Engendering Growth through Women’s Political, Economic Inclusion

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As part of the activities that marked the 2022 International Women Day, the ACCA Nigeria in collaboration with the ElectHER held a one-day symposium that highlighted that gender equality accelerates economic development and attainment of SDGs, writes Dike Onwuamaeze

How does bias against the female gender and the exclusion of women in the mainstream of their country’s political and economic lives hurt the country’s national economic development?

 This was the question a select group of women eggheads and some men who were drawn from Nigeria’s corporate community, corridors of power and non-governmental organisations (NGOs) gathered to address during a recent event to commemorate the International Women Day.  

The event was organised by the Association of Chartered Certified Accountants (ACCA) Nigeria and the ElectHER, a party-agnostic organisation committed to increasing women political inclusion across Africa. 

The theme of the event was the “Nexus between Women, Political Inclusion and Economic Performance.”

Called upon to proffer answers to the question on the link between women inclusion and national development was the Executive Vice-Chair, Emerging Africa Group, Ms. Toyin F. Sanni, who delivered the keynote address that was titled “An Inclusive Approach to Economic Recovery.”

Sanni asserted that “true prosperity and creativity come from diversity and inclusion.” She added that extensive researches have shown that when more women work, economies grow as women’s economic empowerment would boost productivity, increases economic diversification and income equality in addition to other positive development outcomes.

She described diversity as being composed of differing elements while inclusion, on the other hand, is the practice of consciously providing everyone, with equal access to opportunities and resources, irrespective of such divisive categorisation.

According to her, “the more diverse we are when we gather, the more we stimulate, challenge and push one another to greater heights of imagination and creativity. For diversity to work its magic there must also be inclusion. But the creative spark is quenched without inclusion.”

Sanni averred that sidelining women would hold back economies from recovering, growing and prospering. She said: “The economy cannot operate at its full potential with hurdles for half of the world’s population. Therefore, breaking the bias is not only a fundamental human right but also a critical economic necessity.”

Women Empowerment and the SDGs

Sanni also linked empowering women in the economy and closing gender gaps in the world of work and politics with achieving the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), particularly SDG 5 that focused on achieving gender equality, as well as Goal 8 that is aimed at promoting full and productive employment and decent work for all.

Other SDGs that could be facilitated by gender equality are SDG 1,2,3 and 10, which are concerned with ending poverty, food security, ensuring health reducing inequalities respectively.

She, therefore, affirmed that “an equal world would not only improve women’s rights and empowerment but also increase countries’ monetary living standards, as measured by their income per capita.

“Gender parity will yield substantial economic benefits, leading to an annual increase in the world GDP growth rate by 2030. In other words, the world GDP in 2030 is estimated at $150 trillion (per capita $8,378) without a reduction in gender based discrimination, compared to well over $200 trillion (per capita $9,142) if discriminatory social institutions were totally eradicated. This is an impressive gain indeed.”

How Excluded are Women?

A recent MCKinsey study said that women globally occupied less than a third of senior and middle management positions in the private sector; women in the financial services industry make up about 30 per cent of the workforce at the senior management level in Africa. 

But this level of representation dropped significantly moving from senior management to the board level. The study put average board representation of females in Africa is 14 per cent.

Moreover, women do 2.6 times more unpaid care and domestic work than men. This leads to lower earnings and less time to engage in non-work activities for women.

The World Bank estimated that 29 per cent of entrepreneurs in Sub-Saharan Africa are women entrepreneurs, though most female-led enterprises are small businesses with little opportunity for growth due to poor financial inclusion.  

“From an impact perspective, an increase in financial inclusion can lead to higher economic growth, faster economic recovery as well as lower income inequality,” she said.

Politics and Women

According to the UN, only 22 countries out of 119 countries have female Heads of State; only 21 per cent of government ministers are women, with only 14 countries having achieved 50 per cent or more women in cabinets. 

At this rate, it is believed that it would take 2077, which is 55 more years, to achieve gender parity in ministerial appointments.

In Nigeria, there are few women in political and leadership spaces. Currently only seven out of 109 senators and 22 of the 360 House of Representatives members are women.   

The Founder and CEO of ElectHER, Ms. Ibijoke Faborode, pointed that there is a correlation between gender equality and a country’s national development. 

Faborode justified this by pointing out that top 10 countries with good Human Development Index (HDI) are countries with high women representation in their national parliament while five least corrupt countries in the world, according to the Transparency Index, have substantial number of women in parliament. These countries included Denmark, Finland, New Zealand and Norway.

“Norway has 44.9 per cent of women’s representation in its national parliament is ranked No 1 country for healthy life and decent standard of living while Rwanda has over 50 per cent female representation in its parliament and has since 2000 experienced consistent GDP growth.”

She, therefore, said that it is time to break the gender bias against women in Nigeria, which was ranked 184 out of 187 countries with women in national parliament by Inter-Parliamentary Union (IPU).  

She called for increased consciousness on gender issues and equity in governance and leadership to break the bias.

Speaking in the same vein, the Executive Director, Markets-ACCA, Ms. Lucia Real-Martin, talked about the economic imperative for gender equity and explained why ACCA has been supporting and celebrating International Women’s Day.  

She said: “As our (ACCA) agenda says, there is now a growing societal expectation to create a world that works for everyone – one that is sustainable, fairer, and more inclusive. This need is built on the strong foundations of the UN Sustainability Development Goals or UN SDGs.  

“We support IWD because it fits with our corporate values of inclusion, innovation and integrity; because ACCA believes in diversity, inclusion and equality and because equality for women is still a goal to be achieved on the global stage – hence the very existence of UN SDG 5 which aims to ‘achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls.’

“We have eight years to achieve this goal and there is still a lot to do.I want to look now at the accountancy profession and where it stands when it comes to this equality agenda.”

Real-Martin said that the ACCA published a report last year titled “Leading Inclusion.” The report was based on a research that polled nearly 10,000 respondents globally and 2,000 in Africa about a wide range of issues relating to diversity, equality and inclusion. It started by asking the question ‘are we truly a profession that is open to all?’ With one of the highest scores, 83 per cent of African respondents said the profession was open to all, compared to 78 per cent globally.

However, the report concluded that there is no basis for complacency, with 77 per cent of African respondents saying the profession should do more to promote diversity and inclusion amongst its membership.

“Importantly, our report offers recommendations to promote diversity and inclusion in organisations, from establishing policies that set out organisational principles, to creating leadership principles that set the tone from the top and hold leaders accountable – after all, individuals make the difference; organisations can provide the frameworks. The report also suggests actions that accountants can take to develop this agenda,” she said.

The Chief Economist of Coronation Merchant Bank, Ms. Chinwe Egwim, said that gender inequality is a barrier to prosperity and a disadvantage to the economy.

Similarly, the Senior Special Assisstant to Ogun State Governor on Agriculture, Ms. Angel Adelaja-Kuye, said that capable women that could introduce informed economic decision needed for economic development.

The Fiscal Policy Partner and Africa Tax Leader, PwC, Mr. Taiwo Oyedele, observed that progress on women political and economic inclusion has been largely slow, adding that the world need to act differently with sincerity and a sense of urgency, otherwise it would take over 100yrs to achieve gender equity.

Oyedele said: “When we exclude women in economic activities, policy formulation, governance, leadership, access to education, job and career opportunities, we limit our possibilities.

“Embracing gender equity is not a favour to women; it benefits everyone – socially and economically.”  

He, however, advised women to work harder than their male counterpart to earn a place in top positions especially in the private sector.  

He noted that only six countries have given women equal legal work rights as men. These countries are Belgium, Denmark, France, Latvia, Luxembourg and Sweden.

But “in Nigeria, we have discriminatory legal provisions such as that of the Nigerian Police where an unmarried policewoman is punished for getting pregnant, but it doesn’t matter if an unmarried policeman impregnates a woman.” That is.  

Oyedele gave practical steps that could help to bring down the gender bias. “We need to change our mindset; we must challenge status quo, stereotypes, and questionable cultural practices and seek education to address unconscious biases.  

“Measure the gap, define outcome and track progress – Whatever is not counted doesn’t count.  Play your part and help others do the same – We all have a role to play, men and women, individually and collectively. 

“We must make personal commitments towards inclusion and gender equity. Whoever cannot lend a helping hand should please not be a stumbling block. We must remove the impediments against women.”  

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“An equal world would not only improve women’s rights and empowerment but also increase countries’ monetary living standards, as measured by their income per capita”