Skewed Inclusion of females in Africa is not true Gender Inclusion

Photo by Gpop Yef – A young girl hawking.

Some of the biggest yet often overlooked contributors to the exclusion of women from opportunities in African societies can be attributed to the prevalent cultural and religious beliefs in the region. I have observed significant efforts dedicated to promoting women’s inclusion in the formal world. However, relatively few efforts have been directed towards educating and orienting grassroots communities and societies. Religious and cultural institutions and structures form the foundation of the modern societies we see today. If we genuinely aspire to create an inclusive and competitive world for both men and women, we must invest more effort in the 20% that produces the most results. Neglecting targeted efforts in grassroots religious and cultural institutions poses the risk of what I would call ‘Skewed Inclusion,’ which fights for the inclusion of only privileged women.

Many societies in Africa still believe that girls should not receive education above certain levels or shouldn’t attend school at all because they equate education with immorality. Some view investments in women as a waste of money due to the belief that they will eventually get married. How can we change these perceptions? The most vulnerable segment of society is often the most neglected. I can attest that there are many young, intelligent girls with great ambitions and intellect who are forced into early marriages. What efforts are being made to change the mindset of institutions perpetuating this tradition?

Most of the young girls and women who manage to obtain an education or enter the workforce to pursue their ambitions do so either because they come from enlightened societies or because they challenged the norms of their immediate families or communities. Many inclusion initiatives for women that gain traction are championed in workplaces, boosting female participation in certain sectors of the economy or increasing female representation in management positions. While all of these efforts are important, they do not address the root causes of societal issues and may not necessarily change the narrative of inclusivity. In fact, these initiatives can be considered unfair in most cases because, at the levels where they prevail, both men and women are typically equally included. When initiatives like these show favoritism based on gender rather than competence, the concept of inclusion is corrupted.

To champion inclusion, we need to look beyond media attention. How can we assist young girls in remote communities in Northern Nigeria and other parts of the continent to compete with their male counterparts? Gender inclusion should focus on creating an equal playing field for fair competition among all genders.

Let’s take a cue from a financial inclusion research report on Nigeria published by KPMG, which shows that rural communities and women are the least impacted by financial inclusion programs. Notice the use of the terms ‘rural communities’ and ‘women.’ There is a strong relationship between these variables, as indicated in the statement, and the underlying pillars are cultural, religious, and traditional beliefs. How can we tailor inclusion initiatives to reach these individuals? According to World Bank data, as of 2022, over 51% of Africans still reside in rural areas. This percentage is even higher for individual countries, such as Burundi with an 86% rural population or Niger with 83%. These apparent yet often overlooked challenges to gender equality in Africa call for a redefined focus and priority. If we intend to build a gender-equal society, we must reshape the foundations of our society.

This article is not meant to undermine the efforts of existing gender inclusion initiatives but to shed more light on the real issues to achieve the desired results we all aim to see.” I would love to see researchers deep dive into the intricacies of these gaps. During the course of writing this short article, there was hardly any data available online to justify these trends, So I mostly wrote from my experience and observations of living in Nigeria, most especially Northern Nigeria, and also from my experience living in some other countries of West Africa.

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