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Women’s access to finance can boost economic growth

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(Photo by Benson Ibeabuchi / AFP)

The recent global pandemic (COVID-19 outbreak) has significant adverse consequences for the global and Nigerian economies. COVID-19 has spread globally, sending billions of people into lockdown as health services struggle to cope. As with most humanitarian crisis situations, this pandemic has severely disrupted lives and businesses throughout the globe. This is a difficult period for the world and our country Nigeria, and it is essential for all sectors together with governments to collaborate and prioritize the needs of the economy with a focus on women and girls.

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The Federal Government of Nigeria has shown commitment in ensuring the control of the COVID-19 outbreak in the country. The Federal Ministry of Health working closely with states and the Presidential Task Force on COVID-19 continues to review response activities and institute measures to protect the health of Nigerians. Additionally, the laudable efforts of the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) and other institutions in the private sector that are providing financing to assist companies and the nation with initiatives to prevent, detect and respond to the rapid spread of COVID-19 have been noticed. These financing packages would help strengthen national systems for public health preparedness to contain the disease and support SMEs at this time as this will trickle down to their families and employees.

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It is imperative that some of these initiatives are targeted at women and should be engendered towards extending financial access to them. I firmly believe that women empowerment through access to credit is a prerequisite for achieving gender equality, sustainable development, improvement and sustenance for livelihoods especially during this period of crisis. The application of a gender lens in all industries has the potential to create huge opportunities to serve women more effectively. This can be achieved both in terms of their inclusion and participation across the workforce, and their access to goods and services. This can lead to more access to markets, advancing products and services that improve the lives of women.

It is now a general observation that gender plays a role in the unfolding pandemic as women and girls face intensified risks as the crisis rages on. If some of these initiatives for crisis situations are focused on women, the communities would benefit faster from them as women ensure family, friends and employees are looked after in a timely manner.

This would also help build their credit history since a lack of credit information can disproportionately disadvantage women, particularly if they have little collateral or control over assets. In combating the issues with women’s access to finance, the challenges faced by women need to be addressed and these include: cultural norms/practices that discriminate against women, lack of access to capital, inadequate support structures, limited leadership skills and capacities.

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Having a nation in which all women’s human rights are upheld and one that supports gender focused access to finance initiatives will advance gender equality and women empowerment. This can be made possible through the creation of targeted credit facilities for women entrepreneurs/SMEs that have been largely affected by the COVID-19 outbreak. Also, creating Crisis Recovery Funds for women owned and led businesses to thrive better following the pandemic is key. Others include the development of a framework/transformative agenda that emphasizes on the full realization of women/girls’ human rights and empowerment during humanitarian crisis situations, creation of softer government stipulations and policies during crisis, provide simpler process for accessing finance such as minimal documentation requirements, little or no collaterals and timely loan disbursements, as well as monitoring and evaluation of the initiatives developed to ensure that objectives are met.

Ultimately, in order to prevent economic decline during crisis, collaborations by all stakeholders are essential to build a culture of support, equality and community across board. We should all be committed to ending the scourge created by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Adeoye is a development programme specialist with expertise in the implementation of strategies, processes and systems that support the management of programmes especially those geared towards financial inclusion.

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