The national debate around enhancing government and private sector’s efforts at lifting Nigerian women entrepreneurs competitiveness and productivity to an acceptable global minima has continued without let at least in the last two decades.
The massive traction it had garnered among stakeholders can also not be divorced from their growing economic relevance and contributions to the country’s GDP over the years.
Arising from a consistent advocacy for gender equality and economic emancipation, governments and development finance partners are also no longer in any mood to ignore the catalytic roles women have been playing in national development hence the various moves to prioritise financial inclusion issues concerning them.
This is crucial because beyond making up a sizable proportion of the nation’s informal sector, and constituting over 60 percent of the economy working at farms, as factory hands in cottage industries and other family owned businesses that keep states and national economy bubbling, there is also an emerging innovative entrepreneurial class among women who are committed to breaking the glass ceiling in commerce, manufacturing and the service sectors of the economy.
Indeed, a 2017 Global Findex Database of the World Bank on women financial inclusion shows that Nigeria’s 38 percent women financial inclusion rate barely puts it directly behind Kenya, with over 78 percent , Namibia with about 72 percent and South Africa with 60 percent women inclusion
This then leaves no one in doubt about the urgency that government and development partners require to cast the current toga of passive attention being paid to this critical economic segment.
But beyond the usual rhetoric of African governments announcing bogus financial allocations to Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises (MSMEs) with strong women ownership and management, development theorists have never failed in their role of advocating the setting up of well -articulated framework for a better financial inclusion of women whose ingenuity has created lots of jobs and wealth in the communities where they operate.
On the back of such lofty considerations, some stakeholders only recently tagged the new Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) Framework for Advancing Women’s Financial Inclusion in Nigeria, a timely intervention by government to prioritise its agenda for increasing financial inclusion and support for women in business.
In the accompanying guidelines, the apex bank said it has reserved 60percent of its N220 billion Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises Development Fund for women entrepreneurs.
It also added that 2 percent of the wholesale component of the fund would be given to economically active persons that are living with disabilities and with 10 percent reserved for start-up businesses.
More-so, as part of strategies to fulfill the provisions of section 4.2 (iv) of the policy, which stipulates that women’s access to financial services be increased by at least 15percent annually to eliminate gender disparity, 60percent of the Fund has been earmarked for providing financial services to women.”
Many who have followed the current policy trajectory particularly since the COVID-19 pandemic believe that it was as part of the initiatives that the Monetary Policy Committee (MPC) headed by CBN governor, Mr Godwin Emefiele, at its last meeting cut the benchmark interest rate by 100 basis point from 12.5 per cent to 11.5 per cent.
The Framework, developed in conjunction with the Financial Inclusion Special Interventions Working Group (FISIWG), Enhancing Financial Innovation and Access (EFInA), and Women’s World Banking (WWB), gave much recognition to gender-related financial inclusion issues, while making some far -reaching recommendations for addressing the high exclusion rates among women in Nigeria. It equally canvasses the building of a culture that raises the usage of financial services by women across Nigeria in a more sustainable manner to deepen their inclusion levels.
However, one key concern of stakeholders in this raging discourse centres around the extent the Framework can go in addressing the many barriers women face on the road to accessing financial services, including other broader economic and societal issues around actionable, implementable, and trackable plans within the financial services sector.
Commenting on some of the reasons why Nigeria women entrepreneurs have remained largely financially excluded despite government’s efforts at changing the narrative, Lolade Oresanwo, Chief Operating Officer ofWestAfricaENRG, argued that a general notion that it’s a man’s world remains partly responsible for women entrepreneurs being financially excluded, stressing that lack of respect for feminine gender has added more to this gap.
While admitting that most women have not proven themselves to be hard working enough to be entrusted with huge financial responsibilities, Oresanwo said “It’s not just about the Nigerian women entrepreneur issue, it’s a global challenge. If you look at 50500, how many women are CEOs of the 50500 companies.”
“Even at the board level at international companies, they still don’t trust women to be at the helms of affairs. “How many women are presidents, and prime ministers. Also commenting, Martha Omoekpen Alade, founder, Women in Technology in Nigeria(WITIN) said “The financial exclusion gap in Nigeria is widened by a large percentage every year because most women are into informal trade and access to technology remains a big challenge.”
“There is a huge gender gap in financial access in Nigeria. Women face difficulty when seeking financial support, as the odds are usually against them and when compared to the men they are largely financially excluded.”
Income and education levels of most women and confidence in financial services are some of the factors limiting their access.
These coupled with location or residence play a part since women residing in the north and rural areas are likely to be more excluded than their counterparts in the South living in urban areas.
“There are also cultural and religious issues that cause financial exclusion for Nigerian women which need to be addressed through deliberate policies by government to increase their access to financial services.” She said
But according to the Lagos Chairman of Nigeria Association of Small Scale Industrialists (NASSI), Gertrude Akhimen, the large concentration of Nigerian Women Entrepreneurs in the MSME space equally limits them to managing small businesses that generate turnovers of less than N25million per annum. This makes it difficult for them to generate enough funds to grow the businesses and create wealth on a sustainable basis, thus affecting their ability to acquire property and participate in politics.
She believes that the CBN, the government and other development finance institutions can help women entrepreneurs bridge a gaping business management skills gap that makes it difficult for their businesses to grow exponentially.
Quoting late United Nations Secretary General Mr Kofi Anan, she said “There is no tool for developing a nation greater than the empowerment of women.“
According to her “NASSI has always been an advocate of women empowerment. We believe that if women are given concessions in all government’s intervention programmes for entrepreneurs, they will grow their businesses.”
This was as she called on governments at all levels to enforce the issue of land titles by making it easier for women to acquire properties, stressing that various policies created by government to increase women’s entrepreneurs access to bigger credit failed because of the stringent conditions attached to them including lack of property rights as collateral and the demand for husband’s assent before being eligible for loans.
“We recommend that Business Membership Organisation should be empowered to identify and train women entrepreneurs so that these funds can reach as many businesses as soon as possible without being diverted to other areas.
For her part, President of NACCIMA, Hajiya Saratu Iya-Aliyu, said the association has since advocated that women should access 40 percent of the survival funds for MSMEs.
She said “The initial stimulus package has since been followed by the Economic Sustainability Plan of N2.3trillion. “We have taken due note of the various programmes and projects under the Economic Sustainability Plan and various Stimulus Packages recently unveiled. This includes the N50billion survival fund for MSME and N15billion Guaranteed Offtake Scheme to save 500,000 jobs”.
Notably, under this intervention, 40 percent of the Funds would be reserved for Women-Owned businesses and it is encouraging that it has been indicated that the Private Sector will play an important role in rejuvenating the economy through these intervention schemes.
Adducing reasons for women’s financial exclusion and failure to turn government policy funds into advantages, Mrs. Blessing Irabor, Presidents, Organisation of Women in International Trade, Nigeria (OWIT) blamed, “Low financial literacy and awareness among women; stringent eligibility criteria which tend to exclude a lot of the women from accessing existing opportunities for financial support including high interest rates. Other limitations she listed include low levels of participation by women in the development of guidelines for accessing credit support; large numbers of women entrepreneurs engaged in cottage industries as many of the existing support guidelines exclude such level of business from accessing their funds among others.
Similarly, Director General of the Nigeria Employers Consultative Association (NECA), Timothy Olawale, blamed lack of critical information among vast majority of women in the rural areas on steps to accessing to financial services available in the social media and other modes of communication including television, and newspapers.
According to him, this is attributable to limited participation of Female Gender based Associations in policy formulation processes which is also part of the reason for the perception of the women that the funds are meant for a “chosen few” who know the people in Government thus discouraging majority from applying.
“Informality of majority of female-owned businesses which makes it difficult for them to operate business accounts which would have enabled financial institution to capture their demographics and create products specifically to facilitate their business growth: Limited access to material resources like property and credit and even have been bereft of resources like education, market data, and trendy technology: Lack of Technological and managerial know how which discourages them from taking advantage of external funds that would have expanded their businesses: “Sometimes they have mobility constraints that make it difficult to engage with financial institutions as well as fear of taking risks which largely determines the success of entrepreneurial activities. Often, men are seen with risk -taking attitude than women entrepreneurs,” he said.
The NECA boss said it was in an effort to encourage women entrepreneurs that it formed a women group, known as NECA’s Network of Entrepreneurial Women (NNEW) to create more public awareness of government’s incentives through Women Focused Business Associations.
“Furthermore, deliberate efforts should be made to take the information to the rural areas so that Business Membership Associations, not individual, should be invited to be part of the policy formation process,” he said.
Olawale also stressed the need to encourage more women to formalise their businesses to take advantage of the large bouquet of products and services offered by financial institutions adding that education and Businesses Training should be intentionally targeted at the girl child and female entrepreneurs freely or at a token fee by Government or Business Associations.
The recent judgement that allows Igbo women to inherit family assets is a step in the right direction. Culture should also encourage women to take risks and be financially independent
“Women should be encouraged to form and join cooperatives to give them access to loans and support while Financial institutions should develop women friendly products and services.”
Meanwhile, the National Coordinator of the Association of Nigeria Women Business Network (ANWBN), Mrs. Anita Nana Okuribido, said women groups are now ready to lend their voice to the ongoing constitution review by the National Assembly.
She said women are gradually coming to terms with the problem of lack of finance, hence her Association was already planning to have a Women’s Empowerment Fund in its proposed seminar.
“I am sure that the speakers we would have from Central Bank, commercial banks and other financial institutions would show us the roadmap on how to create and manage our own ANWBN empowerment fund. In governance, women inclusion and a lot of policy framework would need to be reviewed and by the time we get talking, the expectation would be so high that ANWBN would be promised the 35 percent Affirmative Action for women, at all levels of governance.”