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Accelerating women’s entrepreneurial potential, participation in governance for development

By Helen Oji and Gloria Ehiaghe
19 November 2019   |   3:46 am
The number of women entrepreneurs that are creating employment, fostering economic growth and social cohesion have been on a steady rise in the last few decades.

Women entrepreneurs. Photo: PIXABAY

The number of women entrepreneurs that are creating employment, fostering economic growth and social cohesion has been on a steady rise in the last few decades.
Despite the significant role women are playing in economic development across the world, their position in many African economies leaves much to be desired.
Indeed, increasing the number of women entrepreneurs involved in starting new businesses is critical for a country’s long-term economic growth.

In addition to their economic and income-generating activities, women assume multi-faceted roles in society – as unpaid family workers, service providers in the communities, and mother/caretaker of the family.
Regrettably, in spite of their important contributions to socio-economic development, women suffer from various constraints, which inhibit them from fully realising their potential for development.
Undoubtedly, Nigeria has enormous unexploited potential, especially the capabilities of women whose productivity is greatly hampered by widespread inequality, especially in education.

With unbroken 20 years in democratic governance, the time for women to participate more actively in politics to promote national development is now.
A report from the McKinsey Global Institute, saying Nigeria’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) could grow by 23 per cent by 2025 if women participate more in the economy to the same extent as men, as well as how advancing women’s equality can add $12 trillion to global growth.

Accordingly, the need to galvanise more active participation of women to fully achieve these goals was further deliberated.
Indeed, the numerical strength of Nigerian women is an untapped resource, which is necessary for the revolution of a new economy, and the much-needed good governance that would accelerate social and political development.
Women represent a tool for positive change depending on the extent to which they are competent for national development.
At the 2019 Women Directors Conference, organised by the Institute of Directors (IoD) Nigeria, Senior Vice Chairman, Standard Chartered Bank Group, Mrs Bola Adesola, argued that with about 96.6 million women in Nigeria, the participation of women in key decision-making areas across all sectors of the economy is abysmally low.

Adesola, who spoke on, “Female participation: An Imperative for National Development,” said for national development to take place, participation and involvement of women can no longer be ignored.
However, for women to participate actively in national development, she noted that certain obstacles must be removed, and an enabling environment that empowers women to rise is equally essential.
Adesola, who cited Rwanda as one of the countries with the highest female representation in parliament in the world with 61 per cent representation, said Nigeria has one of the lowest rates in female representation in parliament across Africa and globally.
For Nigeria to achieve higher female representation across the board, she noted that there is a need for Nigerian women to empower themselves to participate actively in governance and leadership in the three tiers of government.
However, findings show that there is still much to be done for the development of women entrepreneurs since there are still challenges that affect the development of women entrepreneurs in Nigeria, especially access to funding.
About 73 per cent of women entrepreneurs have a lack of access to capital and cash flow, as one of their top challenges.
To ensure that women entrepreneurs achieve their potential, Access Bank Plc. at the grand finale of its Womenpreneur Pitch-A-Ton 2019, held in Lagos recently, presented a total of N9 million to three women that emerged winners at the end of the 2019 session.
Speaking on the initiative, Coordinator, W Initiative, Access Bank, Ayona Aguele-Trimnell, said the Pitch-A-Ton is an expansion of the Womenpreneur Business Workshop, under the Bank’s women proposition, the ‘W Initiative’.
“The Pitch-A-Ton is designed as a 3-month programme incorporating pitching sessions, and 3 weeks of mini-MBA training in collaboration with the IFC.
“Access Bank has been a leading advocate for women’s economic empowerment in Nigeria and this is the key motivation for the W Initiative which caters to women particularly in the areas of capacity building and creating networking opportunities” she explained.
The Group Chief Executive Officer, Emerging Africa Capital, Mrs Toyin Sanni, while speaking at the event, urged the government to come up with workable policies that encourage private sector investment in infrastructure to help stimulate job creation and facilitate economic growth.
Sanni, who is also one of the judges during the training sessions, pointed out that there is also a need to put in place fiscal programmes that would make it easier for Nigeria entrepreneurs to raise funds for business expansion.
According to her, the government must do more to encourage private sector investment in major infrastructure projects considering that infrastructure investment has the potential to kick-start development.
She submitted that government at all levels must push forward new approaches for major infrastructure investment as well as a policy framework that can boost funding of micro small and medium enterprises (MSMEs) and entrepreneurial programmes.  
Her words: “This gives us so much hope, and I believe that the next set of business magnate in Nigeria will be predominantly female. It is an incredible thing being done, knowledge being transferred, awareness being created, empowerment being given to women and the encouragement portend hope for the future of Nigeria, and as a more diversified economy in terms of contributions by both genders.
“We must all rise up; the job of national development is the job meant for both men and women, there is a role for us to play. Entrepreneurs create 70 per cent of the jobs in the economy, and Nigeria has the highest number of women entrepreneurs relative to the numbers of entrepreneurs in the economy, this is a positive signal to the growth of our economy.
“Government needs to fix our huge infrastructure deficit, put in place policies that would encourage private sector investment in infrastructure, of course, the access to finance challenge needs to be met, so fiscal policies that would make it easier for entrepreneurs to raise funds.
“Fiscal policies that favour entrepreneurs such as initiatives like a tax, for instance, the latest initiative, which is that SMEs and entrepreneurs of N25 million and below, would not be required to pay tax. I believe these are some of the initiatives that will boost this segment,” Sanni added.
Adesola further said: “Getting there would mean through advocacy and relevant laws to encourage more competent women to step up and step out.
“Women, who currently have a seat at the fore front, must encourage other women so that they don’t become a lone voice where it counts, gender solidarity among women must be promoted. As Nigerian women, we must build our own tables; we must not wait to be invited whether in the private or public sector.”
Emphasising the importance of education and being skilled enough, Sanni said investment in women education will harness the potential to decision and policymaking efforts and must be taken seriously by the government and all critical stakeholders.
In his presentation, Statistician-General of the Federation and Director-General, National Bureau of Statistics (NBS), Dr Yemi Kale, said women participate significantly within the agricultural and trade sectors.
He said these sectors are low-paying when compared to other sectors, which contribute majorly to GDP.
Represented by his Technical Adviser, Lola Talabi-Oni, he said women are effectively excluded from income earnings and value addition due to over-representation within these categories.
He said: “Women are the largest category of both unemployed and underemployed – may be exacerbated by low transition rates from secondary school to tertiary education, lower rates of formal education, training, and early marriage rates, which disrupt learning, training, and skills acquisition.”
Earlier in his welcome address, President and Chairman of Council, IoD Nigeria, Chris Okunowo, who commended the level of compliance in the private sector at bridging the gender gap, said the public sector is only paying lip service to the affirmative action on gender sensitivity.
On some of the issues why female participation is low in all aspects of the Nigerian economy, Okunowo said: “I believe that there are reasons to believe that the various Nigerian governments over the years have been reluctant to properly implement the laws to improve gender equality in politics, despite constitutional support for it.
“And I dare say that the much-desired sustainable economic development of Nigeria is only possible if it is interlinked with the progress of her women.
“The Nigerian private sector can improve their bottom line if they invest more strategically in women leadership. Talent is critical to staying competitive, but despite the growing number of qualified women in the workforce in all sectors, the female talent pool continues to remain underutilised. Although this is a worldwide phenomenon but it appears to be more prevalent in Nigeria.”