Combatting poverty through gender-responsive financing 

This piece focuses on gender disparities which have perpetuated poverty and inequality. ENE OSHABA in this report writes on the importance of gender-responsive financing to combat poverty mostly among women.

Status of women’s economic empowerment in Nigeria

The country director, ActionAid Nigeria, Mr. Andrew Mamedu, in his paper presentation at the National Council of Women Societies (NCSW) 2024 Biennial Convention, noted that the economic landscape for women in Nigeria “presents numerous obstacles, hindering their full participation and potential contribution to the economy.”

Mamedu said the Global Entrepreneurship Monitor 2022 (GEM) “shows that only about 26% of Nigerian women are engaged in entrepreneurial activities, compared to 46% of men.” 

This disparity, according to him, is exacerbated by limited access to formal financial services, with only 43% of women in Nigeria having access to such services compared to 48% of men, as reported by the World Bank.

He said, “Women-owned businesses face challenges in accessing credit, with a stark contrast of 13% of women-owned businesses having access to financial services compared to 40% of male-owned businesses (World Bank, 2021).

“The National Bureau of Statistics (2021) highlights that although women make up about 49% of Nigeria’s population, their labor force participation rate remains significantly lower than that of men, standing at 43% compared to 70% for men. 

“This inequality is further exemplified by the gender wage gap, with women earning approximately 70% of what men earn for similar work, according to the International Labour Organization (ILO). The Global Gender Gap Report 2020 ranks Nigeria 128th out of 153 countries in terms of gender equality, reflecting substantial disparities in economic participation and opportunity.” 

Challenges

Explaining further, Mamedu noted that the challenges faced by women in Nigeria concerning economic empowerment were multifaceted and deeply entrenched in societal structures.

“Limited access to finance and credit facilities due to discriminatory practices and lack of collateral present significant barriers for women entrepreneurs. These barriers extend to socio-cultural norms and gender stereotypes that restrict women’s mobility, decision-making power in economic matters, and access to opportunities such as equal pay, promotions, and leadership roles.”

Gender gap

In the global fight against poverty, one crucial yet often overlooked aspect is the need to strengthen gender-responsive financing. Gender disparities persist in access to financial resources, leading to continued economic poverty and inequality suffered mostly by women. 

Addressing this issue is not only a matter of social justice, but also a strategic imperative for sustainable development. 

Despite progress in recent years, women continue to face barriers in accessing financial services and resources worldwide.

According to the World Bank, women are 9% less likely than men to have a bank account, and the gender gap in financial inclusion is even wider in low-income countries. This disparity limits women’s ability to save, invest, and build assets, ultimately hindering their economic empowerment and exacerbating poverty levels.

“In Nigeria, as in many parts of the world, women’s economic empowerment is a critical factor in achieving sustainable development goals and reducing poverty. Despite progress in recent years, significant challenges remain, particularly regarding access to finance and opportunities for women,” the country director said further.

In her remarks, the national president of NCWS, Mrs. Lami Adamu-Lau, highlighted the contributions of women toward national growth and emphasised the need for more investment in women.

“Women stand as pillars of strength, resilience, and innovation, yet they continue to face barriers that hinder their progress.

“This is why it is imperative that we invest in women, their education, their health, their economic empowerment, and their leadership,” she said.

Understanding gender-responsive financing

Gender-responsive financing involves directing financial resources and investments towards initiatives that promote gender equality and women’s empowerment. It goes beyond simply providing access to finance and encompasses strategies to address the unique needs and challenges faced by women in financial markets. By integrating gender considerations into financial policies, programmes, and decision-making processes, gender-responsive financing seeks to level the playing field and unlock the economic potential of women.

The Center for Gender Economics in Africa (CGE Africa) also emphasised the need to address the pressing issues of gender- responsive budgeting, stating that there were “obvious disparities in funding for female issues and businesses in the country.”

Its executive director, Uchenna Idoko, at a one-day workshop in Abuja, said there was the need to bridge the gap between policy and practice in allocating resources for gender-specific needs if poverty must be eradicated adequately.

She maintained that understanding gender responsive budgeting is not merely a matter of creating separate budgets for women, but as a means of prioritising resources to address gender disparities. 

“The government needs to move away from traditional budgeting practices towards a more nuanced approach that considers the diverse needs of both men and women within correctional facilities.

“Our mainstream budget allocations should prioritise gender-specific needs, such as mental health support and access to menstrual hygiene products.

“By addressing the gender disparities in funding and advocating for rehabilitation and societal acceptance, there can be a successful reintegration of individuals into society.

“The only way to ensure that the policies are implemented is to put funding behind the promises or the Act. You have to be sure that the budget is responsive to that Act. We need to begin to create awareness that the style of budgeting needs to change for these to be achieved. 

“So, we are asking the government to be responsive, to be responsible and put money behind the promises because we are seeing the policies as the promises from the government so that the Act of 2019 will come to fruition,” she said.

Economic empowerment

Providing women with access to financial resources such as credit, savings, and insurance, enables them to invest in income-generating activities, start businesses, and accumulate assets. This not only lifts women out of poverty but also benefits their families and communities.

Speaking exclusively with Blueprint Weekend, the executive director of HEIR Women Hub, Añuli Aniebo, stressed the limitations that women face in accessing funds or loans, regretting that “it has been very difficult for women to access loans and investments for their businesses.”

She quoted data from Africa: The Big Deal showing that 4% of female CEOs get funding compared to 95% of male CEOs, stressing that there “is an obvious gender diverse criteria that needs to be interrogated in order to establish what the gaps can be and how to begin to adequately address them, using Nigeria as a context.” 

“69% of loan applications are men and 31% are women, and while women will receive loans as men would, 89% of men compared to 85% of women, applied for the same loans. So, we have this intersection of factors that our project has shown us and I am geared to create forums, discussions and workshops to support interventions that actually impact,” she pointed out.

Furthermore, Anuli shared a dialogue and re-education from the findings by her organisation showing the financial institutions and policy makers how collateral requirements such as land and property were criteria that women have been denied from a socio-cultural point of view. 

“While society had long denied land and property ownership to women, the same society, through financial institutions, demanded land that women were denied. It’s as if women are set up to be denied loans and investment; it’s unfair!

“I need to let the institutions see the impact that societal limitations place on women and work with us to adjust the barriers placed as this discourages many women from loan applications. The interest rates is one other criteria that requires further discussions as it’s justification to be higher than men interest rates is just in line with societal stereotypes in my opinion.”

Social protection

Gender-responsive financing can support social protection programs tailored to women’s needs, such as cash transfers, micro-insurance, and pension schemes. These programs provide a safety net for vulnerable women and families, helping to mitigate the impact of economic shocks and reduce poverty.

This is why the country director, ActionAid Nigeria, Mamedu, recommended that setting up at least one micro-finance bank in each state, working with the state government, can serve as a long-term sustainability measure.

“Setting up a forum of women around the corridors of power will be a forum where women who are working closely with the governors to sit and share lessons and use such meetings to learn from each other and the president will coordinate this forum and use that to impact policies closely 

“A women’s movement that can bring about change in the country that will contribute to improving the lot of women and girls is advised,” he said.

Education and health

 Investing in gender-responsive financing for education and health services can break the cycle of intergenerational poverty. By ensuring equal access to education and healthcare for girls and women, we can improve their opportunities for economic participation and empower them to lead healthier, more productive lives.

Mamedu emphasised that women’s access to education is hindered in many societies, impacting their ability to acquire the necessary skills for higher-paying jobs and entrepreneurial ventures. 

He noted further that the burden of unpaid care work, predominantly shouldered by women, further reduces their time and energy available for income-generating activities, adding that legal and policy frameworks, coupled with cultural beliefs and practices also contribute to restricting women’s rights to own property, inherit wealth, and fully participate in economic activities.

While stressing the importance of women’s economic empowerment, he said empowering women economically “transcends social justice; it is a strategic imperative for sustainable development and inclusive growth.”

“When women are economically empowered, households, communities, and entire nations benefit. Women tend to invest more in their families’ education, health, and well-being, leading to intergenerational upliftment and poverty reduction.” 

According to Michelle Bachelet, “Investing in women’s economic empowerment sets a direct path towards gender equality, poverty eradication, and inclusive economic growth.”

UN Women reports that women reinvest 90% of their income into their families, compared to men who reinvest about 30-40%. 

“Therefore, increasing Nigerian women’s access to economic opportunities is critical to the country’s economic growth and development.” 

Sustainable development 

Gender-responsive financing plays a crucial role in advancing the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), particularly Goal 1 (No Poverty) and Goal 5 (Gender Equality). By prioritising investments in women’s empowerment, we can accelerate progress towards poverty eradication and create more inclusive, sustainable societies.

Strengthening gender-responsive financing

To maximise the impact of gender-responsive financing in combatting poverty, policymakers, financial institutions, and development organisations must adopt a comprehensive approach such as enact and enforce policies that promote gender equality in financial markets, including laws against discrimination, gender-responsive budgeting, and measures to address structural barriers to women’s access to finance.

It is imperative to expand access to financial services for women through innovative solutions such as mobile banking, agent banking, and digital financial platforms. This can be achieved by providing targeted financial literacy training and support to enhance women’s financial capabilities and decision-making.

Furthermore, investment in women-owned enterprises can increase investments in women-owned businesses and SMEs through initiatives such as gender-focused venture capital funds, loan guarantees, and procurement programs. Support women entrepreneurs with tailored business development services, mentorship, and networking opportunities.

The country director also harped on the importance of data and monitoring, stressing that strengthening data collection and monitoring systems to track progress on gender-responsive financing initiatives and measure their impact on poverty reduction and women’s empowerment is paramount. 

According to the country director, “Use data to inform policy decisions and allocate resources effectively.”

Further recommendations 

“Implement and enforce policies that promote gender equality, such as laws protecting women’s property rights, ensuring equal pay for equal work, and measures to combat gender-based violence in the workplace.

“Implement comprehensive financial education programs to enhance women’s knowledge and skills in managing finances, investment, and entrepreneurship. 

“Invest in education, vocational training, and skills development programs tailored to women’s needs, enhancing their employability and entrepreneurship capabilities.

“Expand access to affordable credit and financial services for women-owned businesses, including microfinance initiatives and venture capital funding such as microfinance institutions (MFIs), government-backed loan programmes; safe digital financial services; community-based savings and credit groups;

strengthen data collection and monitoring systems; establish robust data collection and monitoring systems to track progress and measure the impact of interventions on women’s economic empowerment.

“Utilise technology and innovation to create digital platforms and tools that facilitate women’s participation in economic activities, such as e-commerce platforms and digital financial services.

“Foster partnerships between government agencies, civil society organisations, private sector entities, and international donors to pool resources and expertise towards women’s economic empowerment initiatives.

“Expand access to microfinance services tailored to women entrepreneurs and provide targeted support for small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) owned by women. Advocate for policies that promote inclusive banking, including flexible collateral requirements, credit guarantees, and venture capital initiatives for women-led businesses. Promote women’s leadership and participation in decision-making bodies within financial institutions and policy-making.

“Foster collaboration between government, private sector entities, and civil society organisations to leverage resources, expertise, and networks in advancing women’s economic opportunities.

“Enact and enforce laws that prohibit discrimination against women in access to finance and economic opportunities.

Awareness and Advocacy: Raise awareness and challenge gender norms through targeted campaigns and advocacy efforts to promote a more inclusive and equitable society.”