The women of Adeke community in Benue State will forever be grateful to Dorothy Akende for spearheading a project that installed ten grinding machines in the community, empowered ten women and improved the productivity of 3000.

Before the grinding machines came, the women of Adeke, who are predominantly farmers, used to spend 1-2 hours daily and over 11,000 hours cumulatively per month crushing maize, millet and beans to flour using the local grinding stone, something that can take about 3 minutes with a grinding machine.

This is just one of many challenges women face every day that reduces their productivity. For the women of Adeke community, it was grinding staple foods with stone. For another, it could be a lack of access to credit loans to support their business. For another, it could be a lack of adequate maternal and childcare facilities.

When we talk about improving women’s productivity, we are not referring to setting up a hedge fund for women (though that wouldn’t be a bad idea) or donating bags of salt and rice to them.

Rather we are talking about enacting policies legislatures and putting up social infrastructures, facilities and amenities that will improve the overall wellbeing of women to enable them to become productive in their business and professional pursuits.

Challenges that hamper rural women’s productivity and its ripple economic effects

Lack of access to productive resources

Agriculture is the mainstay of rural livelihood in production, processing, sales, and consumption. According to data from UN Women, rural women constitute a greater percentage of the agricultural workforce in Sub-Saharan Africa, about 60%. However, these women don’t have equal access to productive resources like fertilizers, feed, livestock, improved seed varieties, credit loans, mechanical equipment, extension services and agricultural education as their male counterparts.

Having access to these resources could empower these women to increase agricultural yields by 20 to 30 per cent, accumulating from 2.5 to 4 per cent of aggregate agricultural produce in developing nations, drastically reducing the population of hungry people in the world by 100 to 150 million. In relatable terms, this means healthier families, well-nourished children and less nutrition-deficiency diseases.

Limiting inheritance and family laws

How do we even start talking about access to productive resources when most women cannot even have land to their name? Across different ethnic and cultural groups in Nigeria, women do not have the right to own properties, and they are not even considered eligible for inheritance in their own families. If they are widows, they are usually not entitled to any inheritance, except in the case of a written will and/or court marriage. Even when they decide to buy landed properties for themselves, they are obliged to put it under their husbands’ names.

Rural women are the most affected by this cultural belief because they are less educated, less exposed, less informed and less empowered to insist on their rights. As a result, most rural women work on their family farm without pay and, most times, have no say as to how the proceeds of the farm are spent. This makes the women financially dependent on their husbands and economically handicapped.

Absence of enabling infrastructures and facilities

In Africa, it is an established norm that women are homemakers and caregivers. Women carry more of the reproductive, domestic and care burdens in their families. In fact, they are raised with that consciousness. But what is more sad is that they spend productive time carrying out these culturally assigned roles due to poor infrastructure and services. In rural communities, women trek to distant forests to fetch firewood for cooking, fetch water from faraway streams and spend substantial time in household work, childcare and reproductive duty to their husbands. These activities cut deep into their time, leaving little or no time for academic, business or professional pursuits.

Those who find time to get a job usually settle for less demanding and professionally less rewarding jobs to meet up with their daily obligations at home. As a result, the women don’t go far or dare for bigger stakes in their career/profession. The job is usually a means to supplement family income; no career prospects, no fulfilment, no substantial reward.

Restricted access to education

Illiteracy is a pandemic that limits and undermines the potential of any individual. Women, especially rural women, are the worst hit by this pandemic. And no, the illiteracy is not attributed to the lack of schools in the rural community; if that were the case, we would have equal stats of illiterate rural men and women. The illiteracy is predicated upon the patriarchal norm that a man preserves the name of a family, but a woman can be married off at any time. As a result, you find many families, especially in northern Nigerian, reluctant to send their girls to school, and even when they do, they don’t go beyond secondary education.

And this continues to be the case despite infallible evidence that educating the girl-child increases their options in life, helps them make better life choices, empowers them to pursue their dreams, increases their earning potential, attracts educated and informed spouses that won’t abuse them, and emboldens them to insist on their rights.

The benefits of educating the girl-child have broader and longer-term implications for families, communities and the world. Research has shown that a woman’s education is pivotal in determining whether her children will survive past the first five years of life. Educated women are equipped to support their families better financially and emotionally whilst contributing to a balanced and thriving society through their participation across the different sectors of society.

What to Do

Grassroots initiatives to erode the patriarchal systems

It is impossible to empower women without touching on the cultural and religious belief systems that treat women as second class citizens. To combat these limiting belief systems, grassroots initiatives should be launched in communities involving key stakeholders like religious organisations, social institutions, and government at their basest level.

At the fundamental level, parents should be educated that no gender is superior to the other; therefore, their children, whether male or female, deserve equal treatment and equal access to education and opportunities. There should be no gender roles in executing chores in the homes. Boys should be raised to see their female counterparts as equals, to treat them with respect and relate with them first as individuals. Parents should raise girls to aspire for more in life than marriage, to relate with their male counterparts as equals and challenge status quo that discriminate against them.

Provision of basic infrastructures

Putting up infrastructures like boreholes and taps, electricity, good road networks, grinding machines, toilet facilities etc., will go a long way in reducing the time women spend using local means to achieve these things. It will allow them to have more time for their farm work, business, job or even education whilst carrying out their culturally imposed duties.

Involving women in policy-making

It won’t be easy to draft policies that will ensure the well-being of women in society if women are not duly represented at the decision-making table. Therefore, it is imperative to involve more women in enacting legislation and policies at all levels of government; local, state and federal. This will ensure that adequate attention is drawn to the needs of women, and these needs are addressed from the women’s perspective with sustainable solutions.

Equal access to productive resources

Rural women should have equal access to credit facilities, improved seed variables, feed, livestock, mechanised equipment, extension services, and everything their male counterparts enjoy, making their farm work easier and more productive. The government should supervise stakeholders involved in the distribution to ensure gender parity is observed.

Pro-women policies that encourage equal rights to inheritance and properties

Policies that ensure women have equal rights to family inheritance and properties as their male counterparts should be enacted and enforced, especially at the grassroots level. Widows should be allowed to retain the right to the properties of their deceased husbands. Rural women should be allowed the right to buy and own properties in their own names.

Improve Her Productivity project is a 3-day skill development project for girls and women in Semi-rural and Urban Nigeria. Girls and women are trained in soft and hard skills to improve productivity. Skill development contributes to structural transformation and economic growth by enhancing the employability and labour productivity of women and girls in their communities.

Join us to improve the productivity of women and girls in your community.

To become a Grassroots Development Champion (GDC) click here.

To partner with us in setting up social infrastructures and facilities that will improve the productivity of women and girls, click here.


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