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1 INTRODUCTION

In all African societies, Women have been looked upon as lower creatures. Our

tradition favour men against Women. Women are not seen as individuals who have their own

mind. For many years, Women have assumed one imposed role after another- slave, sex

object for relaxation at will, bearer of children, cook and servant of the family.

In Nigeria, Women were supposed to pursue their feminine roles of child-bearing and

home making. Even after Nigeria attained independence it did not change the negative

perception of Women. Women were not considered capable of handling any administrative

post. They should stay at home while their men think for them.

The struggle for the empowerment of Women did not start in recent times. It has for

the past centuries been in existence. Although neo-colonialists and those who believe in the

white man’s superiority have attributed the origin of Women liberation movement to the USA

claiming that the movement was gingered by the American Civil Rights Movement which was

emulated by other countries particularly the third world countries, It is however pertinent to

note that the move for the empowerment of Women had its foothold and impulse in the

primary societies taking into cognizance the relentless efforts of Deborah who directed a war

against the Canaanites the enemies of God. And the Israelites and came out victoriously.

For the majority of women, continuing obstacles have hindered their ability to achieve

economic autonomy and to ensure sustainable livelihoods for themselves and their

dependants. Women are active in a variety of economic areas, which they often combine,

ranging from wage labour and subsistence farming and fishing, to the informal sector.

However, legal and customary barriers to ownership of or means of access to land, natural

resources, capital, credit, technology and other means of production, as well as wage

differentials, contribute to impeding the economic progress of women.

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1.2 ORGANISATION OF THE PAPER

This paper work is divided into four sections. The first section is the Introduction. This

is followed by the second section which is the definition of women empowerment. The Third

section talks about the problems and obstacle that inhibits the empowerment of Women. The

last section deals with the conclusion and recommendation on how the factors that inhibits

Women empowerment would be eliminated.

2.1 DEFINITION AND MEANING OF EMPOWERMENT

As a general definition, however, we suggest that empowerment is a multi-

dimensional social process that helps people gain control over their own lives. It is a process

that fosters power (that is, the capacity to implement) in people, for use in their own lives,

their communities, and in their society, by acting on issues that they define as important.

We suggest that three components of our definition are basic to any understanding of

empowerment. Empowerment is multi-dimensional, social, and a process. It is multi-

dimensional in that it occurs within sociological, psychological, economic, and other

dimensions. Empowerment also occurs at various levels, such as individual, group, and

community.

Empowerment, by definition, is a social process, since it occurs in relationship to

others. Empowerment is a process that is similar to a path or journey, one that develops as

we work through it. Other aspects of empowerment may vary according to the specific

context and people involved, but these remain constant. In addition, one important

implication of this definition of empowerment is that the individual and community are

fundamentally connected.

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2.2 UNDERSTANDING GENDER EQUALITY & WOMEN'S EMPOWERMENT

Gender equality implies a society in which Women and men enjoy the same

opportunities, outcomes, rights and obligations in all spheres of life. Equality between men

and Women exists when both sexes are able to share equally in the distribution of power and

influence; have equal opportunities for financial independence through work or through

setting up businesses; enjoy equal access to education and the opportunity to develop

personal ambitions. A critical aspect of promoting gender equality is the empowerment of

Women, with a focus on identifying and redressing power imbalances and giving Women

more autonomy to manage their own lives. Women's empowerment is vital to sustainable

development and the realization of human rights for all.

Despite many international agreements affirming their human rights, Women are still

much more likely than men to be poor, malnourished and illiterate. They usually have less

access than men to medical care, property ownership, credit, training and employment. They

are far less likely than men to be politically active and far more likely to be victims of

domestic violence.

The ability of Women to control their own fertility is absolutely fundamental to

Women’s empowerment and equality. When a woman can plan her family, she can plan the

rest of her life. When she is healthy, she can be more productive. And when her reproductive

rights—including the right to plan her family in terms of birth timing and spacing, and to make

decisions regarding reproduction free of discrimination, coercion and violence—are promoted

and protected, she has freedom to participate more fully and equally in society.

Where Women’s status is low, family size tends to be large, which makes it more difficult for

families to thrive. Population and development and reproductive health programmes are

more effective when they address the educational opportunities, status and empowerment of

Women. When Women are empowered, whole families benefit, and these benefits often

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have ripple effects to future generations.

The roles that men and Women play in society are not biologically determined -- they

are socially determined, changing and changeable. Although they may be justified as being

required by culture or religion, these roles vary widely by locality and change over time.

United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) has found that applying culturally sensitive

approaches can be key to advancing Women’s rights while respecting different forms of

social organization.

Addressing Women’s issues also requires recognizing that Women are a diverse

group, in the roles they play as well as in characteristics such as age, social status, urban or

rural orientation and educational attainment. Although Women may have many interests in

common, the fabric of their lives and the choices available to them may vary widely. UNFPA

seeks to identify groups of Women who are most marginalized and vulnerable (Women

refugees, for example, or those who are heads of households or living in extreme poverty),

so that interventions address their specific needs and concerns. This task is related to the

critical need for sex-disaggregated data and UNFPA helps countries build capacity in this

area.

While the reasons for any particular woman’s powerlessness (or power) are many and

varied, considering Women per se necessarily involves questioning what we/they have in

common in this respect. The common factor is that, as Women, they are all constrained by

“the norms, beliefs, customs and values through which societies differentiate between

Women and men” (Kabeer 2000, 22). The specific ways in which this operates vary culturally

and over time. In one situation it might reveal itself in Women’s lower incomes relative to

men, in another it might be seen in the relative survival rates of girl and boy children and in a

third by severe restrictions on Women’s mobility. Virtually everywhere it can be seen in

domestic violence, male-dominated decision for a Women’s inferior access to assets of many

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kinds.

A woman’s level of empowerment will vary, sometimes enormously, according to other

criteria such as her class or caste, ethnicity, relative wealth, age, family position etc and any

analysis of Women’s power or lack of it must appreciate these other contributory dimensions.

Nevertheless, focusing on the empowerment of Women as a group requires an analysis of

gender relations i.e. the ways in which power relations between the sexes are constructed

and maintained.

Since gender relations vary both geographically and over time they always have to be

investigated in context. It also follows that they are not immutable. At the same time

particular manifestations of gender relations are often fiercely defended and regarded as

“natural” or God-given. While many development interventions involve challenges to existing

power relations it tends to be those which challenge power relations between men and

Women which are most strongly contested.

3.0 OBSTACLES TO WOMEN EMPOWERMENT:

Women Entrepreneurs and Their Problems

Since the social environment restricts Women’s role within the household they are

mostly involved in home base industries such as, food processing, garments hosiery and

crafts. However, these industries are either progressively dying due to competition from

imported products or being replaced by organized formal units. On the one hand, the

displacement of traditional crafts by light industry is causing the replacement of female

workers by male laborers (Rana and Shah, 1989). On the other, Women are being converted

into wage laborers in such specialized sectors as the carpet industry. Women have been

functioning as managers, supervisors, entrepreneurs, and even skilled worker in home based

craft enterprises. As industrial activities become increasingly externalized, however, both

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male as well as female workers lose control over the production process and become trans-

formed into wage labor. In this process, Women are affected more since newly emerging

organized industries need not only more capital but also lay stress on more educated and

mobile laborers. The managerial class in these industries, which is dominated by the indo-

Aryan and westernized conceptions of gender specialization, reinforces their own biases in

hiring and firing.

Further a few Women who remain proprietors face serve problems of lack of capital,

access to institutional credit, lack of access to marketing network, marketing information,

appropriate business training and education. Other constraints include limited access to

modern management methods and technology; and high cost of production leading to

uncompetitive pricing. They also lack self-confidence and risk taking and staying capacity as

they have access to very little capital and may face numerous family problems in their

enterprise.

 Women’s priority is family

Traditional gender roles make Women primarily responsible for children’s upbringing and

home maintenance tasks. Women are expected to focus their lives on taking care of their

families to the detriment, or exclusion, of other concerns. Boys are given priority for

schooling over girls whom, it is assumed, will later be provided for by husbands. As adults,

Women are expected to care for children, spouses, parents and relatives. They are

responsible for keeping the family together. Their involvement in community, church, social

and political organizations is deemed secondary to obligations at home and the demands of

earning a living. But today Women’s earnings are considered essential, rather than

supplemental, to the family income. The reality is that Women are no longer confined to the

domestic sphere. Their space has expanded: they are regular bread-winners who actively

engage in community, church and other social activities.

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 Women are not qualified to take on leadership positions

Since Women are excluded from leadership roles, they are deprived of opportunities for

leadership skills training. Girls have fewer chances for schooling and opportunities are

drastically limited for them to develop skills and talents in the public sphere. They are

praised for obedience and subservience, implicitly dissuading them from aspirations to

leadership. Higher education is a privilege many Women do not enjoy. They are passed up

for training opportunities at work because it is not cost efficient to invest in Women who may

give up work anytime for the sake of family. Domestic responsibilities make it difficult for

Women to go for training or further studies because they simply do not have the requisite

hours for study.

 Illiteracy

The issues of women have been viewed differently in social relations including

economic activities. This has formed a barrier even when democratic movements have

sought to extend the base of participation of women. It will be fallacious to assume that the

problems of Nigerian women have been totally solved through the various emancipation

initiatives (Beijing conference 1975; 1985; 1995, International decade of women, Strategy for

the Acceleration of Girls Education etc) or through the collaborative efforts of the various

Government and Non-governmental Organisations. Certain inequalities and segregations,

which have been established over the ages and reinforced through the male-dominated

structures still persist inspire of the various instruments of the United Nations and the

concerted efforts of the federal government and a number of NGOs on alleviating women

discrimination. Without gainsaying, illiteracy remains at the centre of women empowerment

problems in Nigeria. Majority of the Womenfolk and a large number of girls in this country are

still grappling with the problems of basic reading and writing skills (UNICEF 2003). The gross

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enrolment rate indicated that 71% of out-of-school children are girls. According to ARFOL

(2000) the literacy rate for males is 58% but only 41% for females. The Human Development

Report 2002 published by the United Nations development programme puts the statistics of

illiterate women at 57% as against male’s 43%. As seemingly insignificant as this difference

may appear, it is completely unacceptable, if the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs)

must be achieved. In Nigeria, girls and women comprise about 49.69% (SAPA 1993) of the

total population. Incidentally, about 61percent of the total female population are reported to

be illiterates as against 37.7 percent illiterate male population. Women are discriminated

against in access to education for social and economic reasons. For instance, the Islamic

practice of Purdah precludes many women from benefiting from school instructions and/or

participating in economic activities, which are likely to elevate their positions. The most

egregious segregation is probably the prevention of girls to go to school in some

communities. This has probably led to the greatest social harm of the twentieth century,

when a whole group of females were denied access to education, on the basis of gender

differences. There is palpably a deluge of problems besetting the Nigerian women, but all of

them arise from illiteracy. This suggests therefore that a large part of the empowerment

process is associated with education of them themselves. The root of the problem is the

degree of importance women themselves have attached to education. Many of them believe

that the life of a successful woman revolves around her children, her husband and domestic

chores. This lack of personal ambition prevents her from thinking about pursuing other

educational goals, which may have great influence on her life. In the case of the working

Women in the cities, there had been a gradual predilection to abandon further training

because of the demands work and family as well as the huge costs associated with pursuing

higher studies in conventional school system or universities

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 Political Empowerment

Throughout much of the world, Women’s equality is undermined by historical imbalances in

decision-making power and access to resources, rights, and entitlements for Women. Either

by law or by custom, Women in many countries still lack rights to:

Own land and to inherit property

• Obtain access to credit

• Attend and stay in school

• Earn income and move up in their work, free from job discrimination

Moreover, Women are still widely under-represented in decision-making at all levels, in the

household and in the public sphere.

Addressing these inequities through laws and public policy is a way of formalizing the goal of

gender equality. Legal changes, which most countries have now implemented, are often a

necessary step to institute gender equality, but not necessarily sufficient to create lasting

changes. Addressing the gaps between what the law proscribes and what actually occurs

often requires broad, integrated campaigns.

 Law and legal inequalities

The law is an instrument of control, which promotes or inhibits access to resources and

regulates social, economic and political relationships. But in West Africa, the problem

pertaining to Women vis-à-vis the law centres on four key issues:

- The laws themselves tend to be discriminatory, greatly limiting the rights of Women

- The application of the law tends to be arbitrary or prejudiced to Women

- Women tend to be unaware of their own legal rights or the meaning of the law in practice.

- Women have no access to the process of law for economic reasons or they lack the
confidence to take action

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Violence Against Women

Violence against Women is a human rights violation of her body and her right as a

person. Yet it has been experienced by all categories of Women. Violence has been broadly

defined as "an action or policy or an altitude that causes bodily or mental injury and debases

or dehumanises a person". Violence against Women regardless of the nature of the

perpetrator whether –an individual, group, institution, state or society is a human rights

violation and must be treated as such. The following are the most endemic forms of violence

against Women in West Africa; wife beating, indecent assault, rape, defilement of girls by

threats, sexual harassment, intimidation in order to have unlawful carnal knowledge of them.

In Gambia, the criminal law forbids violence and lays down penalties for offences ranging

from assault to murder as well as rape however, prosecutions for violence against Women is

the lowest in the country's legal history. It is evident that some District Chiefs who are also

judges encourage violence against Women. A district Chief once made a statement that, "if a

wife reports to her family that she is being maltreated by her husband, they should tell her to

go back to her husband and obey. If she refuses to return, she should be beaten and

certainly not encouraged to take further action."

While more Women's advocacy groups and movements have emerged to fight for the

cause of Women, they are not making much progress because of certain impediments such

as; split in goals, directions and analysis of Women's situation in different countries, lack of

mobilization at the grass roots level and above all lack of financial support to carry out large

scale and sustained projects for the promotion and protection of Women's rights

 Stereotyped positions open to Women

Women in the leadership hierarchy of governments, the private sector, political parties, trade

unions and social movements are often in positions that are an extension of their roles in the

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private sphere. The positions of secretary, treasurer, public relations officer, or person-in-

charge of logistical support echo the care-giving and home maintenance functions

traditionally ascribed to Women. Premised on the assumption that housework is of inferior

value to paid work, assigning Women to quasi-domestic roles in the public sphere

strengthens the stereotype that they are suited for lesser responsibilities.

 Access to Resources

Women’s access to land and property is derived through her marriage relationship. A married

woman has no right in her parental property. She gets an equal share in the husband’s

property together with her son, if she remains faithful to him and his clan. This is server’s

limitation on Women’s access to all productive assets.

Marriage becomes the overwhelming factor determining all her life options. This reinforced

by all round social norms and legal structures, every thing else is secondary to marriage.

Single Women, even with many children are not given land in resettlement areas, even if

such households may be among the poorest of the poor. They may not claim any tenancy

rights. Although many husbands may keep property in the name of wives, such Women may

not make any transaction in the property without the consent of her husband and sons, etc.

This limitation is not applied to husbands and the sons. Households get access to community

resources such as forests through household heads who are usually men. Women may have

the derived user rights as long as her husband does not abandon her. When a husband

brings another wife and leaves her, which is constantly recurring even in the Nepalese social

milieu, she looses all access to community property as well. Such processes are hard to

capture by data, since no data are collected on polygamy. It is illegal to have more than one

wife, but Women get no property on divorce and so an access to resources. Two major

indicators of such inequality are access to credit and increasing involvement of Women in

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commercial sex work for survival.

 Access to Credit

It has been discussed widely that Women’s access to credit is limited because both formal

and informal credit institutions are geared to funding property owners. All formal credit

institutions seek tangible collateral from loan and Women are effectively sidelined from

institutional credit since Women have little access to the inherited property. The village

moneylenders are also interested more in earning high interest or acquiring the debtor’s

property rather than financing people in need.

Women’s access to institutional credit is further restricted by their confinement to household

activities and lower level of awareness and educational attainment. As such they are more

prone to fall prey to the exploitative conditions of the village moneylenders than their male

counter-parts. Nepal Rural Credit Review Study (NRCRS) by Nepal Rastra Bank in 1991/92

revealed that of the total female headed sample households almost 35% had borrowed from

one or the other sources compared to 39% male headed households. However, among the

borrowing female headed households only 15.4% had borrowed from institutional sources

such as Agricultural Development Bank and Commercial Banks and 84 % had borrowed

from non-institutional sources. Access to institutional credit in one of the major stumbling

blocks for Women entrepreneurs in all sectors including agriculture. Almost 40 percent had

borrowed from moneylenders.

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CONCLUSION

Generation after generation, women have evolved from being ordinary helpers to

breadwinners. On the international scene, we cannot help but mention some notable

women who have excelled in various areas of endeavour.

The history of Nigerian women over the years indicated that they have suffered and

still continue to absorb all forms of indignities through laws mainly made by men to

protect themselves and maintain their grip on the women folk.

The emerging ubiquitous role of women in world affairs is very rich in experiences

form which we can find insight and even solutions to our present-day seemingly

intractable political, economic and domestic problems.

It is believed that our women have the ability and the capacity to improve on their

present state. This is because over the years, women have come to develop more

skills and acquire more education compared to their male counterpart. Today we have

lots of more women who are educated. When we come to the political scene,

remember those women were fighting for women emancipation and so they really

have to be in the forefront. Today, what are the women doing? It is no longer about

emancipation it is about achievement.

In spite of these shining examples, it is not yet “uhuru” for the Nigerian Women as

there is still need to empower more women as well as eradicate all forms of gender

inequality form the society.

The creation of the Ministry of Women Affairs and Social Development is a step in the

right direction. Women should therefore take advantage of the opportunities created

by the existence of the ministry to be more relevant than they are now. This could be

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achieved through the promotion and protection of the rights and privileges of women

folk in Nigeria. They should sponsor legislations against all forms of female abuse,

and initiate far reaching reforms on all issues that will improve their well-being. There

could be no better time than now.

4.1 RECOMMENDATIONS

Women's economic dependence and, often, lack of rights to property or access to finance

have long crippled their ability to take care of themselves and their families. We therefore

recommend that steps be taken to:

• Promote women's economic rights and independence, including access to

employment, appropriate working conditions and control over economic resources;

• Facilitate women's equal access to resources, credit employment, markets and trade;

• Provide business services, training and access to markets, information and

technology, particularly to low-income women;

• Strengthen women's economic capacity and commercial networks;

• Eliminate occupational segregation and all forms of employment discrimination.

• Access of Women to business skill –training and entrepreneurship development to

help them run their own business.

• The adoption of appropriate steps by enterprises, institutions and government to

ensure that employees are aware of obligations and rights, including those stemming

from equal employment laws where applicable.

• Mentoring for Women to provide advice and develop their professional skills.

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REFERENCES

1 www.unfpa.org/intercenter/beijing/economy.htm

2. United Nations, (1965). Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action. 1995:par.
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3. Bisnath, S. (2001) Globalization, poverty and women’s empowerment. United


Nations Division of the Advancement of Women [Online]
http://www.un.org/womenwatch/daw/csw/empower/documents/Bisnath-EP3.pdf
[accessed 30 October 2003]

4. Oti Patience O (1982) The Woman Factor in the Nigerian Polity Chap iv

5. Nepal Rural Credit Review Study (NRCRS) Nepal Rastra Bank in 1991/92

6. www.tojde.anadolu.edu.tr/tojde21/articles/felix.htm

7. www.unicef.org/about/execboard/files/GENDER-2.pdf

8. Women National Development , Business Day Newspaper, May 8, 2006,


(sub- pg 1)

9. www.nepaldemocracy.org/gender/women_economy.htm

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