An economist and former Chairman of the United States Federal Reserve, Ben Bernanke, once said: “Income inequality is troubling because, among other things, it means that many people in our society do not have the opportunities to advance themselves….No economy can succeed without a high quality workforce, particularly in an age of globalisation and technical change.”
The Late Nelson Mandela, added: “As long as poverty, injustice and gross inequality persist in our world, none of us can truly rest…Let there be work, bread, water and salt for all.”
There have been observed lack of will and in some places, near lack of strategy to bring effective legacies to reality.
This has not been without consequences and a roily challenge for the “struggling” developing countries, which Nigeria is one, according to assessments.
Each year, the global indices on inequality keep rising, perhaps geometrically, while relative successes in closing the gaps assume an arithmetic progression.
A new World Bank report said between $15 trillion and $30 trillion worth of lifetime productivity and earnings, is now in the drains and facilitated by limited educational opportunities for girls and barriers to completing 12 years of education.
Recently, the World Bank Group, in a report titled: “Unrealised Potential: The High Cost of Gender Inequality in Earnings,” said that about 141 countries are losing $160 trillion in wealth because of inequality, resulting to differences in lifetime earnings between women and men.
The loss amounts to an average of $23,620 for each person in the 141 countries, being the economic cost of gender inequality in lost human capital.
In sub-Saharan Africa, the losses are estimated at $2.5 trillion and many countries in the sub-region host millions of girls, whose average educational attainment remains lower than boys and adult women are less literate than men. Nigeria remains the epicenter in the sub-region.
Described as missed opportunities, the high cost of not educating the girl-child, estimated at less than two-thirds in low-income countries, who complete primary school; and only one-third that completes lower secondary school, is now stoking the global losses.
“On average, women, who have a secondary education are more likely to work and they earn almost twice as much as those with no education,” the report said.
In Nigeria, the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) affirmed that the literacy rate among young women and men age 15 to 24 years in 2017, was 59.3 per cent and 70.9 per cent respectively.
This record of 59.3 per cent for women confirms the assessment of the World Bank that less two-third of women complete their basic education.
“Available data from the Federal Ministry of Education shows that enrollment rate of school- aged girls in primary education was 48.6 per cent in 2014, but it decreased to 47.3 in 2015 and slightly bounced back to 47.5 in 2016.
The completion rate for girls in primary, junior and senior secondary school in 2016, was 64.8 per cent, 38.9 per cent and 28.7 per cent respectively, showing a decreased completion rate as the student progresses,” NBS stated.
A string of positive effects of secondary school education for girls include a wide range of social and economic benefits for them, their children and communities, particularly, a near-elimination of child marriage; lowering fertility rates by a third in countries with high population growth; and reducing child mortality and malnutrition.
The World Bank Chief Executive Officer, Kristalina Georgieva, said: “We cannot keep letting gender inequality get in the way of global progress. Inequality in education is yet another fixable issue that is costing the world trillions.
It is time to close the gender gap in education and give girls and boys an equal chance to succeed, for the good of everyone.”
Over the past two decades many countries have reached universal primary education, and girls’ enrollment at the primary level in developing countries rivals that of boys.
But much larger benefits of education, as the analysis finds, would come from completing secondary school.
“When 130 million girls are unable to become engineers or journalists or chief executives because education is out of their reach, our world misses out on trillions of dollars that could strengthen the global economy, public health and stability.
“If leaders are serious about building a better world, they need to start with serious investments in girls’ secondary education.
This report is more proof that we cannot afford to delay investing in girls,” the Malala Fund co-founder and Nobel laureate, Malala Yousafzai, said.
Nigeria and the numbers
Today, some 132 million girls around the world between the ages of six and 17 are still not in school- 75 per cent of them are adolescents.
By assessment and admittance, even from government’s officials, Nigeria is home to the largest population of out-of-school children in the world.
Of these, according to 2013 National Demographic Health Survey, about 20 million adolescent girls are very low educated, especially those from the lowest wealth quintiles in the society.
About 60 per cent of the assessed 10.5 million out-of-school children are girls, estimated at about 5.5 million. Invariably, Nigeria is home to about 7.9 million out-of-school children
• Power and Decision Making: Despite efforts to promote the contributions of women in socio-economic domain, women have continued to record low representation at all tiers and levels, notwithstanding their numbers.
Findings reveal that men constitute 94.71 per cent and female 5.76 per cent at the National Parliament from 1999 to 2015.
At the federal courts, 29.38% of judges were female while 70.62 percent were male, according to 2011–2016 National Judicial Council.
• Health: Life expectancy is an important health indicator and indices in the Global Human Development Index.
It is derived from the age-specific mortality rates, and it provides a picture of the overall health status of a population, allowing for the investigation of the longevity of women and men separately.
The percentage of women living with HIV was increasing slowly from 51.7 per cent in 2013 to 53.1 per cent in 2016, but that of men was decreasing slowly from 48.3 per cent in 2013 to 46.9 per cent in 2016 (NACA).
To reap the full benefits of education, countries need to improve both access and quality so that all girls have the opportunity to learn.
The report pointed out that these investments are especially, crucial in some regions, such as Sub-Saharan Africa, where on average, only 40 per cent of girls, complete lower secondary school.
Countries also need policies, as well as effective implementations, to support healthy economic growth that will generate jobs for an expanding educated workforce.
“Better education for girls makes them more likely to participate fully in society and be active members of their community.
Educating girls and promoting gender equality is part of a broader and holistic effort at the World Bank, which includes financing and analytical work to remove financial barriers that keep girls out-of-school, prevent child marriage, improve access to reproductive health services, and strengthen skills and job opportunities for adolescent girls and young women.
“Since 2016, the World Bank has invested more than $3.2 billion in education projects benefiting adolescent girls,” the report noted.
Indeed, the recently released Pension Asset and Membership Data by the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS), showed that out of the 1,931,222 civil servants in the federal employment, 525, 930 are women, leaving 1,405,292 positions for men, affirming the differences raised by the World Bank.
Besides, discrimination and social norms shape the terms of female labour force participation and many girls are married or have children before the age of 18, a disadvantage that translates into substantial gender gaps in earnings.
Consequently, globally, women account for only 38 per cent of human capital wealth against 62 per cent for men.
In the NBS report on sub-national (state) employment, out of 1,585,651 civil servants captured in the data, about 696,466 are women, while 889,185 are men, an indication of sustained gender gap.
In the private sector, the pension membership data showed 4,459,103 employees, out of which, only 1,111,804 are women, while 3,347,229 are men, an indication of a ratio of about 3-to-1 in favour of men.
An aggregation of the public and private sectors’ numbers showed 7,975,976 employees in the data, out of which 2,334,200 are women and 5,641,776 are men, representing about 70 per cent in favour of male employment over women.
Consequently, with the Pension Fund Asset Under Management as at first quarter of 2018 standing at N7.943 trillion, the lifetime labour earnings of these women with regards to pension as at date amount to about 30 per cent of the figure.
Participants within the age distribution of 30-39 years and 40-49 years, which is regarded as the active age, have the highest percentage composition of the pension contribution.
Conversely, women’s participation in these distributions suffered great loss in number, as men dominated, with more than two million employees above women.
What experts say
Emphasizing the economic benefits of developing women and ensuring equal opportunities, an online report by TRENDS, quoted the Chairman of Abu Dhabi-based Khalifa Fund for Enterprise Development, Hussain AlNowais, as saying: “They are very successful businesswomen today.
I see no difference between men and women. Irrespective of gender, what we look for is capability, competency, commitment and passion.
“I am also proud to say that women honor their commitment in repaying loans more than men do.”
The Governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) has severally harped on improving women’s lots in the socio-economic arena and supported the view that they are better obligors than men.
To buttress his belief, he has advanced some policies aimed at bringing the majority to formal financial services, especially improving their access to credit to enable them play their expected role in economic development and canvassed more roles at top level corporate world too.
The N220 billion Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises Development Fund, scripted by the banker, had 60 per cent of the Fund exclusively reserved for women-based enterprises.
He insisted that CBN recognises the fact that gender equality and diversity were powerful tools for economic growth and has institutionalised policies and programmes to overcome some of the barriers that were hampering women from rising to the top of their careers.
But the Special Adviser to the CBN Governor on Sustainable Banking, Dr, Aisha Mahmood, said that women hold the “key” to the economic development of Nigeria, adding: “It has been proven that women have immense potential as engines of growth and economic development…empowering them becomes beneficial to the society at large.”