Thursday, May 5, 2011

Changing the Feminine Face of Poverty in Nigeria: Challenges of Poverty Facing Women and BAOBAB’s Strategic Interventions - by Yewande Okoya

Seventy percent of those living in absolute poverty in our world - that is starving or on the edge of starvation - are female. All over the world, women and children are the mass of the poor and the poorest of the poor.

In Nigeria, as in many other developing countries, the new face of poverty is woman. This has become an economic phenomenon as the gap between women and men caught in the cycle of poverty has continued to widen in the past decade, a phenomenon commonly referred to as ‘the feminization of poverty’. This underscores the fact that where an issue affects (negatively) both man and woman, in most cases the woman suffers more than the man. In the situation of single parenting for instance, families headed by women are poorer compared with those headed by men.

In any society, women should play a central role in shaping future generations, physiologically, emotionally, morally, spiritually and intellectually, but when women are poor, they are not free and their choices are limited and so, are unable to perform this central role the failure of which has dire consequences for future generations.

The feminization of poverty has recently become a significant problem in Nigeria as in other developing countries with economics in transition as a short-term consequence of the process of political, economic and social transformation. In addition to economic factors, the rigidity of socially ascribed gender roles and women’s limited access to power, education, training and productive resources as well as other emerging factors that may lead to securities for families are responsible. Due to these gender roles, women are not given equal opportunity as the men to be educated and liberated economically because in some parts of society, educating a woman is seen as a waste of resources, since a man will marry her; the onus is on the man to take up responsibilities. Even in parts of society where education and economic empowerment are accepted and promoted, women are expected to perform majority of household chores and take sole responsibility of childcare even when both the male and female partners have full time jobs.

These stereotypes and socialization have continued to make women worldwide far more likely to be poorer than men. Men in particular and the nation as a whole, need to realize that this issue is not just a “women's issue" but it is is about your mother and your grandmother. It's about your sisters and it's about the future of your daughters and how to move this country forward because women make-up about 50% of the population and as such can not be ignored.

Challenges of Poverty and BAOBAB’s Interventions

1. Lack of access to good health care services. In this regards and essentially, BAOBAB for Women’s Human Rights believes strongly in the power of ‘empowering’. BAOBAB empowers women and girls through its Leadership Training by building their capacities as leaders where they (women) must allow improvement and be resourceful without depending on anyone’s wealth for daily sustenance.

2. Lack of access to information. – BAOBAB provides women with information in accessing economic and educational opportunities, as well as the autonomy needed to take advantage of such opportunities.

3. Lack of access to affordable Legal representation. The importance of training women and girls to be self dependent, resourceful sharing of relevant and useful information, providing women with skills, boosting their morale that gives confidence and self dependency for optimum achievement of goals and aspiration matters most to BAOBAB as we totally agree that they (women) should be shown how to fish rather than giving them fish.

4. Encountering difficulties as it relates to funds while making interventions relevant to women’s issues at the community level. Most non governmental organizations work on the larger base while some women groups work mainly at the community levels who are familiar with the issues on ground. BAOBAB’s 14 outreach team states functions primarily in this regard. Also, BAOBAB re-granted some amount of money received from the American World Jewish Service to some selected women groups for specific interventions in these communities. The idea of the re-grant was to basically fund women groups who could not access funds from funders that requires funding database which mostly leaves the issues on ground unattended to.

5. Domestication of women’s human rights instruments. BAOBAB continues to play and lead advocacy roles at the state, national, regional and international levels in ensuring the ratification, domestication, implementations (as the case may be) of instruments that attends to the concerns of women. BAOBAB played an active role in ensuring that Lagos State Government domesticated the violence against women bill. BAOBAB also coordinated the NGO CEDAW Coalition and produced a Shadow Report in response the Nigerian 6th Country Report to CEDAW.

What we can do

Women must be identified and situated as a specific target group in the national poverty eradication programmes. In this regard, funders, foundations and non governmental organisations should inculcate into its programme plan provisions for gender training for senior decision-makers to mainstream gender perspective into sectoral development planning.

Women’s NGOs and other organisations should ensure that Nigeria undertake legislative and administrative reforms to give women full and equal access to economic resources, including the right to inheritance and to ownership of land, as required in the Beijing Platform for Action.


1. Adidu, Paper Presentation on Feminization of Poverty in Nigeria,December 2005.

2. Callagham, Hamber and Takira; A Triad of Oppression – Violence, Women and Poverty: Center for the Study of Violence and Reconciliation.

3. Women and Poverty, FWCW Platform for Action, 2005

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