Global Resources

Gender: a precursor for discriminating against women in paid employment in Nigeria

Author: G. Owoyemi, O. Olusanya
Publisher: American Journal of Business and Management
Publication Date: Jan 2014

When the UN declared 1975 - 1985 the ‘decade for women’, they did not know it was to serve as a precursor to several national and international constitutions that would be used to address and suppress unequal power relations between men and women over the following three decades. Yet despite all the progress that has been made, research still shows that these constitutions theoretical commitments, and the acknowledgment of women’s crucial roles, remain trivialised. To this day, women all over the world continue to face discrimination and harm as governments either struggle or fail to implement and enforce ideals such as those in the Convention on the Elimination of all forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW). This paper, authored by faculty of Lagos University, examines the extent to which these constitutions are failing to support and protect women in the context of paid employment in Nigeria. In doing so, the authors argue that gender currently represents a precursor for discrimination in the world of work in the country.


Through literature review, the paper examines the nature of gender-based discrimination, highlighting four forms in which it manifests: direct gender discrimination, where all women are clearly treated differently to men; indirect gender discrimination, which can occur for instance when labour laws have hidden gender-biases; harassment at work, which can range from incivility to sexual assault and bullying; and victimisation, wherein employees are singled out and scapegoated on the basis of gender. Next, the paper discusses a number of contributory factors to women’s discrimination in Nigeria, namely cultural and social norms and beliefs, religious constraints, and psychological and biological constraints. Regarding these last two, the former refers to the social pressures women face, and then reproduce, in terms of how they are expected to prioritise e.g. marriage, while the latter relates to women’s inexorable position of having to balance (and limit) career with pregnancy and childbirth.


Next, the paper examines the level of gender imbalance in Nigeria’s formal and informal sectors. The imbalance is certainly noticeable, with a huge gap in women’s participation in the informal sector. On the plus side, others have noted that the argument for a gender gap in access to education and formal employment no longer holds much weight. The situation varies around the country however. In northern Nigeria, Sharia Criminal Courts have not checked discrimination against women, and still retain many discriminatory laws and policies. Strong gender gaps persist in women’s representation in the boardroom and as CEO’s, and gender stereotypes that cast a woman’s place as being in the home remain prominent and powerful. At the other end of the socioeconomic scale, the authors note a trend of women opting for greater financial independence through greater involvement in stable formal and informal careers, such as women maize farmers shown to be every bit as productive as their male counterparts. As the source for the bulk of employment in Nigeria, there is significant room in agriculture for women to move into, but an enabling environment must be created that eliminates the discrimination currently acting as a barrier to their economic empowerment.


Prior to the paper’s conclusion, the authors concisely summarise the negative effect of gender discrimination, and offers a few words on how to prevent such discrimination at work.

  • Gender discrimination is not only harmful to the professional growth of an individual; it also limits the growth of businesses themselves.

  • Gender discrimination can reflect negatively on an organisation’s performance, and can compromise the quality of the workforce by creating an unhealthy work environment that is not conducive for employees’ performance.

  • Gender discrimination can result in poor retention of both women and men at work, and can lead to a negative public image of the country, government, or employers.

  • The onus of preventing the discrimination of women at work is on lawmakers and employers.

  • National policy makers and necessary law enforcing agents should ensure that all policies, from recruitment to hiring, compensation, and benefits, do not violate employee rights.

  • Strict actions and sanctions should be taken by the federal and state government and management of the organisation against violators.

  • More awareness should be created at macro- and micro-levels of the society and work.

  • Federal, National and States laws should ensure and enforce equal pay and equal treatment for men and women.


Finally, the paper ends on a positive note, highlighting the work currently being down by government at all levels toward combating discriminatory traditional practices such as early marriage, and the institutionalisation of the domestic roles.  Examples include the introduction of flexi- and part-time working patterns for women, and the establishment of day-care centres and crèches within office premises and hospitals in order to help women cope with their families and work responsibilities. These moves toward eradicating the discrimination of women are complemented by a continuous and sustained sensitisation and advocacy programme, with the overall result of a modest decline of discrimination against women in paid employment in Nigeria.