The Minister of Finance, Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, yesterday said Nigeria’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) could grow significantly if the empowerment gap between the men and women could be narrowed.
Delivering a keynote address at a national gender policy dialogue organised by the World Bank in Abuja, Okonjo-Iweala said: “If empowering women is smart economics; empowering girls is smarter economics.’’
She cited a new World Bank Report on Gender Equality and Development, which indicated that empowering women and girls had increased Nigeria’s GDP growth.
She said: “We talk about natural resources as sources of growth; what this report is telling us that girls and women are a source of growth for the economy.
“So, it’s actually a matter of vital importance for the economic development of this country that we focus on girls and women.
“And I’m saying this in addition to the fact that we are 80.2 million girls and women in this country but because men are used to hearing this, we’ve got to find other ways to deliver this powerful message: that it’s more than about our being half of the population.
“It’s about the fact that the country will fall behind if it does not see its girls and women as a growth opportunity for the economy.’’
Okonjo-Iweala said President Goodluck Jonathan’s administration has put women at the heart of its policies.
She said women formed 32 per cent of the president’s cabinet or the Federal Executive Council (FEC), which she said, compared well to the global average of 17 per cent.
According to her, the president had also broken the military tradition on women participation by approving women enrolment into the Nigeria Defence Academy (NDA).
She announced said government would launch a competition for 1000 women entrepreneurs under the Youth Enterprise With Innovation in Nigeria (YOU WIN) project.
She said the competition was dedicated to women because out of the total 1, 200 winners in the last competition only 17 per cent were women.
The minister expressed concern over the high rate of gender inequality in the country and described as “shocking and acceptable’’, the prevalent high maternal mortality rate.
The latest UN report entitled: “Trends in maternal mortality – 1990 to 2010’’, indicated that Nigeria and India accounted for one-third of all maternal deaths in 2010.
According to the report, 56,000 deaths or almost 20 per cent were recorded in India, while Nigeria accounted for 40,000 deaths or 14 per cent of it.
She said:“That is why the issue of maternal mortality is one that we must fight head-on and the Government is doing so by putting in more money into the Subsidy Reinvestment and Empowerment Programme (SURE-P).
“Part of the resources that we are garnering from the savings on the partial removal of subsidy are going to support a programme to improve maternal health and mortality through a conditional cash transfer where women will get about N5000 if they come in for check-ups.”
Minister of State for FCT, Mrs. Olajumoke Akinjide said many women still faced discrimination, institutionalised legal and structural barriers to equal participation in politics, leadership and the economy.
She pledged that FCT administration would ensure that the 35 per cent Affirmative Action for the appointment of women to leadership positions was realised.
Written by Yusuf Ali under the title ‘How Nigeria can grow GDP, by Okonjo-Iweala’ for The Nations.