Investing in Women: A Human Rights Issue

Image by ASphotofamily on Freepik

By

Bonie Malla and Chinonso Ihuoma

Date Published

March 8, 2024

Category

Global

‘Human Rights’ is a term coined to represent the set of entitlements and privileges that every human being is qualified for by right according to law and nature. It basically means that every human being has the same inherent rights and freedom from birth, unless under special circumstances that evolve around health and criminal convictions. The concept of human rights has not always existed in the context in which it is generally understood in the 21st century. The first documented origin of human rights is traced to the Cyrus Cylinder, a clay tablet with some inscriptions from Cyrus the Great of Persia stating the rights of his freed slaves. Some of the rights include the right to live freely in their homes and the right to a religion of their choice.

Before human rights became a popular and widely used term, other terms existed. One such term was the ‘rights of man', formally called the French Declaration on the Rights of Man and Citizen of 1789. This was adopted during the French Revolution and was originally designed to represent the rights of all individuals. However, in practice, the application of this policy was often limited, as women's rights were not fully recognized or protected to the same extent as men's rights. For example, women were not allowed to vote, hold public office, or join political organizations. 

The United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), introduced on December 12, 1948, is the document that contains the fundamental human rights that are supposed to be universally guaranteed for every human around the world, regardless of their race, sex, nationality, ethnicity, language, religion, or any other status. However, despite the provisions of this policy, women’s rights remain threatened in virtually every part of the world. Also, many aspects of the UDHR have been gendered to the detriment of women, and this has led to a series of calls by institutions like the United Nations, the African Union, the World Health Organisation, the European Union, Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, and National Geographic, among others, to individuals, institutions, and nations/countries to see women’s rights as human rights. These advocacies also encourage every individual and organization to work assiduously towards the promotion of human rights without any form of gender bias or prejudice. 

In contemporary times, gender equality remains the largest barrier to human rights. According to the World Bank, the percentage of women in the world is 49.7%. Thus, women's rights issues are issues that impact approximately half of the global population. Yet, despite global efforts to promote human rights, women continue to experience violence, discrimination, and exclusion from education, politics, and other sectors of the economy. The United Nations (UN) reports that women around the world are paid 23% less than men, makeup only 22.8% of Cabinet Ministers, occupy only 26.5% of parliamentary seats, and are more likely to be illiterate, impoverished, and hungry. This affects their overall personal and collective development.

Investing in Women's Rights in Nigeria

The UN recognizes the impact of gender on human rights and also acknowledges that human rights are women’s rights. To ensure the relevance of gender issues to human rights, several conferences were held and treaties and conventions introduced, which aimed at encouraging individuals, the private sector, and public institutions to invest in women and to streamline gender in their affairs. One of the most popular conventions was the 1979 Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW), also known as the International Bill of Rights for Women.

Investing in women is a matter of common sense as much as justice. Research shows that women's empowerment leads to economic growth, social development, and environmental sustainability. For example, the World Bank projects that by eliminating the gender gap in the workforce, the long-run gross domestic product (GDP) per capita would be almost 20% higher. Likewise, the McKinsey Global Institute notes that by 2025, increasing women's equality would boost the world economy by $12 trillion. According to UN Women, more women participating in decision-making can result in more inclusive and successful policies on health, education, and climate change. The question is: how has Nigeria fared in this regard?

Nigeria has partnered with international organizations like the International Labour Organization (ILO), the World Bank, Women in Global Health (WGH), and the United Nations to promote women’s well-being. However, a strategic way for Nigeria to invest in women will be by investing in young girls through the following focal points: investing in pubescent girls to delay early marriage and childbearing, increasing their education possibilities, and then investing in women to improve their employment opportunities and potential earnings. 

According to the global gender gap report of 2023, Nigeria was among the least-performing countries on the economic opportunity and participation score sheet, occupying the 130th out of 146th position. According to a survey by Girls Not Brides, about 12.3% and 30.3% of the girls in Nigeria get married before the ages of 15 and 18, respectively. 

In education, female children are still underrepresented. A survey by the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) shows that 7.6 million girls are out of school in NigeriaB, most of whom are from the northern region. 3.9 million in primary school and 3.7 million in junior secondary school. Also, only about 9% of girls from poor homes stand a chance of going to secondary school.

In the business sphere, 40% of micro, small, and medium enterprises (MSMEs) are owned by women. However, in the corporate world, women still struggle to match their counterparts. Although women occupy a 50:50 position in the corporate world, female representation dwindles as they progress to the top. For example, out of the 24 commercial banks in the country, only 9 are headed by women. Also, women have to struggle to break socio-cultural barriers that limit their optimum performance in the formal sector. 

These situations prevalent in Nigeria have led to a series of advocacy campaigns on women's issues as an avenue to address the plight of women. However, investing in women remains a multifaceted strategy that stretches beyond monetary contributions and campaigns. It means creating an atmosphere in which women are given equal chances in terms of healthcare, work, education, and leadership positions. Over the years since the UDHR was introduced, efforts have been made to promote and defend the rights of women globally, but it's not enough. This feat clearly cannot be a solitary one. Through genuine cooperation between governments, NGOs, businesses, and individuals, investment in women’s issues can surge, and its impact can be amplified. 

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Disclaimer: This information in this article is NOT investment advice. It is intended for information and entertainment purposes only.

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