Nigerian women have no problems with setting up businesses but they find it difficult to maintain and grow them. Many of these women prefer establishing their own businesses to searching for jobs. However, these businesses are, in most cases, affected shortly after they were established so that they remain stagnant or are closed down altogether. This is not because those women are lazy to work hard or that they have not been making efforts to keep their businesses afloat. The truth is that many factors remain unfavourable to Nigerian women. Unless those challenges are addressed, women in Nigeria will continue to experience challenges in their businesses.
A lady once recounted how her business closed down shortly after it was established. According to her, she hardly had time to stay in her shop. She said she goes to her shop late (after performing her house chores) and leaves early (to continue from where she stopped in the morning and to take care of the children that just returned from school). She could not employ a shop attendant because it was not part of the agreement she had with her husband before the business was set-up. When it became obvious that she couldn’t combine the business and her duties at home, she closed it down and faced her family.
The story recounted above is almost the same as that of many Nigerian women. Being a woman in Nigeria is already challenging because there are some cultural practices and societal expectations that prevent women from achieving their potential. The business environment is also unfavourable to them because of those practices and expectations. Even though some old traditions are gradually changing, there are many that still linger. Nevertheless, family duties, societal expectations, access to loans, and lack of entrepreneurial skills are some of the major factors affecting Nigerian women’s businesses.
- Family Duties: Being a woman in Nigeria automatically makes the person a mother. Even before she bears children, she is expected to act as a mother. A Nigerian woman is a mother to her siblings, nieces, nephews, cousins, mother, mother-in-law, father-in-law, husband, and so on. This would not have been a problem except that she is expected to nurse these people so long as she has breath in her. She will help them to plan their lives and take care of them when they are sick. Responsibilities such as these act as the heavy objects tied to people’s ankles to prevent them from running. It is difficult to run a business with all these responsibilities lined up.
- Societal Expectations: Being a woman in Nigeria is equal to taking second place. She is not expected to “compete” with men. She is a “woman” and must remember that always. Women already have their duties mapped out for them by society and they are expected to conform. Those that ignore those duties and choose theirs are treated as anomalies. It is in this case that you hear people asking, “Can this one marry?” “Who will marry this one?” “Can a man control this one?” and other funny but damaging comments. The damaging effect of societal laid down rules for women is that it influences young women into seeing themselves as incapable of achieving much. This hinders their desire to progress or break new grounds in their businesses. They will prefer remaining small-scale business owners to expand and be branded negatively.
- Access to Loans: Borrowing a large amount of money from banks requires collateral. In Nigeria, many women have no collaterals to present. The African culture does not allow them the right to inherit properties from their fathers or to own any if they are married. As a result, many Nigerian women have no properties that could serve as collateral for loans and they cannot afford to buy any. This has killed many dreams.
- Lack of Entrepreneurial Skills: Because it is believed that women have no business with entrepreneurship, most of them go into businesses without possessing basic entrepreneurial skills. Only a few have gone for training and have taken their businesses to the next level. But many remain where they are, unable to understand why they are not growing. Many women need to be trained in business skills.
There is no gainsaying that empowering women will reduce poverty in the country. A lot of women want to own and manage their businesses but they find it difficult to do that. NGOs and other humanitarian organisations have been making efforts towards women empowerment but their impacts are not fully felt. This is a call for more well-meaning individuals, associations and organisations to come to the aid of women in Nigeria.