Providing low-interest loans, especially for marginalised women and women in rural communities can go a long way in closing the gender economic gap. Here’s how.
Bilkisu Luka, now 26, was registering for her Senior Secondary school classes at Government Secondary School Mubi, Adamawa State in October 2014 when the nearby Adamawa State University was attacked by Boko Haram. This incident was the beginning of a series of disheartening events in her life. “I stayed a whole year without going to school because of the killings, we could not go back to our homes because they dominated some local governments in Adamawa then”. Bilikisu said.
Displaced and out of school, Bilikisu was led to the IDP camp in Nigeria’s capital city, Abuja in 2020. “That was when my aunty in Jos told me about the David Oyelowo scholarship for girls affected by the crisis in northern Nigeria,” Bilkisu recalled.
The scholarship enabled her to complete her secondary school education at Anglican Girls Grammar School in Abuja. However, after her graduation, Bilkisu remained at the Kuchigoro IDP camp with “nothing to do and nothing to go back to.”
The Boko Haram insurgency in Nigeria has had a significant impact on education in Yobe, Borno, and Adamawa states. This impact has implications, especially for girls with far-reaching consequences for the country. According to the 2023 Global Gender Gap Report, it will take 102 years to close the gender gap in Sub-Saharan Africa at the current rate of progress. Using parameters such as political empowerment, education attainment and economic participation, the report puts Nigeria’s gender parity score at 63.7% depicting the realities of women in Nigeria who face significant exclusion and gender inequalities.
“I got admission into Open University in 2021 and I also started volunteering as a teacher at the school in the IDP camp” Bilikisu said. “To earn money, I make hair for people, other times, NGOs who come to the camp appreciate the volunteer teachers with some cash. Other NGOs also come to the camp to give aid, this is how I get money to sponsor myself in school and take care of myself in the camp,” Bilkisu added.
According to a 2018 country report published by the International Monetary Fund (IMF), there is high and widespread gender inequality in Nigeria including a higher unemployment rate for women, low female participation in economic activities and lower earnings for women.
When Project Rebirth came to the Kuchigoro IDP camp at the onset of the 2023 planting season, offering soft loans for female farmers, Bilkisu indicated interest and signed up. With the loan, Bilkisu and her sister bought bean seedlings and planted them on her piece of farmland in Bauchi State.
“After everything, I was able to repay back the loan and made a gain of N10,000 naira from selling the beans which went into paying my school fees. I still eat some of the beans I planted because I did not sell everything,” Bilkisu noted.
Investing in women’s economic power
Data from a 2019 Policy Development Facility report showed that economically empowering women is essential to achieving a robust economy, gender equality, inclusive growth and broader sustainable development goals (SDGs).
To fill the gender gap in entrepreneurship, a community-based organisation called Project Rebirth is economically empowering women in northern and southwestern rural communities who are breadwinners through its micro-lending projects.
“In 2018, I read a research paper that pegged the largest percentage of poor people in Nigeria as women and the number was around 60% to 65%. And I thought to myself, I’ve lived with women and I know that the issue is lack of access to resources especially for women in rural communities. That was how Project Rebirth was born,” Oluwadamilola Akintewe, founder of Project Rebirth recalled.
Project Rebirth was established in 2018 with the goal of advancing economic empowerment for marginalised and vulnerable women. Last year, they began implementing a community focused gender equality programme called the Micro-lending project which gives soft loans to women to boost their business and economic power.
According to the World Bank, eight out of ten women in the labour force in Sub-Saharan Africa are self-employed. In Nigeria most of these women dominate the informal agricultural and food processing sector. However, these women in rural communities do not have access to or are not qualified for loans due to the stringent requirements demanded by traditional financial institutions. Notably, Project Rebirth has a flexible criterion for giving out loans, including the availability of a functioning business and a farmland for cultivating.
“One of the ways we ensure we never get this stuck as an organisation is by having requirements for who gets the funding from our organisation, one of which is that the women must have a functioning business or have a farm. They’re not going to use the fund to start a fresh one, so we give capital injection into their already existing businesses,” Akintewe added.
Two track programme
The project supports two categories of women; those in the agriculture track and those with small businesses, kiosks and market shops. At the start of the planting season, typically around June and July, the loan is disbursed to female farmers in the agriculture track which they use to procure fertilisers and staple grains to plant. 40 Women in the Kuchigoro IDP camp were given N45,000 naira each in June of 2023 to inject into their farms and business and pay back within a 6-month period along with a one-off non-accruing 10% interest. Since inception, an estimated 2 million naira has been disbursed to beneficiaries through their registered bank accounts
According to the Akintewe, the organisation engages beneficiaries and collectively devises a convenient way for them to repay no matter how piece mealy and when loans are repaid, they can be re-deployed to empower more women.
Mrs. Lamile Danjuma is one of the women at the Kuchigoro IDP who took the loan to fund her farming activities. Being separated from her husband during the insurgency, Lamile sustains herself and four children by selling firewood in the camp and subsistence agriculture on her farmland in Nasarawa state.
“I planted beans on my farmland in Nasarawa state with the loan, I got a lot of gain and harvested two bags of beans. The loan really helped my family a lot and if they come again during the [planting] season I will take the loan and farm with it,” Lamile said in Hausa.
For Mrs. Faith Ahmodu who resides at Idu-Paipe, a fringe community by the Idu railway station in Abuja, the loan from Project Rebirth went into her petty kiosk shop and helped her to restock with more goods.
“Before I got the loan, I normally buy things for my shop in rows, like 1 row of cowbell, Klin etc but with the loan I was able to buy things in cartons like carton of spaghetti and indomie,” Faith said. “Sometimes I contribute over 50% to our family income because my business is daily, and I make profit daily. I share the profit from the business, I keep some to improve the business and the other for myself and family,” she added.
To get the support of the community, Project Rebirth employs a trust-based co-creation protocol which involves holding a community town hall meeting at the start of each project to adequately assess the needs of their prospective beneficiaries and get their buy-in.
Micro-lending and not Major
According to Akintewe, one of the major drawbacks limiting the expansion of the Micro-lending project is that of ageism. “As a youth led organisation, we’ve faced the issue of ageism, where people don’t believe or want to accept that young people can lead positive changes in their communities, and instead of supporting, they antagonise and undermine the work we do,” Akintewe said.
Another re-occurring limitation is the lack of access to funds and partnerships. “Access to governmental agencies had been an issue. We’ve tried to secure partnerships with UNDP, ministry for poverty alleviation, Ministry for Rural Affairs but it hasn’t been successful,” Akintewe said.
To ensure sustainability, Akintewe said part of the organisational strategy moving forward is to seek more fiscal partnerships with external organisations who have shared values as well as maintain a 100 percent record in repayment in loans.
The Growing Economies Through Gender Parity report forecasted Nigeria’s gross domestic product (GDP) to increase by 23 percent ($229 billion) by 2025, if women participated in the economy to the same extent as men. In simple terms, Nigeria has a lot to gain when women can participate in the economy, therefore, focus should be targeted at breaking the barriers that prevent women’s full economic engagement.
Do you think that the Nigerian economy would benefit if more women participated in the economy? Are you aware of any initiatives working to provide low/no-interest loans to empower women economically? Please share in the comment section below. We would love to hear from you.