Nigeria and 188 other countries signed and adopted the Beijing Declaration – a landmark global policy on gender equality, in 1995. The Beijing Declaration is widely regarded as the most ambitious plan ever devised for the empowerment of women and gender equality. Its program sets out strategic goals and actions to advance women’s empowerment and gender equality in many areas of concern such as violence against women, education and poverty eradication.
A review of Nigeria’s progress towards gender equality over the past 26 years shows progress, albeit disappointing. According to the United Nations, women and girls, who make up more than half of Nigeria’s population, do not have adequate access or opportunities to reach their full potential. The marginalization of women in economic development, social and political spheres remains a global phenomenon, and it is exacerbated in underdeveloped countries. Despite the adoption of international and national legislations such as the National Gender Equality Policy of 2006, inequalities persist in Nigeria due to various cultural and structural barriers. These factors have limited women’s engagement in all aspects of life, with far-reaching consequences for human resource development and, consequently, for Nigeria’s economic development.
Nigeria is now widely known as the poverty capital of the world, with 92 million of its 200 million people living in extreme poverty, surpassing India (with a population of 1.3 billion). Even more discouraging is the fact that Northern Nigeria has an average poverty of 67.8% and is comparatively higher than other parts of the country, making it the poverty capital of the country.
The North faces many problems ranging from education, poverty, insecurity, youth unemployment and gender disparity, resulting in its current underdevelopment. While these social tensions are a problem across the country, they are particularly deep in northern Nigeria. According to the national census conducted in 2006 and recent official estimates determined by the National Bureau of Statistics in 2016, Kano is the largest state by population in Nigeria. Kano State is the second largest industrial center after Lagos State in Nigeria and the largest in Northern Nigeria with industries in textiles, tanning, footwear, enamel, ceramics, furniture and other industries. Although Kano has developed a diversified economy, establishing itself as an industrial and agricultural center, it is not exempt from the social tensions mentioned above.
The state of education in Kano and the North in general is at an all time low, and the current approach to education is not assertive enough to encourage young people to go to school because poverty and insurgency remain a pressing challenge. This development has rendered millions of young people in northern Nigeria uncompetitive in the job market and deprived the region of the skilled human capital essential for its development. Government data from UNICEF also shows that only around 4 out of 10 girls in North East Nigeria attend primary school, mainly due to factors such as poverty and lack of access to opportunities.
According to the Global Gender Gap Report (WEF (World Economic Forum) 2015), gender equality, or the lack thereof, has significant economic and social implications. The Global Gender Gap Index ranks countries based on the calculated gap between men and women in four key areas: health, education, economy and politics. Nigeria ranked 112 out of 145 countries in the Global Gender Gap Report, which revealed gender differences in reproductive health, empowerment and labor market participation.
The Kano state government has in recent times made concerted efforts to reverse the worrying trend of seeing large numbers of its youthful population being denied access to education and job opportunities. However, it has become clear that a public-private partnership is needed to create an intervention that will drive positive change.
To this end, The Coca-Cola Foundation, in partnership with the Whitefield Foundation, has launched a skills acquisition program called “Project EQUIP” – to empower women and youth and integrate them into a growth trajectory that would create a positive effect on the society in which they live. The EQUIP project is part of Coca-Cola’s vision to improve the livelihoods of women, youth, families and surrounding communities.
Coca-Cola Nigeria, together with its bottling partner, Nigerian Bottling Company, has worked with many partners for decades to implement initiatives to provide business skills training, mentorship networks, financial services and support. other assets to underserved communities through its philanthropic arm, The Coca-Cola Foundation. The Project EQUIP initiative exemplifies the company’s dedication to the cause as it supports the Sustainable Development Goals targeting hunger, poverty, gender equality, decent work and sustained economic growth.
The EQUIP project will empower 60,000 women and youth in five key regions, including 20,000 in Kano. The initiative will adopt an integrative and hybrid approach to youth and women empowerment to teach transformative skills and knowledge, improve living standards in target communities, show and lead participants towards new paths of recovery and economic growth.
Empowering women involves increased advocacy and meaningful participation in economic decision-making at all levels, from the household to international institutions. It also includes equal access to and control over productive resources, decent work and control over their own time, life and body. The Coca-Cola system in Nigeria is committed to this becoming the testimony of women in Northern Nigeria and other parts of the country.
Saadia Madsbjerg, President of the Coca-Cola Foundation, put it succinctly: “Achieving equality and empowerment for women has broad ripple effects that positively affect society.” Coca-Cola Nigeria is bridging the digital divide, which disproportionately affects the rural and disadvantaged, by building a bridge of equality and connecting women and youth to quality education and opportunities. Equality for women is one of the most effective ways to lift people and nations out of poverty, to fight climate change and to help achieve the Sustainable Development Goals. Economies grow when more women work, and empowering women promotes productivity, diversifies the economy, and improves income equality, among other positive development outcomes.
The EQUIP project will transform 60,000 people into participating members of society, enabling long-term economic transformation and growth, and a higher standard and quality of life.