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Nuggets for eliminating poverty, achieving Sustainable Development Goals 

By Gregory Austin Nwakunor
09 January 2022   |   4:00 am
There are tattered clothes everywhere. Cardboard and old comforters are stuffed into a grimy window. Roaches, in their numbers, crisscross the room, which ceiling seems to heave under the weight of the rampaging roaches.

PHOTO: REUTERS/Akintunde Akinleye (NIGERIA – Tags: SOCIETY)

There are tattered clothes everywhere. Cardboard and old comforters are stuffed into a grimy window. Roaches, in their numbers, crisscross the room, which ceiling seems to heave under the weight of the rampaging roaches. Indeed, you can’t take a step without crunching one.

The room that Radetu Yesufu shares with her children is miserably furnished and lacks any form of luxury. It has just a single chair, a table fan, a mattress and a small kerosene stove. On one side of the room that is covered by a curtain, is an iron box for all their clothes.

The Edo State-born Yesufu hunches in her sitting position as she sobs softly into a piece of tissue paper in her hand. She is already awake to hear booming sound from the minaret, as the muezzin’s voice seared into the dark skies calling out Muslim faithful for Subhi (early morning prayers).

Yesufu does not need an alarm clock to wake up in the morning. At 5:30 am, she leaves home for Apongbon, where she hawks her ware.

The ritual in this sprawling slum on the waterfront is for the muezzin’s voice to bubble up like fish in water underbelly, from the nearby Okobaba mosque at dawn.

The place is a relief for her after her husband passed on and she has lived in the rundown house on the lagoon fringe for almost five years now with her seven children.

The cheap accommodation and the ease with which people secure apartments in Okobaba has made it explode in population. It is the only area in Ebute Metta East with a cluster of shacks sitting on vast swathes of refuse and dust.

The area is home to dozens of low-income earning families, both old and young who are seeking financial liberation. The neighbourhood also houses an army of youths and little children whose future is uncertain.

The filthy nature of the environment and foul smell oozing out of the mosquito-infested splurge further compounds the pains of residents. And because they live in overcrowded, unhygienic environments, a host of illnesses fly like kites in the air.

Almost daily, one ailment or the other flags residents down. However, they are fortunate to have a health centre around.

Usually, Yesufu sleeps whenever she comes back from hawking to have some rest, but this night, she was unable to do so.

“Since the death of my husband, his relations have not bothered about me and the children. They claim there is no money to take care of the children to school. All efforts to make them help us have been futile. I had to take up street trading and from the little I make, the children feed as well as go to school,” Yesufu told The Guardian, tears dripping down from her eyes.

She is one of the street traders caught flouting government directives at Apongbon Market, Lagos Island, recently, by officials of Kick Against Indiscipline (KAI). Consequently, she had to pay a fine at the mobile court set up to punish street trade offenders.

With words tumbling out of her mouth, as if she was bored with the subject and wanted to get done with it as quickly as possible, it was easy to sense the impatience in her voice.

“If my parents had allowed me to go to school, I would have become ‘a big woman’ now. My friends who went to school are okay in society. Look at the situation I have found myself. The children can’t eat good food and their schooling is not regular.”

The Anegbete-born lady was given out in marriage at 10. Her husband, the late Yesufu Aboubakar, came to her village with the promise that she would get an education. This her parents used as a ploy to give her out in marriage.

“I was stopped from attending school to marry,” Yesufu said, regretfully. “I was told that I would be put in a school in Lagos. I even brought my books from the village. To my surprise, nothing like that happened.”

As a kid growing up in Ekperi with her stepfather, she was a disciplined child. She liked her books and never fought or played pranks at school. “I was a brilliant pupil,” she recalled in tears. “I was very good in mathematics and English Language.”

Without education, she cannot earn much. With hawking as her main occupation, she makes next to nothing.

Mojisola Alao is not only caught in the same web, but she also shares a similar reality with Yesufu, that is, thriving in abject poverty. Even though her fate seems worse, it appears a lot better than what would have befallen her back home in Yemetu, Ibadan, Oyo State.

From her looks, vestiges of poverty abound. They include sunken eyeballs, protruding cheekbones, and a generally dry face. Indeed, she wears poverty like a gown, and her interaction with poverty started at 14 when she was put in the family way and had to drop out of school in JSS 2. Since then, she has not seen the four walls of a school.

Drawing her breath slowly, she said: “Since I left school, I have not gone back.”

With three kids to feed amid nothing, she left Ibadan for Lagos in search of greener pasture. Today, she lives in a crowded house with her kids in the Akala area of Mushin Local Council and sells herbal mixture at the Mushin Market.

Two of her children are currently ill and have to be taken to the hospital for orthodox medical treatment, as their ailment has defied the herbal mix, which she avails them. But her major challenge is how to offset the hospital bill.

Before her husband’s death, life was very rosy for Alice Chineze, from Anambra State. Her home was where family members gathered at the end of every month. Her husband used to organise a regular get-together in his house just to get his immediate family closer.

It was when he died that she realised how cruel life could be to a widow, as some family members took away her husband’s property. Even when she insisted on having some of them, “they didn’t give me anything. They called me all sorts of names, alleging that I planned to inherit my husband’s property without giving him a male child. I have six children- one male and five female, yet they were not satisfied,” she cried.

“I was shocked at their action. I never believed I could be subjected to such torment from my so-called in-laws and people that never ceased to come to our house while my husband was alive,” she added.

To make ends meet, she went into trading but has not been able to do much because of financial challenges.

Shockingly, they also started threatening her, asking her to leave the house where she is living with her kids, or marry her late husband’s younger brother, which she resisted.

FOR the Executive Director, Safehaven Development Initiative, Margaret Onah-Nnang: “Women and girls are subject to multiple forms of oppression, exploitation and discrimination due to their gender.”

Nigerian women, like their counterparts in other developing climes, perform complex, multiple roles as mothers, workers and managers of households, taking care of their husbands, children and members of their extended families.

Statistics on poverty in the country indicate that 70 per cent of the poor are women. Indeed, more than half of rural women live below the nationally defined poverty line, lacking access to basic education, decent nutrition, adequate health and social services.

According to the gender activist, girls have lower literacy rates, receive less healthcare and are more often impoverished than boys. “It is the girls who grow to become women without conditions improving,” she revealed.

Their crowded and highly demanding daily chores – waking early to fetch water and firewood often from a long distance, preparing meals, caring for babies, nursing the sick and elderly, cleaning the compounds, working on the fields, harvesting and marketing farm produce, and so on exert a heavy toll on their health.

According to reports, despite performing the majority of work in food processing and dominating the rural and urban informal sector activities, less than 20 per cent of them own their farmlands, fewer than 10 per cent have access to agricultural inputs, and less than five per cent have access to credits to enhance their productivity and incomes.

Founder, Echoes of Women in Africa Initiative, Louisa Eikhomun-Agbonkhese, explained: “Economically, women are the poorest of the poor, this is why the Sustainable Development Goal 5, which is centred on women empowerment and gender equality is expected to be realised by 2030. Politically, women are already left out. Where countries are aiming to realise 50/50 affirmation on gender equality, what do we have in Nigeria? Just six per cent!”

POVERTY in Africa has stayed so stubbornly high despite record of economic growth. According to the report, less of Africa’s growth translates into poverty reduction because of high initial poverty, including low asset levels and limited access to public services, which prevent households from taking advantage of opportunities.

To achieve this, a lot must be done to address factors that hamper girls, women education. Education is regarded as essential given its countless economic and non-economic benefits. Moreover, formal education is considered particularly important for girls and women, given that it leads to higher age at first marriage, greater knowledge of family planning, reduced family size, and greater access and openness to prenatal care during pregnancy.

Education is key to lifting individuals and families out of poverty and stimulating economic growth in communities. Girls are systemically denied education more often than boys. This results in more impoverished womenfolk.

Educated people are almost always paid more than uneducated people while educating women reduces poverty by empowering them to seek more ambitious work opportunities.

Research has shown that an additional year of schooling can increase a woman’s earnings by almost 25 per cent. An increase in employment results in economic growth, which decreases the poverty levels in a community.

But one of the major challenges remains the country’s budget on education.

In 2011, the sector was allocated N393.8b, which is 9.3 per cent of the total budget, while it got N468.3b, that is 9.86 per cent of the 2012 budget; N499.7b representing 10.1 per cent of the total 2013 budget; N494.7b – 10.5 per cent of the 2014 budget, and N484.2b – 10.7 per cent of the 2015 budget.

In 2016, the education sector got N369. 6b, which translates to 7.9 per cent of the total budget, and N550. 5b was allotted in 2017, representing 7.4 per cent of the total budget; N605.8b in 2018 – 7.04 per cent; N620.5b – 7.05 per cent of the 2019 budget and N671. 07b (6.7 per cent) in the 2020 appropriation bill.

Despite the challenges faced by the country’s education sector and calls for the government to increase funding to the sector, in 2021, President Muhammadu Buhari proposed the lowest allocation in 10 years, when measured as a percentage of the total spending plan. That is a paltry 5.6 per cent, the lowest percentage allocation since 2011.

The Nigerian education sector has been poorly funded in the past years, falling below the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation recommendation.

In the last decade, the highest that the sector got was 10.7 per cent in the 2015 budget, which was proposed by former President Goodluck Jonathan, in 2014. Since then, none of the appropriation bills passed has surpassed that.

The poor funding of the sector has contributed to the deplorable state of federal institutions with many facilities due for renovation.

Aside from decaying infrastructure, the incessant strike actions embarked upon by workers is one of evidence of the effects of poor funding in the sector.

Experts, however, say unless women are empowered and gender equality is achieved, women cannot play their role in economic, social, political and environmental areas.

ACCORDING to Erelu Bisi Adeleye-Fayemi, the First Lady of Ekiti State, and Chair, Nigerian Governors’ Wives, Nigeria features poorly on most global indicators measuring Gender Equality and Women’s Empowerment (GEWE).

Speaking at the 20th International Book Fair organised by Nigerian Book Fair Trust, she pointed out that millions of women and girls in the country still suffer from the feminisation of poverty, lack of access to basic resources, disease, violent conflict and the use of culture, religion and tradition to render women, second-class citizens.

“Crimes against women, young girls and children are on the rise. Gender-based violence, femicides, rapes, sexual assaults, harmful traditional and religious practices, voluntary and involuntary commercial sex work, trafficking, sexual exploitation, institutionalised gender-based discrimination and kidnappings, make private and public spaces in the country very unsafe for women and children,” she pointed out.

According to her: “Nigeria continues to record unacceptably high levels of maternal and infant mortality rates, one of the highest in the world. There are approximately 10.5 million children out of school in Nigeria and 60 per cent of those are girls.”

While noting that Nigeria did not meet any of the original Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), she expressed the belief that “we might not meet most of the SDGs in 2030 either.”

Adeleye-Fayemi continued: “All these issues continue to hinder the progress of Nigerian women due to entrenched patriarchal power, lack of legal and policy frameworks, violent conflict and displacement, endemic poverty and lack of political will.”

Experts also point out that educating women and girls is key to achieving SDGs. They note that equal access to education is a right. Fulfilling this right is key to addressing some of the most pressing challenges of our time, from lack of health care to climate change and violence against women.

“Encouraging girls to read as much as they can, right from an early age, and not just self-empowerment books, or romantic novels is important. Reading beyond what is required for school texts is no longer common, with the new generation preferring to spend their time online rather than bury themselves in the latest Chinua Achebe book. Just like we have spelling-bee competitions, we can start organising book-reading competitions online, or offline to encourage the culture of reading that we are all keen to bring back,” said the Ekiti State governor’s wife.

Adeleye-Fayemi also added: “Books should be made as accessible as possible to young girls and women. If you have books that you don’t need anymore, donate them to a school or a gender studies centre.

“As there is more technological advancement in the book eco-system, women should not be left behind. They should be encouraged to use the digital space to upgrade their skills and knowledge, and take advantage of the digital market spaces that are opening up,” she said.

Research by the World Bank indicated that for every extra year of primary education, a girl’s wage rate increases an average of 10 to 20 per cent and 25 per cent with an extra year of secondary school. Furthermore, 90 per cent of a mother’s wage goes towards caring for her family, thus lifting a household out of poverty and hunger. Thus, educating women and girls reduces poverty and hunger (SDG1 and SDG2).

According to a study by UNESCO, if all women had primary education, there would be 15 per cent fewer child deaths. If all women had a secondary education, child deaths would be cut in half, saving almost three million lives across the globe.

The same UNESCO study also found that if all mothers completed primary education, maternal deaths would decrease by 60 per cent, saving approximately 98, 000 lives.

Educating women and girls leads to gender equality (SDG5 and SDG10). Gender inequality is reflected in many ways, including income disparity, wage discrimination, gender norms and gender-based violence. By advancing women and girls’ education, women and girls are more likely to realise their potential, exercise their human rights and contribute to society. Educated girls will form the next generation of women leaders and make significant advances toward bridging the gender gap.

Empowering women can have a profound impact on SDG7, by helping households make an informed decisions on energy matters. Educated girls are also more likely to be innovative and advance new ideas such as reliable modern energy services.

THE wife of Lagos State Governor, Dr. (Mrs.) Ibijoke Sanwo-Olu, also holds the same opinion. She underscored the need for girl-child and women to read.

“Readers, as we know, are leaders and fact states that there is a clear nexus between reading, knowledge and ability to apply intelligence in dealing with issues, generally,” she says.

She equally expressed the belief that women have a key role to play in shaping the worldview of their children. “This is because women are the closest to the children and can deploy their influence at the home front towards deepening the culture of voracious reading, thereby helping to advance the frontiers of knowledge.”

Sanwo-Olu asks women to intensify efforts to scale up reading culture among the younger generation to build an army of highly literate citizens. The call became imperative because a society with a high number of literate citizens will experience development and exponential transformation.”

Women with an education are more likely to work, create economic growth and develop their communities.

Another World Bank’s study conducted in 100 countries also confirmed that every one per cent increase in the number of women with secondary education yields an increase of 0.3 percentage points in the country’s annual per capita income growth rate.

For example, if India had a one per cent increase in girls in secondary school, their GDP would increase by $5.5b.

Additionally, education narrows pay gaps and increase a woman’s chance of entering the formal economy. By improving access to the formal sector, women can expect better social protections, improved rights at work, and safer working conditions.

When women and girls can access information about how to adapt to a changing climate, they can play an instrumental role in reducing consumption. They can also contribute to the resilience of their families and communities. UNICEF maintains that educating girls and women is one of the best ways of strengthening communities on climate change.

BODOUR Al Qasimi, President, International Publishers Association (IPA), noted that women have been instrumental in supporting the homeschooling of millions of children, making sure engaging contents reach global readers during lockdown and quarantine, and in providing free access to research to fast-track the healthcare response to COVID-19.”

Bodour, the founder of PublisHer, which acts as an industry-wide call to action, said: “Whilst we try to address the challenges that women face regarding diversity and inclusion in the industry, it is also important to look at the root causes and see how girls are faring in education systems around the world, to try and ensure that they are designed to produce our future publishers, doctors, and astronauts. It’s an accepted fact that the fallout from this pandemic has been particularly damaging for girls and women. For example, in Africa, as schools had to shut down in response to the pandemic, 250 million students had to transition to remote learning,” she informed.

THE Executive Coordinator, Bimbo Odukoya Foundation, Aderonke Oyelakin, told The Guardian: “To tackle the problems highlighted above, we need improved infrastructure, improved teacher professional development and creating awareness that will encourage people to prioritise the education of the girl-child.”

She continued: “Gender inequality in girls’ education, even before the pandemic was an issue as girls were more likely than boys to never set foot in a classroom. Conflict, poverty and other forms of social disadvantage also magnify gender inequality in education.”

FOR Gbadega Adedapo, Chairman, Nigerian Book Fair Trust (NBFT): “We need women at all levels, including the top, to change the dynamics in our contemporary world, reshape the conversation, ensure that women’s voices are heard and heeded, not trivialised and ignored.”

MRS. Ronke Orimalade, a trustee of the NBTF board, on her part said that women have been at the forefront of bookselling over the years. “Even in those days, many women did a lot to promote sales of educational books. Those who were not educated knew the colours of the prescribed books for the various classes, and used that knowledge to get the books to the marketplace.”