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In developing countries like Nigeria, gender disparity is a significant cause of the high unemployment rate. The labor force participation rate of women in Nigeria today is 48.4%, in comparison to men at 59.9%. Nigeria is a country where the population of women and men is almost at par, yet men have upper hands over women. So, the gender gap in paid labor keeps driving poverty.

Women constitute 60% of the poorest people in Nigeria. Out of 87 million people living in extreme poverty, 62 million are women. The COVID-19 pandemic, as well as structural and systemic limitations at household and country levels, keep restricting women and the economic growth of the nation.

Nigeria needs to address its slow economic growth via a feminist economy. A feminist economy emphasizes well-being for economic growth and will allow the removal of disparities along all the dimensions of gender. In Nigeria, gender equality and feminism have been seen as more of a moral issue than an economic issue. Yet, research, including the International Monetary Fund’s working paper on Gender Equality and Economic growth, shows that gender inequality and the marginalization of the female labor force have economic outcomes.

To achieve a 23% growth in Gross Domestic Product (GDP)  by 2025, a shift towards a feminist economy will be essential for Nigeria. Gender equality is an investment in sustainable macroeconomic growth by the government. When the government establishes a feminist economy, the overall human capital development index of the country will improve. Another valuable contribution of equality to the economy will be getting better terms of trade inclusive of women’s participation. Gender-specific provisions in trade agreements can create more job opportunities by increasing the competitiveness of women-owned businesses and giving them room to participate in regional and global trade.

The government must address gender-based violence, lack of education, girl child marriages, and female genital mutilation with greater seriousness as issues affecting women. Addressing these issues will result in having a more incredible pool of educated female labor force.  A gender-sensitive workforce must go hand in hand with policies that support gender parity in the labor market because even the small percentage of the educated female labor force still experience marginalization, seclusion, unequal pay, and inability to access the same benefits that men have in the labor force.

Households must also play a vital role in Nigeria’s journey into the feminist economy. Instead of spending hours on childcare, cooking, and cleaning, women need to be compensated with paid care work. Care work in Nigeria doesn’t have to remain unpaid. The 4th industrial revolution has created more spaces in the emerging labor sector for care workers. With the care work sector set to increase demand, Nigeria can get ahead of the boom by creating new opportunities in paid care work for both men and women. Care work policies should either reduce the hours women spend in unpaid care work by equating it with men’s or eliminate unpaid care by developing strategies to integrate well-paying care jobs into Nigerian societies.

The truth is a society that neglects feminist economics will continue to emphasize the well-being of a select few individuals while ignoring the socio-economic realities of the marginalized in low-income areas. Women in low-income areas continue to engage in activities that can only be termed drudgery. The acts of women fetching water and firewood rather than engaging in productive economic activities were part of the culture of an underdeveloped patriarchal world. The government can ensure that basic amenities are provided at the household level to eliminate unpaid care work.

A feminist economy will be a well-being economy where more value is placed on the vision of economic growth for the benefit of humanity rather than focusing on numbers as a predictor of growth.

Anna Suberu is a writing fellow at the African Liberty.

P.S. It was first published in  the Punch  newspapers.

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