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‘Why Nigeria’s creative industry, and every industry, needs women – by Jude “M.I.” Abaga

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MI Abaga: "My parents are hardworking people. If there is only one thing they gave me, it was integrity."

MI Abaga. PHOTO: NIYI OKEOWO

Women’s month is always a beautiful, celebratory time of the year. Our social feeds are full of carefully constructed accolades and glossy social media cards singing praises to the women breaking barriers and pushing business and society in the direction we all want to see. While it’s easy to post and tweet our support, we have cause to remember that what matters most is doing the work within the safe spaces we are in, to make a real change. As a creative entrepreneur, as a patriotic citizen, as a son, brother and friend too many women, I’ve had to ask myself some critical questions:

Have we forgotten to act for the millions of women economically and socially ‘left behind’?

How is my industry and my influence helping make room for more women to flourish?

Why Nigeria’s creative industry, and every industry, needs women

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The larger share of the 99 million girls and women in Nigeria are separated from the ability to access decent work, due pay, opportunities to lift themselves and their families out of poverty, and take control over their time. The ability to create and the ability to contribute freely and fairly in our economy grow further away day by day. Unlocking the full potential of half of our population is how we become serious about economic growth-we have to get serious about women and their economic empowerment.

There are many attractive industries in Nigeria that are being shaped and moulded by female forces. After all, the country has produced some of the finest entrepreneurial talents of past and present. One estimate suggests that 40% of Nigerian women are entrepreneurs.

However, whether this group can be classified as ‘high-value’ – generating higher incomes and innovative goods and services or, the opposite, ‘low-value’, is undetermined. One thing is clear: the few, though growing, high-growth female-led startups that make the headlines seem to be swallowed up by the sheer volume of hand-to-mouth entrepreneurs we see on street corners and in traffic.

Peddlers and hawkers sweating for their daily wage – these are the business owners that don’t quite fit fancy mainstream definitions.

Driven by necessity or in the pursuit of opportunity – these female entrepreneurs would likely classify themselves as part of a lucky few women- who are shaking the shackles of poverty, breaking traditional gender norms and working to build better livelihoods, earn more income and in some instances create businesses that can provide more jobs for other women and men like themselves.

In many industries including in media and entertainment, women are treated as minority stakeholders. Centering their voice, agency and participation doesn’t make the priority list or daily agenda. I’ve never been afraid of constructive criticism and looking at my own industry, daily experiences from men and women speak for themselves.

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In a recent discussion online organised by hive and hosted by Piggyvest and Feminist. Co founder, financial inclusion expert and entrepreneur Odun Eweniyi, I shared an example about how studio spaces aren’t always viewed as ‘safe’ for both sexes. Lack of inclusion at entry level is not just ‘bad for business’ in the short run. The deficit of top level talent that labels can pick from is skewed because there aren’t enough safe spaces for women at the start of their careers. If more women aren’t encouraged to enter the music space, how will they thrive? This has become endemic in our industry: It is auditions and casting rooms, movie sets, late night concerts and events, and taxi cabs on the way home. We need more spaces that are everywhere within the industry, that aren’t predatory or discriminatory.

Unfriendly working environments and poor representation in Nigeria’s creative sector isn’t the exception, this is the norm all over the world across the global music industry. In some countries where the entertainment industry is in its maturity, reports show females represent less than one-third of all performers in popular music, 12.5% of songwriters, and 2.6% of producers. Shockingly low figures yet, women remain one of the largest audiences and consumers of popular music.

If younger women and girls are missing, muted or even unable to have a seat in the recording studio, if they are unable to lend their voice and their talent to music-making, and participate fully in the creative economy, our industry will continue to miss out on the creative contributions it needs to grow and compete globally. We see what happens when women thrive. Our entertainment industry has some of the most striking examples: Mo Abudu, Linda Ikeji, Bella Naija, Tiwa Savage, Aibee Abidoye, Wangi Mba Uzoukwu and many other powerhouses within the entertainment space time after time outperform their male counterparts and break the glass ceilings with incredibly challenging obstacles that they overcome everyday. Women are creative powerhouses and we need them now more than ever.

A place where women belong
Every new song is an opportunity to allow female-led innovation and creativity to come to light – by increasing the number of women working in various performing or non-performing roles. We must start framing increased female participation as something that is not just good but necessary for innovation and global competitiveness in the creative industry.

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When we start turning our studios into spaces where women feel comfortable, when we start adding more women to our teams and workplaces, and give greater room to those who want to participate in our industry without being sexualised, stereotyped and unable to feel at home in our creative settings, then will the creative industry be worthy of the talent that women have to offer. From exposure and training in Nigeria’s most prominent studio environment to hands-on experience, mentorship, job placements and global access to international recording standards and best practices- only then can we start to make inroads into women’s exclusion from the bottom of the talent development pipeline upwards.

Working together and collectively is the only true way forward towards greater representation. From the sound engineer to the performer to the executive – what is good for one of us is best for us all.

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