Women economic empowerment interventions in Enugu: How to fix what’s standing on the way

HAVING women enlisted into an Igwe’s cabinet in an Enugu community to provide them with leadership positions so that they can be part of the decision-making process was one of the success stories listed by a non-governmental organisation (NGO) working on health and women empowerment at its tenth anniversary, in 2006.

This is an instance of efforts by relevant stakeholders in Nigeria to achieve gender mainstreaming, so that gender concerns are reflected in policies. This is particularly important in a country where discrimination against women and girls exists.

In almost three decades that the NGO – Global Heath Awareness Research Foundation (GHARF) –  has been working on social development in the South-East, President Obioma Nwaorgu noted she has seen women and girls persistently making avoidable detrimental decisions due to a lack of economic empowerment. The professor said this drives the income generation training aspect of the organisation, which empowers women.

“Adolescent females will tell you I have this person sponsoring my education does this mean when he asks me for sex, I will have to say No? That shows there is a gap. We felt there is a need to economically empower them.”

“We found out that we can meet their needs when it comes to sexuality issues and their demands in terms of empowerment,” she said.

It’s been 16 years since GHARF’s tenth anniversary, and women still face challenges which include but are not limited to poor access to finance, ownership of the asset, and ability to take care of their basic life necessities.

Nigeria has an almost 50:50 male to female ratio. However, despite this population, 84 per cent of women in Nigeria earn less than their husbands, according to the 2018 National Demographic and Health Survey (DHS). The report also showed that men are more than three times more likely to own a house or land than women.

The Commissioner for Budget and Planning in Enugu State David Ugwunta, addressing a room of Women-led Women Economic Collectives (WECs) and Women Economic Empowerment (WEE) stakeholders, noted that women empowerment leads to generational empowerment.

“Women empowerment is key, and I can assure you the state government will do everything to ensure that programmes for women are implemented.

“If you train a woman, you train a generation, and if you empower a woman, you have also empowered a generation,” he said.

Achieving WEE requires deliberate, sustained actions and advocacy, which the Partnership for the Advancement of Women’s Economic Development (PAWED) seeks to do by strengthening the capacity of women’s economic collectives to conduct high-impact evidence-informed advocacy to improve the livelihood of economically active women and girls.

South Saharan Social Development Organisation (SSDO), Programme manager on good governance Nkem Awachie.

The PAWED project working with the South Saharan Social Development Organisation (SSDO) in the Southeast, officially inaugurated a coalition of Women-led CSOs and cooperatives in Enugu State.

This coalition, in one of its policy dialogues held in April, identified four factors militating against effective WEE implementation in the region, which are:

  • Low public awareness of existing economic empowerment schemes and opportunities;
  • Insufficient budgetary allocations for projects and policies that facilitate women’s economic empowerment;
  • Inadequate high-quality capacity-building schemes for women;
  • and Poor implementation of already existing WEE projects and policies.

In June, Ugwunta speaking on the militating factors, suggested planning WEE activities in line with budget lines to surmount the budgetary allocation funding challenge.

He said, “One thing I will encourage you to do is to see how you can look at activities targeted at economic women empowerment. I say this because when you talk about the budget. The budget is activity based. So, you cannot say we are providing 100 million for WEE. WEE in what? What are the activities that will drive this empowerment? What are the activities that this money will be spent on?”

Another solution he proffered to tackle funding and get the government involved is co-creating WEE targeted programmes with the government ministries.

“Go to relevant ministries and see how you can partner with them to implement the project,” he said, noting that if done adequately and in good time, such interventions can be captured in the budget.

The SSDO is actively championing government involvement around WEE interventions in the southeast. Its programme’s manager on good governance Nkem Awachie maintains that the advocacy and policy dialogue is yielding results.

“There’s been a recorded increase in the budget allocation for WEE projects and policies,” she said.

The budget allocation on WEE in Enugu between 2021 to 2022 saw a 266-percentage increase. In 2021 the allocation was 76.5 million and rose to 280 million in 2022.

This is the same for six of the seven PAWED focal states at the sub-national level. Edo, Kaduna, Kano, Kwara, Lagos and Enugu witnessed a budget increase ranging from 1,205 Kano to 23 per cent in Lagos. However, Bauchi has an 18.6 per cent decrease.

A screenshot of PAWED report on the 2022 budget analysis.

The Federal Government allocated N103 billion to 938 women’s economic empowerment projects at the national level in 2022. This funding commitment represents a significant shift from the 2021 WEE budgetary provision to N51 billion with 645 WEE projects. This represents a 101 per cent increase. There is an additional 293 WEE projects amounting to N52 billion, but are these project addressing women’s needs?

The GHARF president Nwaorgu said that one of the gaps identified is that some of these programmes which they noticed are already in existence in the ministries  “are carried out without the beneficiaries knowing or even benefiting from it”.

She suggested involving the CSOs in implementing WEE interventions can help mitigate the issue.

Meanwhile, the Director of the University of Nigeria, Nsukka (UNN) Gender and Development Centre Anthonia Achike, said having sufficient working knowledge of the budget by WEE stakeholders will help shape the advocacy to improve efficient government implementation of interventions as well as remove duplications.

Director of the University of Nigeria, Nsukka (UNN) Gender and Development Centre Anthonia Achike. 

During a budget analysis dialogue, she said they asked for the audited implemented budget report to enable them to make informed decisions on creating WEE activities.

“It’s not everything in the budget that is implemented; therefore, we asked to see the audited report from the account general to know what is on the ground and how to progress,” she said.

At another policy dialogue meeting in Enugu in June, an action plan was developed to combat the low public awareness of existing economic empowerment programmes and opportunities.

This issue was singled out because the government officials insist that there are already several economic empowerment opportunities across various ministries, departments and agencies, and advocating for new ones might lead to a duplication of efforts.

This, however, still poses a two-pronged challenge. There is no central database or an online resource where one can get more information on all these projects. In the same way, members of the public are largely unaware of these programmes and therefore cannot benefit from them.

Therefore the coalition set the goal to advocate to the government towards a raised public awareness of existing empowerment opportunities by doing the following:

  • Establishing a centralised online database where anyone can check for past and current economic empowerment opportunities.
  • Ensure that all economic empowerment programs are publicised on the radio to reach potential beneficiaries in rural areas.
  • Offer women in rural areas training to build their capacity to find and properly apply for economic empowerment opportunities.

A government official from the Ministry of Gender Affairs and Social Development Nwatu Uchenna, responding to claims that government does not support WEE interventions, said the misconception arises from not understanding the budget process.

He noted that the ministry cannot fund interventions outside its captured budget.

He said relevant CSOs and NGOs need to work with them from the budget preparation stage to capture such interventions.

In Enugu, the budget process starts with a call circular sent out to every ministry attached with a threshold, a legal adviser at the Ministry of State Economic Planning Committee in the state, Orjiokolo Genevieve Ifeoma, stated.

At this stage is when you bring your request to them, said the lawyer.

She said the activities in the request should be itemised in importance “towards actualising the mandate of the implementing ministries”.

Explaining why a considerable part of the WEE advocacy is directed at the government, the SSDO programme manager Nkem said it’s important to ensure that WEE is facilitated, not hindered by government policies and activities.

“They are the ones that make policies and are primarily responsible for citizens empowerment and service delivery,” she explained.

Enugu state 2021 vs 2022 WEE budget – Source PAWED report.

Although there has been an increase in many states on WEE funding across Nigeria, however a comparative analysis of the subnational 2022 WEE budgetary allocation by the PAWED showed that there is still a poor prioritisation of WEE funding as none of the PAWED focal states allocated up to one per cent of the capital budget to WEE project in 2021. However, there are WEE-related programmes in many other states empowerment projects across the MDAs.

    The lack of a central database militating against effective WEE implementation in Enugu is also experienced at the national level as the report states, “Several States are implementing WEE and there were no known efforts available in each of the states to coordinate these WEE programmes. While the Ministry of Agriculture is implementing its WEE budget, the Ministry of Enterprises, Ministry for Finance, Ministry of Women Affairs, etc. are also implementing theirs. This is prone to corruption and the same set of people are capable of benefiting all times, leaving a large number of others without access.”

    Other challenges include lack of details of WEE beneficiaries, Duplication of WEE budget lines, Lack of availability of WEE project reports and Poor monitoring and evaluation culture.

    Coordination of WEE-related projects in each state by the inter-ministerial, inter-departmental and inter-agency collaboration to ensure effective implementation of WEE can prevent duplications and ensure a centralised database, the report suggests.

    This report is supported by the development Research and Project Centre as part of its journalist covering women and women’s economic empowerment fellowship.

    Bamas Victoria is a multimedia journalist resident in Nigeria.

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