Gender inequality remains a global concern even as cultural stereotypes, traditional practices and patriarchal societal structures continue to undermine women in several countries, including Nigeria, despite females making up a vast proportion of the population.
Experts note women’s economic empowerment as central to realising their rights and equality.
“Empowering women in the economy and closing the gender gaps in the world of work is key to achieving the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development,” UN Women notes.
It is also vital in achieving the SDG goals, particularly Goal 5, to achieve gender equality, and Goal 8 to promote full and productive employment and decent work for all; also Goal 1 on ending poverty, Goal2 on food security, Goal 3 on ensuring good health and goal 10 on reducing inequalities, it adds.
Between obstruction and opportunity
In Nigeria, gender disparities in earnings hold back her economy and represent an opportunity, according to a recent World Bank report on Women’s Economic Empowerment.
“Closing the gender gaps in the key economic sectors could yield additional gains of US9.3 billion dollars or up to US 22.9 billion dollars,” it notes.
“Women’s economic empowerment will also be key to accelerating a demographic transition and reaping the gains of demographic dividend.”
In 2020, the International Finance Corporation (IFC), a member of the World Bank Group in partnership with Nigerian Exchange (NGX), launched the Nigeria2Equal initiative.
“The Nigeria2Equal program comes as a strategic initiative designed to support the private sector in increasing women’s participation in employment and entrepreneurship through favorable workforce policies and practices,” explains Chief Executive Officer, Nigerian Exchange Limited (NGX), Temi Popoola.
“NGX has gender equality embedded at the core of its working practices and has made giant strides in galvanising capital market stakeholders to institutionalise gender equality within their operations.”
Against the growing need to tackle gender inequalities in society, some companies in Nigeria are taking concrete actions towards women’s empowerment.
Nestlé Nigeria is one company making conscious efforts to boost opportunities for females.
Mrs Peace Eze from the Obollo Offor community in Enugu Southeast Nigeria is a beneficiary of one of its initiatives, which is building financial security for women and improving their standard of living.
With the Rural Women Empowerment program, beneficiaries comprising female retailers in the company’s Retail Value-Chain get training, mentorship and grants to boost their businesses.
“I have everything I need to make my business succeed,” an elated Mrs Eze declares while speaking on the grants valued at 300 per cent of their monthly sales in the form of Nestle products and the skills acquisition scheme.
“With what we were taught, I now have the knowledge to support my business to grow.”
The initiative had empowered 250 rural women across Nigeria, with beneficiaries reportedly recording faster turnover, increased revenue, and more substantial visibility of their outlets within their locations.
“We have seen retailers expand their stores, increase their stock capacity and improvements in their living standards,” remarks Mr Phranklin Audu, Lead Trainer and Head of Partnerships at FDC Consulting, Nestle’s Implementation Partners.
“This concept from Nestlé is quite a novel idea. To empower the beneficiaries with produce at zero cost, equip them with relevant skills and assign mentors to aid their growth for a period of three months.”
He adds: “We are talking about visible growth Grade -c retailers are moving up the distribution ladder, and more importantly, these women are doing more daily turnovers, thereby earning higher incomes for themselves.”
Nestlé Nigeria Commercial Manager Khaled Ramadan notes the empowerment programme as one of the Creative Shared Value (CSV) initiatives the company deploys to help build thriving communities and improve livelihoods.
The company aims to ensure women feel supported, valued and respected. It reiterates its commitment to enhancing gender balance in its workplace and changing women’s economic, social and cultural outlook through various programs that aim to teach skills required to increase productivity, build better businesses and improve livelihoods.
Nestle Global data shows women hold 43.9 per cent of the company’s managerial positions. It has committed to increasing the number of women in its top 200+senior executive positions by 30 per cent by 2022.
The company, which launched a policy against discrimination, violence, and harassment at work, says it has begun annual growth equal pay reviews to champion equal pay and eliminate conditions that create gender pay gaps.
“We know that improving gender balance will lead to better decisions, stronger innovations and higher work satisfaction,” asserts Head of Group Human Resources and Global Business Services Beatrice Guillaume-Grabisch.
“This is why we have set measurable goals to track progress and hold ourselves accountable. It’s a journey we are committed to and one where we will challenge ourselves to keep doing better.”
Nestle got the Bloomberg Gender-Equality Index (GEI) 2022 recognition for the fourth consecutive year, with an overall score of 78 per cent, surpassing the average index score of 71 per cent.
The global food company boosts its 2021 record of 68 per cent on the GEI, which measures gender equality across five pillars: female leadership and talent pipeline, equal pay and gender pay parity, inclusive culture, anti-sexual harassment policies and pro-women brands.
Nestlé expresses its determination to be a gender-balanced and truly equal workplace that can serve as an example for others.
Pushback Against the Pushback
A study on ‘Gender Equality in Nigeria’s Private Sector,” which assessed gender gaps in 30 leading companies listed on the Nigerian Exchange, notes they scored better than average in some aspects of women’s participation in the workforce.
It, however, harps on the need to do more to achieve a balance between 40-60percent of either gender across all corporate levels- board directors, executive levels, senior management and workforce.
The study part of the Nigeria2equal initiative evaluated the gap across four categories -corporate leadership, compensation and flexible work, corporate policies to promote gender equality and efforts on commitment, transparency, and accountability in closing gender gaps.
The report recommends improving gender equality in formal employment, access to finance for women who want to start a business and access to markets through supply chains and procurement opportunities.
As UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres observes, patriarchy is not easily defeated: “It continues to push back against the rights of women and girls in all walks of life, in every region of the world.”
However, “we must push back against the pushback not only as a matter of the basic human rights that every woman and girl has,” he says”, but as the only pathway to the peaceful, equal, sustainable and prosperous world we all want to build.”