On June 30, Florence Warmate nonchalantly sent a tweet that included the hashtag #BeingFemaleInNigeria. Little did she know she was to whip global social media channels into a frenzy.
The tweet went viral, garnering nearly 20,000 mentions in less than 24 hours. Media coverage included pieces from the Huffington Post, Cosmopolitan and CNN. Clearly, what was tagged as a national issue had tapped into something of global significance.
Fittingly for a hashtag, #BeingFemaleInNigeria provides a platform for discussing diverse personal experiences, but a common theme is the gap between what women know their potential to be and what societal forces would deem it to be. This speaks to a much broader issue. The rights of women in Nigeria, as in many other countries, are flatly guaranteed in that country’s constitution, but their upholding leaves the impression of a paper tiger policy—enshrined in law, but only implemented sparingly. According to the UNDP, Nigerian women rank lower than men in all indexes of human development.
That results in a significant drag on development on numerous fronts. To see why, you need only start with the conclusion of one study that analyzed data from 219 countries between 1970 and 2009: for every year of education a woman of reproductive age had completed, child mortality rates decreased by 9.5%. Meanwhile, jump-starting development through women’s empowerment is urgently needed in Nigeria. “It’s clear that with the recent collapse in the oil markets, Nigeria must find a way to diversify its economy. Women’s empowerment is becoming a tool to do just that,” says Omolade Alawode, co-founder of Act4Accountability, a nonprofit advocacy group that fights for institutional accountability and transparency in Nigeria. “Tools like access to education and small business loans can go a far way in helping bring women entrepreneurs into the forefront of economic growth,” she adds.
This highlights the global significance of the issues raised by #BeingFemaleInNigeria, which hold particular relevance for discussions of the sustainable development goals and the Post-2015 development agenda taken as a whole. What appear to be “just” gender or women’s empowerment issues have powerful resonance across matters like health, economics, even the environment. It’s time for thinking and dialogue to catch up to this reality.
Linda Scott, DP World Chair for Entrepreneurship and Innovation at the University of Oxford and MasterCard Center Fellow, comments that she is shocked by how frequently discussions of environmental impact are gender uninformed or even unfriendly—this despite readily observable realities: “In the developing world, women collect water and firewood, both of which have a massive impact on the environment. And women in the developed and mid-level markets do the lion’s share of consumer spending. The very logical inference is that environmental change plans must engage with women or they won’t have impact.”
Recognition of the fundamental interconnectedness of gender, health, economic and environmental issues is especially timely given the new found data in support of it. Scott adds: “We know so much more now than we did even five years ago. We did not have nation-level data on gender until fairly recently. Most of what we have is either A, drawn from other data-collection activities and therefore not purpose-built or B, the result of controlled studies that are small and too often in the same location (a heavy bias toward Bangladesh, for instance). From that data, however, we have gleaned lessons that, when heeded, change your perspective rather dramatically. One thing these data show is that gender inequality is a global phenomenon, that every culture in the world suffers from it, that it is massively negative in impact, and that there is a strong pattern to it.” This, too, is part of the #DATARevolution.
If this interconnectedness isn’t recognized enough already, the news from Nigeria should be heartening. Scott notes that public support and citizen participation determine the focus and resources allotted to development goals. Look how much discussion can come from a single hashtag read round the world.