Despite making up nearly half the population, Nigerian women continue to face systemic barriers that prevent them from reaching their full potential. However, empowering women economically and socially lifts up families, communities and the nation as a whole. There are tremendous opportunities to enact change that unlocks greater prosperity for Nigerian women and society.
The Importance of Women’s Empowerment
Investing in the empowerment of Nigerian women and girls has multiplying benefits that drive sustainable development. As women gain more opportunities, incomes and decision-making power, the impacts are far-reaching:
- Women reinvest incomes – Studies show earnings by women are more likely to go towards family needs like food, healthcare and education, reducing poverty.
- Increased workforce participation – Access to education and opportunities allows more women to productively participate in the formal workforce.
- Business creation – Empowered women launch new enterprises, creating jobs and growth.
Health and Education
- Child mortality falls – Children are more likely to survive and thrive when mothers control household income and decisions.
- More girls in school – Girls’ education levels improve when mothers earn and attain higher education themselves.
- Women adopt eco-friendly practices – Women are more likely to use sustainable farming techniques, conserve forests and manage water efficiently.
- Women gain political power – Economic and social empowerment enables more women to become leaders and influencers.
Clearly, efforts to empower Nigerian women create a better future for everyone.
Key Barriers Facing Nigerian Women
Despite progress in recent decades, Nigerian women still face steep obstacles in social, economic and political spheres. Understanding these barriers is crucial for enacting solutions. Major challenges include:
Discriminatory Laws and Norms
Outdated laws as well as cultural and religious customs limit women’s rights and freedoms. These include:
- Restrictions on land ownership – Just 2% of land titles belong to women .
- Barriers to obtaining credit – Only 35% of women have access compared to 61% of men .
- Early marriage – 43% of girls are married by age 18 .
- Inheritance inequality – Males are favoured for inheritance of property and assets .
- Political underrepresentation – Women make up just 6.6% of legislative seats in Nigeria .
Such discriminatory norms severely constrain women’s economic and social agency.
Limited Educational Opportunities
While improving, female educational enrollment still trails males at all levels:
- 29% of girls are not in primary school compared to 22% of boys .
- 24% of women have no formal education versus 11% of men .
Lack of education cuts off economic prospects and perpetuates the cycle of disempowerment.
Heavy Domestic Burdens
Nigerian women undertake some of the heaviest domestic workloads globally – averaging nearly 4 hours spent on chores daily . The drudgery of tasks like hauling water and fuelwood limits time for education or income-generating activities. Access to basic services through infrastructure can provide huge relief.
Restricted Job Options
Outside of agriculture, women are concentrated in lower-quality informal sector jobs with precarious incomes. They face barriers entering higher-paying roles in manufacturing, services and management. Tapping women’s skills in new sectors is vital.
Limited Access to Digital Technologies
Just 33% of Nigerian women use the Internet versus 53% of men . Bridging this digital divide is key to enabling access to information, education, financial services and economic opportunities.
Policy and Institutional Changes Needed
Tackling deep-rooted gender inequalities requires major reforms by policymakers and institutions. Strategic changes in the following areas can empower Nigerian women:
Reform Laws and Customs
- Set stronger legal minimum age of marriage at 18
- Outlaw harmful practices like genital mutilation
- Pass inheritance equality laws
- Strengthen land rights protections for women
Support Women’s Education
- Expand secondary school access – build more girl’s schools
- Increase scholarships and financial aid for girls
- Provide subsidized childcare to enable school attendance
- Recruit and train more female teachers
Improve Healthcare Access
- Increase funding for primary care clinics and health workers
- Expand national health insurance coverage for women
- Subsidize reproductive health services and education
- Target electrification and cooking gas efforts towards women
- Construct boreholes and wells to reduce water hauling
- Develop affordable transportation networks
Foster Women’s Entrepreneurship
- Create business incubators providing training and mentoring
- Expand microcredit programs directed at women-owned ventures
- Set procurement quotas from women’s enterprises
- Develop gender-sensitive business regulations
Promote Women in Leadership
- Implement diversity quotas for women political candidates
- Create leadership training and mentorship programs
- Celebrate women pioneers and role models in business/politics
With sustained efforts across sectors by government and civil society groups, Nigerian women can be empowered to reach their full potential.
Key Areas Where Women Are Making Progress
Despite obstacles, Nigerian women are making important strides in many areas that can be built upon:
Improving Educational Attainment
- Female primary school net attendance ratio rose from 64% in 2008 to 83% in 2018 .
- Women reaching higher education increased from 2% in 2003 to 12% in 2019 .
- 41% of Nigerian microenterprises are owned by women .
- Female entrepreneurs are moving into male-dominated sectors like tech and construction.
Increased Digital Connectivity
- Digital gender gap narrowed from 41% in 2013 to 20% in 2019 .
- More women gaining digital skills – opening income opportunities.
- Female state governors elected – Aisha Binani and Ifeanyi Okowa.
- More women political leaders like Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala  in prominent roles.
These areas of progress demonstrate Nigerian women’s capabilities when given the chance. Continued action and encouragement can achieve even greater breakthroughs.
Proven Ways to Empower Women
Many strategies and interventions have been successfully implemented to economically and socially empower Nigerian women. Scaling up these proven approaches can accelerate change:
Skills Training and Capacity Building
Targeted skills training enables women to move into better income opportunities and jobs:
- Vocational programs in areas like sewing, catering and hairdressing provide livelihoods. Organizations like the Nigerian Women Empowerment Program  offer such training.
- Digital literacy programs help women leverage technology for education, jobs and entrepreneurship. An example is Women Techsters  which has trained over 5,000 women.
- Business mentorship accelerates women entrepreneurs through groups like She Leads Africa .
Improving Access to Capital
Microfinance lending models extend small business credit access:
- Lendly  offers online microloans for Nigerian female entrepreneurs.
- First City Monument Bank  has special women’s banking services.
- Village Savings & Loans groups provide communal financing opportunities.
Lobbying for Legal Changes
Women’s advocacy is driving reforms to discriminatory laws:
- Groups like Education as a Vaccine  pushed to establish 18 as the legal marriage age.
- Women in Law and Development in Africa  advocates for passing women’s land rights legislation.
Digital tools are reducing barriers for women through platforms like:
- Smart Sisters  e-learning for girls.
- Lady Technologies  helping women launch tech careers.
- Maternal care apps like MomsConnect .
Women’s networks provide mentorship, empowerment and access to opportunities. Notable groups include:
- Professional women’s organization Leading Ladies Africa .
- The Nigerian Women’s Trust Fund  supporting women political candidates.
With collaboration between government, civil society and the private sector, targeted interventions like these can be scaled to transform the landscape for Nigerian women.
Industries Where Women Can Advance
In addition to traditional sectors like education and healthcare, Nigerian women can exploit opportunities in the following fast-growing fields:
- Coding, software development, UI/UX jobs.
- E-commerce selling and service roles.
- Digital marketing positions.
Logistics & Supply Chain
- Trucking, delivery and warehouse jobs.
- Coordination and inventory management roles.
- Solar product sales, installation and maintenance.
- Biomass production and distribution.
- Operating commercial farming operations.
- Agro-processing into value-added products.
- Electrical, plumbing and other specialized trades.
- Construction management positions.
With training and access, women can gain a stronger foothold in these lucrative industries to expand prosperity.
Global Best Practices for Women’s Empowerment
Nigeria can draw lessons from international successes in empowering women such as:
Bangladesh’s Grameen Bank 
Its pioneering microfinance model has dispersed over $17 billion in small loans to more than 9 million women, enabling entrepreneurship.
Rwanda’s Constitutional Mandates 
Laws require at least 30% of parliamentary seats be held by women, boosting political representation.
Canada’s Childcare System 
Heavily subsidized childcare has enabled nearly 80% of Canadian women to participate in the workforce.
Sweden’s Paid Family Leave 
Generous parental leave policies allow women to balance work and motherhood.
Adapting global best practices while tailoring to the local context can maximize women’s empowerment impacts.
The Future for Nigerian Women
While deeply entrenched gender inequalities exist, the future is bright for Nigerian women’s empowerment. Leaders across sectors must boldly accelerate women’s access to education, reproductive rights, digital connectivity, credit, infrastructure, political participation and economic opportunities.
With women constituting huge untapped potential, Nigeria stands to gain tremendously – economically and socially – by tearing down barriers holding women back.
Targeted policies and interventions to empower women and girls combined with public-private partnerships can ensure all Nigerian women have the chance to achieve their full potential and livelihoods. The entire nation will prosper.