“Without Us, there is no them. They Dance with Our Strength”

… highlights from the NBA-SBL webinar to celebrate International Women’s Month

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The Nigerian Bar Association Section on Business Law in its webinar themed, “Financial Feminism: Health, Agriculture and Tech from the Female Perspective” highlighted female voices in these sectors to mark International Women’s Month.  Yemi Aderibigbe, Chairperson, NBA-SBL Young Lawyers’ Committee in her introductory remarks acknowledged the diversity of the panel that included Amina Salihu, Senior Program Officer, MacArthur Foundation; Tokunbo Ishmael, Co-Founder and Managing Director, Alitheia Capital; Ndidi Nwuneli, Co-Founder, Sahel Consulting; Temi Awogboro, Executive Director, Evercare Hospital; Nkemdilim Begho, Director and CEO, Future Software Resources, and Mosunmola Umoru, Founder and CEO, Farmshoppe. The panel was moderated by Ozofu Ogiemudia, General Secretary of the Council, NBA-SBL.

Thereafter, Ayuli Jemide, Chairperson of the NBA-SBL and Lead Partner, Detail Commercial Solicitors gave his opening remarks. He noted that this is the first webinar of its kind under the auspices of the NBA-SBL. “Whenever, I think of gender-balance and women in business or government, my mind goes to the history books and I recall the Aba Women’s Riot in 1929,” Jemide said. Briefly summarizing that the riot came about because Captain Tim Cook choosing to increase the taxes on women after increasing the tax on the men a year before. The women seeing that this tax will drive many of their market women out of business, and seriously disrupt the supply of food and non-perishables to the populace, carried out a protest for over a two- month period.

“The effect of the women’s riot prompted the British administration to drop off the plans to impose taxes on market women. It also cut the powers of the warrant chiefs. In addition, the women in society got appointments to serve as warrant chiefs. History has it that, this particular uprising is the first major challenge to British authority in Nigeria, and West Africa, during the colonial period. So, the point is that women actually set the stage for the battles for independence and while we do not remember their names, we remember what they sand for…. I must say loudly and unequivocally that true role models are those who stand for something, and are known for what they stand for, and an inspiration to others because of what they stand for.”

He added that the women on the panel were specifically invited for this event because they are known for what they stand for: Amina Salihu- a policy driver; Ndidi Nwuneli – Educating people in people leadership, ethics and civics; Temi Awogboro – investments that tackle global challenges; Tokunbo Ishmael– seed cultivator and incubator; Nkem Begho – serial entrepreneur, and Mosunmola Umoru – mentorship.

The discussion began with a question posed to Ishmael on where she sees opportunities for the growth of female businesses. Ishmael noted that women tend to gravitate to certain sectors, such as agriculture and education. However, those sectors which largely contribute to solving issues of inclusion in society, such as access to education, quality healthcare, and finance are largely overlooked.

“Oftentimes, we see that women are set within a certain comfort zone and are content to work with lifestyle businesses and we often have to come in to help women think about how they raise their aspirations, within those sectors because they’re making an impact. What we want to do is change the narrative that female-led businesses are always micro, nothing wrong with micro, but we want to fund and support women to create Amazons that scale on the continent. We also think about how we can help them take advantage of opportunities in those sectors, take advantage of the digital revolution and the African Free Trade Agreement (AFCFTA).”

Saliu advised women who hope to begin a career, particularly in male-dominated sectors, to strip off socio-cultural restraints,

“A lot of the time the thing that holds women back is not women themselves. It is the socialization that tells a woman, “A Good Woman does not do that. Why do you want to go to import-export business?”. Or a man comes and says, “I am the head of your family and I tell you this is what you have to do.”  So, women need to recognize the fact that we can be all of this, – a business entity, a mother- with support.

She added that,

“It is important to have those conversations early, especially in Northern Nigeria, where only 1 of 4 girls will finish secondary school. Being able to have those conversations as a life circuit proposition helps to raise a generation that can respect their mothers, and still do more. Once you have that basis sorted out, skills for advocacy will be very, very important, because you can’t give them all the resources they need, but they can be taught how to locate them, and how to ask for them.”

Ogiemudia remarked that the Central Bank of Nigeria records that food prices have increased 20% in 2021 reflective of the nation’s high inflation rate and wonders what this means for women in the sector. Nwuneli sees this as a mixed blessing – a crisis and an opportunity. She said,

“Women bear the brunt of the home care and are responsible for making sure their children are fed. And this statistic, if you build on the fact that 57% of household income is spent on food, according to NBS, the highest in the world. And then you couple that with FAO data that says that 57% of households in Sub-Saharan Africa cannot afford a nutritious meal, and that Nigerian professors say up to 90% of Nigerians cannot afford a nutritious meal, we realize that many mothers are going hungry today so their children can eat, so that is a crisis. And in a crisis mothers sacrifice their own nutrition which contributes to high maternal mortality rate. But where there is a problem, there is an opportunity and there are

She highlighted four fundamental legal barriers to women’s rise in the agricultural sector:

“Across Nigeria, only 10% of the land is owned by women. Currently, the World Bank reports that female farmers produce 30% less than their male counterparts and this is due to access to land; the second is the financing gap, Women cannot meet several requirements because they don’t have access to collateral [via inheritance or by default in a marriage].; third, we have to close the training and innovation gap particularly, with extension workers; finally, most females in processing cannot move up the ladder, because the law says that women cannot work overnight in Nigeria except in health and hospitality. And because they can’t supervise on the floor, it is difficult to promote them to get leadership roles. This is a labour law that is discriminatory, it should be a woman’s decision to work where she wants to work.”

Umoru emphasized policy as a strong incentive for women’s participation in agriculture, adding that for such policy to be effective, it must accommodate the perspective of the various players in the sector, both public and private. She emphasized the need for changes in policy around female land ownership, security and education.

“Policy around land, and security is really impacting negatively on the productivity and growth of the agricultural sector. For example, my company acquired 750 hectares in Oyo LGA in 2019, and between 2019 and today we have had all sorts of challenges, accessing our investment project. Fairly recently that crisis broke up into headline news when the crisis between the headsman and Sunday Iboho became a real major war crisis in that community. Now, for safety reasons, we can’t go on the property till that issue is resolved. How then do we drive growth within a sector, when we can’t even access our project location? Also, support systems to educate rural farmers are crucial because they help with knowledge transfer especially with the adoption of technology in agriculture. If our farmers can’t leverage technology, we can’t make [significant] progress. So there is a huge need to incentivize people to people who can leverage technology and disseminate information to begin to work in that space. Thus, If we have the right policies in place, when fund managers like Alitheia Capital invest in the sector the impact will be felt.”

Awogboro, sees threefold opportunity for women in the Nigerian health sector,

“…the first is delivering care at scale. [when we] deliver care at scale we can use that scale to drive down the cost of care and address the underlying issue which is the ability to pay, making quality healthcare more accessible. The second opportunity is in medical tourism.  At least 1billion dollars leaves the country each year due to medical tourism, so providing options that attract the best in class is an opportunity. And finally, is the reversal in the brain drain, which is one of the reasons that you know the reasons that the sector has largely been underfunded.

She added that,

“Women are actually well-represented in the sector and account for 70% of the health services sector overall. They account for 28% of the physicians, 65% of nurses and are heavily concentrated in community health work. However, at the entry level, you have a large critical mass of representation, but it massively and significantly drops off, as you look to the leadership of those organizations, and if you don’t have women in those decision-making seats, there’s no one advocating for women at the most senior levels of the hospital organizations.”

Begho noted that a key factor shaped her journey as a woman in technology was that the gender roles biases were not part of her upbringing, and the equal opportunities for women in tech in Nigeria.

“I grew up in a household with a dad that was in technology, with three girls, who all work in tech now. We always had a computer in our home from when I was three years old, and the computer was not to play but to create and program. My mom was also very good with fixing things at home.”

On whether there are equal opportunities for women in technology in Nigeria she said,

“I think that there are equal opportunities, but it’s a question of if you’re ready to take on those opportunities. Only 19% of employees in big tech companies are female which is really small and when we look at programs like Andela, the number of women that apply for those programs is significantly lower than the number of men that apply for the programs. This is why even they only take 1% there’s already been a skew. There are many companies that have quotas for getting more women into technology and they are struggling because there’s not enough output from the technology talent pipeline that is female. What I’ve seen in Nigeria is that a lot of women sort of go in at that entry level, you have a lot of women graduating from university with degrees in computer science, but when they start working and can’t stay late because of family restrictions, this becomes a problem because the men who can pull all-nighters tend to have more visibility. So, women need to realise that they play a really big role in shifting the narrative about technology.”

In conclusion, it was generally agreed that while inequities exist in most sectors, there are opportunities for women who are willing to rise up and take on the challenge. Thereafter, Mrs. Fola Akande, Chief Counsel West Africa/Company Secretary delivered the vote of thanks.

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