Uncovering hidden cost of gender non-responsive budgets for rural women

Rural communities represent the heart of Nigeria’s cultural and economic life, however, beneath the vibrant tapestry of these communities lies a pervasive issue that continues to undermine their development: gender non-responsive budgets. These fiscal policies, which fail to account for specific needs and contributions of women, impose significant hidden costs that exacerbate gender inequalities and stifle progress, ENE OSHABA writes.

Twenty eight year old mother of two, Aisha Ibrahim, from Dukpa village in Gwagwalada, found herself surrounded by her children on this fateful day, unable to provide even a single meal. The gnawing hunger was a constant companion, starkly highlighting their precarious existence.

In villages like Dukpa, many families struggle with extreme poverty, unable to afford even the most basic necessities.

According to the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS), about 40 per cent of Nigerians live below the poverty line, with rural areas being the hardest hit.

The plight of these women is a testament to the failure of the nation’s budgets to address their dire needs.

Aisha’s story vividly illustrates the severe impact of gender non-responsive budgets on women and girls. After losing her husband, Aisha, a stay-at-home mother of two with another child on the way, can barely provide for her family.

Without a sustainable income or support, she struggles to afford basic necessities, including birth supplies and nutritious meals. Her situation highlights the critical need for gender-sensitive financial planning.

Similarly, 31-year-old Ruth Bulus, a pregnant woman from Kaduna state residing in Dobi, after Paso in the Gwagwalada Area Council, described her harrowing journeys on treacherous roads with no guarantee of reaching healthcare in time during her labour.

Healthcare is a luxury many in these communities cannot afford. Medical facilities are sparse and often located in the urban centers of area councils, leaving the rural populations in a desperate lurch.

“When illness strikes, they face the grim reality of inadequate medical support, often having to lay on empty bunks in ill-equipped health centers,” lamented Hadiza Gana Mohammed, founder of the Hina Gana Foundation.

She noted that most women in grassroots communities lack the basic necessities for childbirth.

Unlike in other countries where the government covers costs for pregnant women and newborns, Nigeria’s budget does not provide such support. Women must pay for all delivery-related expenses or face humiliation from healthcare workers and a dysfunctional primary healthcare system.

Only charity organisations or compassionate Nigerians step in to assist impoverished pregnant women, leaving many others to rely solely on prayer for a safe delivery. This situation contributes to increased mortality rates.

“The core intervention areas of my foundation is to feed street children, take them off the streets and enroll them into schools, but during one of my outreaches I witnessed a pregnant woman die while giving birth.

“There were no gloves, pads, or delivery kits available. From that day forward, I resolved to support pregnant women because no woman deserves to die during childbirth.

“It is unfortunate that many struggling parents continue to have more children, despite lacking the resources to raise them. However, not all pregnant women who give birth are unable to care for their children”, she argued.

“During my recent programme, where I provided delivery kits to 100 pregnant women, I discovered that many had lost their husbands, and others faced hardships due to various issues affecting their spouses. In today’s society, everyone is feeling the strain; we are surviving by the grace of God.

“When someone struggling to make ends meet gets married, the husband often desires a child, hoping the child might have a better future. While we can provide assistance, we cannot prevent pregnancies from happening,” said Mohammed.

Every pregnant woman’s journey is unique, fraught with distinct challenges that require specialized care. Yet, in these rural outposts, special needs are often ignored. Women with critical conditions like breech pregnancies or those requiring surgical interventions suffer immensely due to a lack of awareness and access to medical consultation.

“The absence of proper antenatal care and facilities means that many give birth at home, risking their lives and those of their babies in a country where like Nigeria where government exits,” she added.

Unseen burdens on rural women

Women in Nigeria’s rural areas are indispensable to their communities. They are the backbone of agriculture, the stewards of their households, and vital contributors to local economies.

Despite their crucial roles, gender non-responsive budgets mean that these women are often overlooked in the allocation of public resources, resulting in a cascade of adverse effects that perpetuate their marginalisation.

Executive Director, Centre for Gender Economics in Africa, Uche Idoko, in her reaction noted that the lack of gender responsiveness in budgets has serious consequences, especially for women in rural areas, stressing that it is essential for governments to address these disparities and recognize the economic contribution of women in rural communities.

“From the additional burdens of unpaid care work to the time and resources spent on basic needs like water, these hidden costs are significant.

“It’s alarming how gender non-responsiveness impacts rural women, particularly in terms of the hidden costs they bear. From the extra burden of unpaid care work to the time and resources spent on basic necessities like water, it’s clear that these issues need urgent attention. Governments must recognise the economic contribution of women and ensure budgets address these gender disparities effectively.

“Uncovering the hidden cost of gender non-responsive budgets for women in rural communities in Nigeria means: “what will be the cost if women in rural communities are not budgeted for, on the other way round, if there are no gender non-responsive budgeting, providing for women in rural communities what would the cost be,” she queried.

Idoko, who said gender non-responsive budgeting is about budgeting to close the gender gaps that exits, regretted that there are long existing gender gaps in rural communities such as daycare work, fetching water, taking care of children and the elderly, food processing among others.

“If government do not budget to provide pipe born water for instance that is closer home, women will be taking two-three hours to go down stream fetch water, shower children, cook and time has gone so they cannot earn any form of livelihood because fetching water has taken all their time and in turn government loses their contributions to the GDP because if there was water closer home she will fetch easily and move on to sell her wares or do other businesses and contribute to the GDP, to the household.

“Without her contributions the country is losing, without her contribution to household the rate of poverty, sickness, hunger, lack of education increases which at the end of the day falls back on the government to take care of such epidemics,” she noted. 

Health care as neglected necessity

Access to health care remains a significant challenge for women in rural Nigeria. Gender non-responsive budgets often result in inadequate funding for essential health services, particularly those related to maternal and reproductive health.

This lack of support leads to high maternal mortality rates, untreated health issues, and limited access to family planning services. For instance, Nigeria accounts for a disproportionate share of global maternal deaths, many of which could be prevented with better-funded and targeted healthcare services.

The hidden costs of this neglect are staggering. Women suffering from preventable health issues are less able to contribute economically and socially to their communities. Their diminished health affects their families and, by extension, the broader community, leading to a cycle of poverty and underdevelopment.

Women and children, the lifeblood of any community, bear the brunt of inadequate health and education systems.

The narrative of their struggles is one that must be heard, understood, and addressed with urgency and empathy.

Idoko shared the harrowing story of a security guard in Lagos who recently lost his wife. She was forced to travel back to her village to give birth to their twins so that both her mother and mother-in-law could take good care of her since it was her first pregnancy.

The celebration of her joyous delivery of two baby girls was tragically short-lived. She began hemorrhaging and, without immediate access to medical care, she bled to death. 

“Her village, like many others, has only one primary healthcare center serving multiple communities, often lacking basic medical supplies, doctors, and even functioning facilities. The journey to these centers is long and treacherous, especially at night. The women in these areas often rely on traditional birth attendants, a risky practice when complications arise,” narrated Idoko.

Continuing, Idoko said this story was not isolated. It’s a stark representation of the reality for many women in Nigeria. They are tasked with the divine responsibility of bringing life into the world, yet they do so in environments that are perilously unsafe.

“Gender-responsive budgeting in the health sector could change this. By allocating resources specifically to address the unique health needs of women and children, we could see a significant reduction in maternal and infant mortality rates.

“However, the current state of healthcare infrastructure fails them, leaving a trail of preventable deaths and shattered families,” she lamented. 

… Education too

The inadequacies extend beyond health. Education, another fundamental right, is severely compromised in many Nigerian communities even though it is a critical pathway to empowerment, yet girls in rural Nigeria face numerous obstacles in accessing it.

Gender non-responsive budgets often mean that schools lack the necessary infrastructure and resources to support female students. This includes the absence of separate toilets, inadequate sanitary supplies, and a lack of programs addressing the specific needs of girls.

The dropout rate among girls in rural areas is alarmingly high, particularly once they reach puberty. The hidden cost of this educational disparity is the loss of potential. Girls who are unable to complete their education are less likely to secure employment, start businesses, or participate in governance, thereby limiting their ability to contribute to their communities’ economic and social development.

Children, eager to learn, are often left without the necessary tools and environment to succeed. Schools, where they exist, are in deplorable conditions. Some children sit on the floor due to a lack of desks; others are taught by a single teacher responsible for hundreds of students. In the rainy season, many schools are inaccessible, and flooding can halt education altogether.

The result is a generation of illiterate adults who struggle to break the cycle of poverty and contribute meaningfully to society.

The ripple effects of this neglect are profound. Illiteracy fuels insecurity and stunts economic growth. Communities are left vulnerable, breeding grounds for disease due to poor sanitation and lack of clean water.

Open defecation is rampant, and refuse dumps are common sights even near the capital, Abuja. These conditions create a fertile ground for epidemics, further straining an already overburdened healthcare system.

“The government’s inaction is costly, not just in human lives but in long-term socio-economic development. Investing in gender-responsive health and education is not just a moral imperative; it is a strategic necessity.

“Women, children, and the elderly, the most vulnerable members of our society, deserve better. They deserve primary healthcare centers within a reasonable distance, equipped with essential medicines and staffed by qualified healthcare professionals. They deserve schools with adequate facilities and teachers to nurture their minds,” she added.

She further noted that transportation and infrastructure, too, need urgent attention, stating that in many communities, the elderly and disabled are trapped in their homes, cut off from the world due to inaccessible roads and lack of public transport. This isolation breeds depression and a sense of hopelessness.

“Gender-responsive budgeting is more than just a policy; it’s a lifeline. It’s about recognising that women, children, and the marginalised have specific needs that must be met to create a just and equitable society.

“It’s about ensuring that every child has the opportunity to learn in a safe and supportive environment, that every woman can give birth without fearing for her life, and that the elderly can live out their days with dignity,” she added 

Agriculture, environmental challenges

Agriculture, on the other hand, is the primary livelihood for many in rural Nigeria, with women playing a significant role in this sector. However, gender non-responsive budgets often fail to provide women with equal access to resources such as land, credit, training, and agricultural inputs. This lack of support restricts their productivity and economic potential.

The rainy season brings another layer of hardship. Homes in these villages are often makeshift structures, vulnerable to flooding and collapse. The government’s neglect is palpable, with local leaders failing to address the basic infrastructural needs. These environmental challenges exacerbate the already dire living conditions, leaving families in perpetual distress.

According to Idoko, “the hidden cost of these inequities is profound. Economically, it results in lower productivity and reduced household incomes.

“Socially, it entrenches traditional gender roles and limits women’s autonomy. Environmentally, it can lead to less sustainable farming practices, as women, given the right support, often adopt more eco-friendly methods.”

Urgent need for gender-responsive budgets

To address these hidden costs, Idoko said Nigeria must adopt gender-responsive budgeting (GRB).

According to her, GRB involves the analysis of budget allocations and expenditures through a gender lens, ensuring that the needs and contributions of both women and men are equitably addressed.

“Implementing GRB in Nigeria’s rural communities would mean prioritising funding for women-specific health services, ensuring schools have adequate facilities for girls, and providing equal access to agricultural resources.

“Moreover, it involves actively engaging women in the budgeting process to ensure their voices and needs are considered. Nigeria’s fiscal policies, particularly in relation to gender-responsive budgeting (GRB), have significant implications for women in rural communities.

“Gender non-responsive budgets (GNRB) often exacerbate existing inequalities and hinder the progress of women, particularly in underserved rural areas,” she stated.

She explained that GNRB refers to budgets that do not take into account the different impacts of fiscal policies on men and women. This lack of consideration often leads to the reinforcement of gender inequalities.

Similarly, she noted that the fiscal policies are designed to allocate financial resources to various sectors of the economy, with the aim of promoting growth and development. She, however, said these policies often lack a gender-responsive approach, which fails to address the specific needs and challenges faced by women, especially those in rural areas.

Success stories, path forward

There are promising examples from other regions and countries where GRB has made a significant impact. In Rwanda, for instance, GRB has promoted gender equality in agriculture, resulting in increased productivity and improved livelihoods for rural women. Adapting such approaches in Nigeria could yield similar benefits.

The journey towards gender-responsive budgeting in Nigeria is challenging but imperative. It requires political will, community engagement, and a commitment to gender equality.

However, the rewards are immense, a future where women in rural communities can thrive, contribute, and lead without the invisible chains of an inequitable fiscal system holding them back.

Uncovering and addressing the hidden costs of gender non-responsive budgets is not merely a matter of fairness; it is crucial for building resilient and prosperous rural communities. It is a step towards a Nigeria where every woman, regardless of her geographic location, has the opportunity to reach her full potential and contribute to the nation’s development.

The Centre for Gender Economics in Africa recommended capacity building and training government officials and stakeholders on the importance and implementation of GRB, as well as data collection that will improve the collection and analysis of gender-disaggregated data to inform policy decisions.

Call to action

Experts have maintained that the time for action is now as the push for gender-responsive budgets that prioritise the needs of rural women cannot be overemphasised.

Local government leaders are tasked to extend their humanitarian efforts beyond the urban centers to the hinterlands where the real victims reside.

It is crucial to establish well-equipped health centers in these villages, provide transportation for medical emergencies, and ensure that every woman receives the care and attention she deserves.

Women and children are crying out for help, their voices echoing through the neglected corners of the nation. They deserve more than just survival; they deserve dignity, respect, and the right to a better life. 

“Addressing the hidden costs of gender non-responsive budgets is crucial for promoting gender equality and enhancing the well-being of women in rural communities in Nigeria.

“Implementing gender-responsive budgeting can ensure that fiscal policies equitably address the needs of all citizens, leading to more inclusive and sustainable development,” Idoko stressed.