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Omozusi Mercy, (PhD, Fimpd) Babcock University, Department of Social Work & Human Services

The Social workers role in mitigating gender inequality in Nigeria: the feminist approach


For a black woman, the experience of being a woman could not be seen independently from the experience of being black, but rather from the interactions between one and the other. In Nigeria being black is not the issue because Nigeria is a black country but the issue of gender bias against the women is a big problem. Despite the labor force participation rate gradually closing up and some improvement in the educational and professional attainment of Nigerian women, there are obstacles confronting women in the home, school and workplace. Social workers, as change agents, are to emancipate and liberate marginalized groups in society. This study examined gender inequality in Nigeria and the Social Workers role in mitigating this menace through the feminist approach


Women have always been known as the essence of the society, but discrimination and oppression have narrowed or limited their propensity. Black feminism holds that the experience of Black women gives rise to a particular understanding of their position in relation to sex, oppression, and race (Kelly, 2003; Collins, 2007).  In the second half of the 20th century, Black feminism as a political and social movement grew out of Black women's feelings of discontent with both the civil rights movement and the feminist movement of the 1960s and 1970s (Collins, 2009).

Globally, gender inequality “discrimination” as of women is most common in developing countries. Discrimination can happen in clear and simple ways, for example, the norm or notion that children of a family belong to the father’s lineage truly exhibit the universality of the concept of male provildge (Dickson & Louis, 2018). There are some influential positions only reserved for men hence the discrimination of women, regardless of gender equal rights (Dickson & Louis, 2018). Oakley (2001) argued that the history of women’s discrimination and oppression emanates from the human formation where women lost points to males because of biological makeup which it is argued differentiates between masculinity and femininity.

In most African countries birth of sons is very much welcomed as a future earning member who is expected to support the parents in old age (Dickson & Louis, 2018). A feminist view claims that gender discrimination against women reflects poor development in most African countries because of the patriarchal societies. It creates hindrances in the participation of women in most fundamental spectrums of the society which include social, political and economic activities (Shastri, 2014). Discrimination has many faces in different forms even today whereby educated people think that women have nothing to do in their lives except cooking, house cleaning, and serving the whole family including the husband and children (Dharagi, 2007).

Fig 1. Gender discrimination. Courtesy: gemreportunesco.wordpress.com

The feminine gender in Nigeria

Nigeria has the largest population of any African country, some 162.5 million people. Of this magnitude 49% are female; some 80.2 million girls and women. So any discussion about Nigeria’s future must necessarily entail consideration of girls and women, the role they play and the barriers they face in making the future (Gender in Nigeria report, 2012). 54% of Nigerians still live in poverty and the proportion has doubled since 1980 (when about 28% were classified as poor). The averages hide a context that is worse for women and girls. Nearly six million young women and men enter the labour market each year but only 10% are able to secure a job in the formal sector, and just one third of these are women (Gender in Nigeria report, 2012).

In most parts of Nigeria, women are considered subordinate to their male counterparts, especially in Northern Nigeria based on culture and belief (Abegunde, 2014). It is generally believed that women are best suited as home keepers (Einwechter, 2016). Feminism in Nigeria has been attributed to Funmilayo Ransome-Kuti. She supported and fought for women's rights, as well as for women having a larger impact in the Nigerian government. She was a part of the WIDF (Women's International Democratic Federation), which helped more women to gain government positions, furthering what she wished to accomplish with women in Nigeria. One of Nigeria's well-known newspapers referred to her as "a progressive revolutionary" and "a Pan-African visionary” (Johnson-Odim, 2016). Historically, feminist movements have tried to push agendas leading to more gender equality in Nigeria. Among the most known are Federation of Nigerian Women's Societies (FNWS), Women in Nigeria (WIN), Kudirat Initiative for Democracy (KIND) and Female in Nigeria (FIN) (Dagunduro & Adebimpe, 2020).

Inheritance practices are patrilineal in Nigeria, land is generally handed down from father to son; if a man does not have any sons, and his brother, nephew, or another man relative of his lineage often inherits his property. Daughters do not inherit land from their fathers, even though they are of the same lineage. The cultural norm is that daughters leave the community in which they were born when they marry to live in their husband’s community. Because wives are under the responsibility of their husband and family, it is believed that if they inherited land, their husband’s family and lineage would obtain control over it (Tripp, 2004). Women’s presumed "inferiority" is also used to justify discrimination not only at the family level but also in public institutions. This kind of presumption is internalized and strengthened through the process of socialization such that both men and women take it as "normal" and "natural" (Kiboro, Gakuru, Misaro & Mwangi, 2014).

Cases of gender inequality in Nigeria


Nigeria has the largest number of out-of-school children in the world. The figures show wide disparities between States and across communities. 70.8% of young women aged 20-29 in the North-West are unable to read or write compared to 9.7% in the South-East. Several reasons explain this: early marriage, early childbirth, poor sanitation, and the shortage of female teachers (Action Aid, 2011).

Livelihoods and productive enterprise

Though many women (60-79%) are involved in subsistence agriculture and farm activities, men are five times more likely than women to own land. Women own 4% of land in the North-East, and just over 10% in the South-East and South-South. Land ownership and land tenure give women security and provide a key to access other resources and opportunities (Aluko & Amidu, 2006).

Women in formal employment

Income inequality in the formal sector has also grown since 1999. Only one in every three employees in the privileged non-agricultural formal sector is a woman. Regardless of their educational qualifications, women earn consistently less than their male counterparts. In some cases they earn less than men with lower qualifications (Fatile, Adejuwon & Kehinde, 2011).

Fig 2. Gender pay gap


Only 9% of those who stood for election in Nigeria’s April 2011 National Assembly elections were women. This is below the global average and well behind South Africa and Rwanda. The lack of women in decision-making positions may be one explanation for Nigeria’s low investment in sectors that are crucial to human development outcomes, such as health and education (Clots-Figueras, 2011).

Violence against women and girls

Violence against women and girls cannot be ignored. One in three of all women and girls aged 15-24 has been a victim of violence. Women who have never married are more likely to have been attacked than married women. These figures cry out for further analysis. It is vital to understand the underlying social dynamics and causes of violence (Gender in Nigeria report, 2012).

The Social worker role in eradicating gender inequality

Social work professionals can reduce gender inequalities by facilitating women to have access to formal education.

Conclusion and Recommendations

Women are Nigeria’s hidden resource, investing in women and girls now will increase productivity in this generation and will promote sustainable growth, peace and better health for the next generation. There should be a critical interrogation of sexist interpretations of biblical texts. Culturally sensitive and practical action steps within the education sector to promote a gender‐friendly learning environment and more equitable outcomes are necessary.


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