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Nigerian Schoolgirl Abduction Highlights Female Inequality and Education Challenges

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The kidnapping of over 200 schoolgirls in Nigeria in April 2014, which shocked the world and resulted in widespread international condemnation, highlights two major challenges facing the government: narrowing the country’s gender gap and improving educational attainment. Nigeria is Sub-Saharan Africa’s largest economy and most populous country and is recognised as one of the next big emerging markets to watch beyond the BRICs. The female population stood at 84.3 million in 2013, equivalent to and just over the size of Germany’s entire population in the same year (81.8 million). However, Euromonitor statistics reveal that Nigeria has one of the lowest female adult literacy rates in the world while it also has the largest out-of-school population of primary school age globally, according to UNESCO, at 10.5 million in 2010 (latest data available). Improving opportunities for women is vital for Nigeria’s modernisation strategy, diversification of the economy away from oil dependence and to fulfil its Vision 2020 target to become one of the world’s largest 20 economies by 2020. Nigeria’s female consumer market potential, the largest in Sub-Saharan Africa, will also be limited until more girls are educated and enter the workforce in the future.


Female Adult Literacy Rates in Sub-Saharan Africa’s 5 Largest Economies: 2013

Source: Euromonitor International from national statistics/Eurostat/OECD/UN/International Monetary Fund (IMF), International Financial Statistics (IFS)/UNESCO

Nigeria Faces Significant Socio-Challenges

  • Nigeria’s female population totalled 84.3 million in 2013 and we predict that they will surpass the 100 million mark in 2020. Cultural attitudes towards women in a patriarchal society means the average age of women at first childbirth was 18.1 years in 2013 with an average age at first marriage for women of 21.6 in 2013;
  • Nigeria has a female adult literacy rate of just 40.8% of its population aged 15+ compared to the male equivalent of 59.1%. Although education levels generally need improving, there is a long way to go to narrow the gender gap. In comparison, the adult female literacy rate in South Africa was 93.3% in 2013. Additionally, the standard of higher education has resulted in a skills shortages and brain drain, which will limit the potential for economic diversification;
  • The Global Gender Gap Index for 2013 produced by the World Economic Forum (which benchmarks national gender gaps on economic, political, education- and health-based criteria and provides country rankings that allow for effective comparison across regions and income groups and over time) also reveals that Nigeria is amongst the worst in the world for its gender gap generally, at 106th out of 136 countries. Its poorest performance was for educational attainment at 126th out of 136 nations globally.

Female Economic Participation Holds the Key to Raising Productivity

Other challenges preventing the Nigerian economy fulfilling its potential are rampant income inequality, urban-rural and north-south divisions, corruption and high unemployment, with nearly a quarter of the population out of work in 2013. The government has been trying to tackle education issues through incentives including trialling cash transfers for poorer households that take up female school enrolment. In May 2014, technology company Intel announced a collaboration with the Rockefeller foundation to make more women digitally connected globally through its “She Will Connect” program, starting in Africa with Nigeria one of the countries where the scheme will be piloted. In the same month, a joint venture of Nigerian business leaders working with the UN launched the Safe Schools Initiative to improve school security in Nigeria following the kidnapping.

General societal changes and attitudes towards the role of women will take longer to transform but raising female employment and educational attainment generally is the key to increase Nigeria’s economic growth, productivity levels and to improve the country’s competitiveness on a global level. Furthermore, with the largest working-age female population in Sub-Saharan Africa (45.4 million women aged 15-64 in 2013), the consumer market potential for targeting Nigerian women is vast, if gains are made in encouraging female education and economic participation.

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