Nigeria and 188 other countries signed and adopted the Beijing Declaration – an important global policy on gender equality, in 1995. The Beijing Declaration is widely regarded as the most ambitious blueprint for women empowerment and gender equality ever devised. Its agenda establishes strategic objectives and measures to advance women empowerment and gender equality in numerous concerning areas such as violence against women, education, and poverty eradication.
Examining Nigeria’s development toward gender equality over the last 26 years indicates some, albeit underwhelming, strides. According to the United Nations, women and girls, who account for more than half of the Nigerian population, do not have adequate access to or opportunities to reach their full potential. The marginalisation of women in economic development, social, and political spheres remains a global phenomenon, and it is exacerbated in underdeveloped nations. Despite the adoption of both international and domestic legislation such as the National Gender Policy of 2006, inequality persists in Nigeria due to a variety of cultural and structural obstacles. These factors have limited women’s engagement in all aspects of life, with far-reaching consequences for human resource development and, in turn, Nigeria’s economic development.
Nigeria is now widely known as the world’s poverty capital, with 92 million of its 200 million people living in extreme poverty, surpassing India (with a population of 1.3 billion). Even more disheartening is the fact that Northern Nigeria has a poverty average of 67.8 per cent and is comparatively higher than other regions in the country making it the country’s poverty capital.
The north is confronted with numerous issues ranging from education, poverty, insecurity, youth unemployment and gender disparity, culminating in its current underdevelopment. While these social tensions pose a problem across the country, it is particularly profound in Northern Nigeria. According to the national census done in 2006 and recent official estimates determined by the National Bureau of Statistics in 2016, Kano is the largest state by population in Nigeria. Kano State is the second-largest industrial centre after Lagos State in Nigeria and the largest in northern Nigeria with textile, tanning, footwear, enamelware, ceramics, furniture and other industries. Even though Kano has developed a diverse economy, establishing itself as a centre for industry and agriculture, it is not exempt from the social tensions mentioned earlier.
The state of education in Kano and the North, in general, is at a dearth, and the current approach to education is not affirmative enough to encourage young people to go to school as poverty and insurgency remain a pressing challenge. This development has rendered millions of young people from northern Nigeria uncompetitive in the labour market and robbed the region of the skilled human capital essential for its development. Government data from UNICEF also shows that only about 4 out of 10 girls in north-eLastern Nigeria attend primary school, mainly due to factors such as poverty and lack of access to opportunities.
According to the Global Gender Gap Report (WEF (World Economic Forum) 2015), gender equality, or the lack thereof, has significant economic and social implications. The Global Gender Gap Index ranks countries based on the calculated gender gap between men and women in four key areas: health, education, economy, and politics. Nigeria ranked 112th out of 145 nations in the Global Gender Gap Report, which found gender differences in reproductive health, empowerment, and labour market participation.
The Kano State government has, in recent times, made concerted efforts to reverse the worrisome trend of having a high number of its youthful population denied access to education and employment opportunities. However, it has become evident that a public-private partnership is needed to create an intervention that will foster positive change.
To this effect, The Coca-Cola Foundation, in partnership with Whitefield Foundation, launched a skill acquisition programme titled : Project EQUIP’ – to empower women and youth and integrate them into a growth trajectory that would create a positive effect on the society within which they live.
The company said the project is in line with the vision of enabling improved livelihoods for women, youth, families and surrounding communities and exemplifies its dedication to the cause as it supports Sustainable Development Goals targeting hunger, poverty, gender equality, decent work and sustained economic growth.
Women empowerment entails increased advocacy and meaningful participation in economic decision-making at all levels, from the household to international institutions. It also includes equal access to and control over productive resources, decent work, and control over their own time, lives, and bodies.
Saadia Madsbjerg, President, The Coca-Cola Foundation, put it succinctly, “Achieving equality and empowerment for women has broad ripple effects that positively affect society.”
Coca-Cola Nigeria is remedying the digital divide, which disproportionately affects the rural and underprivileged, by building a bridge of equality and connecting women and young people to quality education and opportunities. Women equality is one of the most effective ways to lift people and nations out of poverty, combat climate change, and contribute to the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals. Economies grow when more women work, and women empowerment promotes productivity, diversifies the economy, and improves income equality, among other positive development outcomes.”
She also added that the company has worked with numerous partners for decades to implement initiatives to provide business skills training, mentoring networks, financial services, and other assets to underserved communities.
According to her, Project EQUIP will transform 60,000 people into participating members of society, allowing for transformation and long-term economic growth, as well as a higher standard of living and quality of life.
In addition also, it would empower 60,000 women and youth across five key regions, most notably 20,000 in Kano. The initiative will take an integrative and hybrid approach to youth and women empowerment to teach transformative skills and knowledge, improve the standard of living in target communities, show and lead participants into new ways of economic recovery and growth.