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Innovations and Gender Equality- The Truth about Leaving No Woman Behind

“No one is free until we are all free”. This quote by Dr. Martin Luther King couldn’t be truer as it concerns innovations as an enabler of gender equality and equity in Nigeria.

Few days ago, a friend who understood my passion for democratizing innovation for women- not only from urban/peri-urban areas but most especially women in rural and remote areas shared with me a brief analysis of the top eight trends of digital transformation in 2021 by Vala Afshar, a renowned digital evangelist. Trailing the first trend (the digital-ready culture) is Democratization of Innovation.

Why is this important? Why it is pertinent that innovations are understood and made accessible for all, particularly rural women? One might ask.
Innovations as we know could be relative. It can be simple or complex depending on the challenge presented. Innovations could be as simple as any idea or activity that makes one’s life/livelihood better, faster and significantly productive. While there have been some misconceptions on innovations in Nigeria and what it stands to achieve under the premise of women empowerment; it is important to note that the concept of innovations has been around for countless centuries and is largely responsible for the present globalization we enjoy now. Right from the days of coal industrialization to the dingy days of computerization to the present widespread digitization; innovations have always been leveraged to make peoples’ lives better.

What is particularly new is the ability of developing countries such as Nigeria to strategically leverage innovations as a platform to improving the agency of women and bring about substantial and revolutionary women economic empowerment. According to National Bureau of Statistics, 70% of poor Nigerians are women (mostly in rural areas) with little or no access to basic social amenities, financial services (digital inclusion). It is popularly known that poverty is feminized in Nigeria due to institutional barriers such as influencing patriarchal culture that seldom invalidates women’s access to lands, property, inheritance and markets. Most of these cultural nuances are prevalent in rural communities, hence limiting the potential of women living in these areas.

The 2018 EFInA Access to Finance Survey in Nigeria shows that the national financial inclusion rate was 58.9% of women compared with 67.4% of men, leaving a gender gap of 8.5%. The gap is particularly grave in rural areas: 24% of women in rural areas register ownership of formal accounts as opposed to 54% of men. Nigerian men are considerably more likely to save in a bank, 25.8% of men ;16.3% of women. Women are likely to save with informal mechanisms only 21.9% of women and 15.1% of men. Women particularly in rural areas are less integrated into the digital world. While women have access to mobile phones in Nigeria; there is a significant gender gap with 35% of women as opposed to 50% of men according to 2019 GSMA data.

This urgently calls for a strategic re-thinking of how development programmes and CSR initiatives are implemented for women in rural communities. The days of ‘give me fish to eat’ are long gone, now posterity demands of all the stakeholders to integrate a multi-dimensional approach to how women social programmes are designed and implemented in Nigeria. Innovations, inarguably remains one of the creative legs in the multi-pronged approach.
According to International Center for Research on Women (ICRW), “Innovations can benefit women simply by improving their well-being in terms of health, nutrition, income and even life span. Beyond these, innovations can lead to women empowerment, securing freedom and resources for women to make decisions, build confidence and act in their interests”.

These innovations for women in rural communities in Nigeria should be focused on increasing their use of technology; influencing/changing negative social norms and creating a sustainable economic resilience against shocks such as COVID-19. Until this is achieved in Nigeria, we are barely scratching the surface of women empowerment.
In the context of this piece, urban women in Nigeria have managed to leapfrog right into the awesomeness of digitization by leveraging social media and e-commerce to grow their enterprises and advance their careers. None of these development strides could be shared as testimonies by rural women who still save using informal methods; sell their produces for pittances; do not have access to a ready market and do not have any digital footprint.

There ought to be a strategic consolidation of innovations for women in rural communities. Innovations such as a more integrative digital identification onboarding for rural women; this will ensure that these women have unrestricted access to credit, savings and digital footprint. Innovations including increased access to markets – digital and physical to mitigate wastage and innovations that make their livelihoods scalable and sustainable.
In the commemoration of this year’s International Women’s Day, it is important for all stakeholders including the government, private sector, development agencies to actively begin to task innovations as a major platform of meeting the needs of rural women in Nigeria.
It will not just serve these women, but it also makes a good business case for Nigeria.

This article originally appeared in Business Day in February, 2021

Tolulope Babajide is a driven development professional with expertise in multi-sector partnerships, innovations and gender inclusion.
She has extensive experience of building partnerships for social impact rooted in core business practices as well as championing innovative practices for communities and women which will cascade into sustainable economic empowerment in Nigeria.