Why is there a gender difference in Nigeria’s employment market?

In this blog by Deborah Sabinus for the #MakeEducationWork campaign, the young creator discusses women’s participation in Nigeria’s job market, the social obstacles and inequality women face in patriarchal societies.

Chinenye grew up in a small neighbourhood in Aba, in the Eastern part of Nigeria.  Despite the economic standing of her family, she wanted to get education and be known as a capable woman. Her family was not rich but was equally determined to support her education. Their sacrifices were in the hope that the family could have a graduate.

 After long years of hard work, financial crisis, and sheer determination, this dream became a fulfilment as she graduated from the University of Nigeria with flying colours. Her joy could not be contained on her convocation day as she looked forward to getting a high-paid job and helping her family with finances. However, their joy was short-lived when she decided to relocate for better career and networking prospects.

After graduation, Chinenye decided to move to Lagos where she could pursue a professional career and start her journey into the corporate world. Her decision was met with opposition from her family and her fiance’s who was planning to leave the country. The families couldn’t understand why she wanted to relocate just to pursue a career. Her mother and mother-in-law insisted she didn’t need to climb a corporate ladder or be financially independent to be a good homemaker. They reiterated that too much education wasn’t good for a woman and pursuing a career was certainly not as important as being a wife and raising a family.

Men and women are biologically and physiologically different, they both attain the same educational qualifications, socio-economic status and occupation among others. Yet, women are unequally represented in some aspects of public life. For instance, in Nigeria, regressive social norms, political exclusion and economic disparity dictate the presence and voice of women in public life. 

 “I didn’t believe this was going to be my reality as I had thought we had progressed as a society. The only difference between us and the older generation of women is that we are allowed to go to schools and they weren’t but we all end up in the same role as homemakers with our degrees as badges to be worn but not used” She was not able to pull out of this situation as she neither had the financial strength nor the emotional backing of her family to rebel. The role of an outlier didn’t come cheap and she couldn’t afford it neither could she cope with the emotional blackmail especially coming from a place like Nigeria, where family ties were strongly valued. So, she spent her twenties and thirties as a stay-at-home wife and subsequently mother when she started having kids. The usefulness of her degree was in helping her kids with school work and managing home finance.

When her fiance (now her husband) was contacted, he explained that providing and taking care of a woman was a man’s place and women who worked in corporate settings were usually unsubmissive and couldn’t keep their marriages. Who was going to take care of the home and tend to children and make meals for the husband if the woman worked?

Chinenye’s first degree was merely a bonus to his bragging rights as she had graduated with a first-class.

With the recent statistics, more and more women are acquiring education especially in Nigeria yet the number of women in paid employment is still quite low. Women constitute about half of Nigeria’s population and thus are potentially half of its workforce. They do more work than their male counterparts in form of unpaid labour and have limited access to advance. The cultural and religious expectations in our society expect women to forgo professional employment and advancement because of family and marital responsibilities. 

In an online survey conducted in October 2021  for the purpose of this article, the majority of the respondents consisting of both men and women highlighted that a career doesn’t prevent a woman’s ability to make a good wife/mother but a  career was secondary to marriage and family if the woman had to choose. Paid employment was an ideal goal for a man, it was part of his personal development and an opportunity to strengthen his role as a provider.

However, for the woman, this wasn’t so. Pursuing a career or paid employment was a means of supporting her husband or family and as such her personal growth in the corporate world or fulfilment from work were not factors that were considered important. In other words, a man’s career was very important but a woman was usually an afterthought that depended on the desires of her husband and the needs of her family.

This is the reason why most women with professional or advanced degrees still end up as primary homemakers and unpaid labourers. This is the fate of the average educated woman in Nigeria and is widely accepted by both men and women. Opportunities for young women to engage in paid employment and participate in decision-making regarding this process depends largely on these socioeconomic, religious and cultural contexts where social norms result in discrimination against young women. 

Now in her forties and with kids of her own, Chinenye has sworn to give her daughters all the support they’ll need in respect to pursuing a career and making a living. She believes the only way to increase the number of women in paid employment and help women find work is not just by sending them to school to acquire an education but training girls and giving them the same emotional backing and support given to the boys to enable them to excel in their chosen endeavours.

When this comes from the family as the smallest unit of the society, this will alienate the social obstacles and inequality women face in patriarchal societies with respect to paid employment.

The increase in the number of women in paid employment will give them more control over their lives and those of their children, and foster investment in skills and health of children. Jobs define much of who we are and how we live, and when Nigerian women enter work, they are likely to develop a stronger say in their own destiny.

Promoting women’s access to gainful employment can unleash a strong force for innovation, productivity, and economic growth. All of these changes are needed as Nigeria tries to move towards more diversified and inclusive economic growth.

About Deborah

Deborah is a young ambitious leader who aims to make impact with one step at a time. She is passionate about furnishing young people with the skills they need for assessing opportunities and development for their future. She is equally passionate about women inclusion and representation.

She is a social media creative who uses the power of story telling to advocate for change. She loves to volunteer and has volunteered with both local and International organizations such as Nigerian Red Cross, 360 awareness, we make change, iAscend, ONE and Care2people. She became a Commonwealth leader and Women-at-risk-foundation campus ambassador in 2020. She is currently a global youth ambassador for theirworld and has participated in virtual workshops for driving youth and development campaigns.

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Why is there a gender difference in Nigeria’s employment market?

by #MakeEducationWork Reading time: 5 min