though they have to take care of the home front coupled with agriculture.

With women being in the background and men in the forefront when it comes to education, and nearly 12 per cent women educated against nearly 25 per cent of men, the former are also relatively less experienced than their male counterparts in farming.

Land Obstacle

According to the study, the major problem of the women is accessibility to land, as about 58 per cent of male respondents got their lands by inheritance against 32 per cent of the women inheriting a further 12 per cent being ‘gifted’ land.

Most women in Northern Nigeria must either lease or purchase to gain access to farmland, with a case of a respondent claiming she had to go under a pseudonym to disguise herself as a man in order to lease her farm.

It was also discovered that the sizes of farms owned and operated by men were bigger than those owned by women, who are mainly small scale farmers with the men doing the hard labour themselves while the women have to pay for labour due to certain traditional, social and religious beliefs in the North that frown on women engaging in tasking farm work.

In the North also, women depend on men to take their produce to the market and most times they get exploited.

According to Apampa, 59 per cent of food production in Nigeria is done by the women because they are mostly causal workers, as seen from statistics obtained from the NBS, which shows that in crop farming there are only 15 million crop farmers with only 10 per cent as female.

And with the population distribution where you have 51 per cent male and 49 per cent female, the study found out that women are under-represented in crop farming.

The study also revealed that women cannot access loans easily as the issue of collateral comes into play as women do not have the right to lands or houses. Female farmers also encounter difficulty as they have to pay for everything; land, fertiliser, seeds, labour, and with all these expenses their profit is depleted.

They are used as casual/cheap labour as they do menial jobs like cleaning the factories, shifting, winnowing sorting and cleaning grains with a vast majority of the workers widows, divorcées and a few married ones with a lot of them having health issues stemming from inhaling dust particles from working.

Useful Tips

In Nigeria, men and women are not on the same footing and this is seen daily hence the advocacy for equal footing with ‘Equity First, Equality Next’ in order to fully bridge the opportunity gap, which has seen the under-utilisation of the female workforce with a popular saying’ What a man can do a woman can do it better’, if only given the opportunity to prove her onion.

Equal opportunity should be created to ensure healthy competition between both gender and thus could be achieved with the collaboration of relevant companies through local sourcing policies which would enable ‘Equity first, Equal Opportunity Next’, and not the other way around.