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Nigeria Gender Study
Through qualitative research, this report presents the experiences of young women working or selling through online platforms in Nigeria. The study addressed the key question: “In what ways does platform work empower women?” Sub-questions explored experiences, barriers, and enablers for women accessing and executing platform work. The study also assessed the experiences of persons with disabilities (PWDs) and the effects of COVID-19.
Online platform work offers viable alternatives to address Nigeria’s unemployment challenges and improve the livelihoods of young Nigerian women. Enabling platform work requires understanding the imperatives of the digital economy and the transformational changes across the public and private sectors. These findings align with the World Bank’s Nigeria Digital Economy Diagnostic Report that recognizes the importance of digital infrastructure, digital platforms, digital entrepreneurship, and digital skills to advancing Nigeria’s digital economy.
Women’s economic empowerment is defined as the relative ease with which women have access to platforms and can mobilize them for sustainable socioeconomic capital. In Nigeria, even though they enhance young women’s access to digital jobs and income generation, online platforms have had limited results. Government policies remain focused on formal sector development, despite the fact that women dominate key economic sectors such as agriculture, small-scale commerce, and the informal sector—gray areas within which platform livelihoods largely fall.
While the platform experiences presented in this study are not exclusive to women, a number of gender-specific experiences emerged from the research:
1) Context matters.
The environment in which platform livelihoods are conducted, including social norms, technology, and legal frameworks, influences workers’ experiences. Social dynamics stem from Nigeria’s patriarchal culture, from which women’s rights and roles develop. For example, reduced women’s rights, like property ownership and independence, may affect a women’s access to identity and credit, which may inhibit her acquisition of resources for platform work. Besides energy access and costs, accessibility, affordability, and availability of digital infrastructure and digital skills also affect women’s access to platform livelihoods. Other factors like road infrastructure and traffic in cities like Lagos increase insecurity, affecting women ride-hailing drivers and limiting their working hours and earnings. These contextual factors increase the cost of doing business online and may deter women’s participation in platform livelihoods.
2) Flexibility is a myth.
The promised flexibility of remote work executed at home is more favorable to women, who can work while managing their domestic affairs. But the readiness of Nigerian employers, government, and businesses limits the remote work opportunities for women, making online platform work mystical. Platforms’ governance standards must be transparent. Likewise, platform workers should be professional and of good quality, i.e., skilled, accountable, and responsible. Online platforms embody the myth of flexibility that aligns with entrepreneurism and the quest for higher earnings through side hustles. The inability to structure one’s working hours when working across time zones distorts this myth. For women, the ability to structure working hours around family and domestic commitments is a plus. Security risks limiting women’s working hours, especially drivers.
3) Platform workers want protections.
The growth of online work and gig work is providing access to employment and earnings for many under-employed and unemployed Nigerians. However, these earnings may not be regular or sufficient. The income variability or seasonality of work is another challenge for platform workers, warranting the need for income protections or safety nets, especially for women. The paucity of social safety nets for female gig workers highlights the importance of benefits and protections. Another dimension of protections is related to government policies around equal work opportunities. For example, in the mobility sector, introducing registration fees in one state immediately affects women with lower financial access and may either limit their participation or increase their costs. Others include digital protections as they relate to cyberbullying and other activities, and seller protections for merchants selling through marketplaces. Finally, among women platform workers, peer protection mechanisms like mentoring and support are emergent and important.
4) Presence is not enough.
Global platforms are competitive. Registering or listing on these platforms is not a guarantee of work. Understanding how platforms and their algorithms work and investing the effort to increase product or service visibility—digital marketing and promotion—are essential. This is especially important to women who lack the requisite skills and often under-promote themselves and their capabilities.
5) Platforms mimic the real world.
Digital platforms do not exist in isolation. They imitate real-world values, norms, and behaviors. Nigeria’s male-dominated society aligns with her patriarchal roots, especially as it relates to gender, and platforms mimic these behaviors because of existing systemic barriers. Female ride-hailing drivers face deep-set bias about gender roles that disadvantages them, sometimes leading to cancelled rides. In addition, discriminations and biases about Nigeria and Nigerians like business email compromise (BEC) scams affect platform workers’ ability to work on foreign platforms. Given these antecedents, mindfulness in building platforms is important, such as acknowledging women’s rights to identification and property to serve as collateral.
6)Persons with disabilities face challenges on platforms.
Persons with disabilities (PWDs) must first overcome traditional challenges, such as late-stage education and social development, prior to navigating digital challenges in accessing the digital economy. These perceptions and poor accessibility design considerations limit their access to online work opportunities.
7) The COVID-19 pandemic catalyzed Nigeria’s digital transformation.
This included e-commerce, delivery and remote online work. In addition, the pandemic reduced access to work, affecting the livelihoods of female ride-hailing drivers, traditional sellers, and women without access to digital financial services. Scaling the impact of online work will require the collective actions of ecosystem stakeholders, including digital platforms, government agencies, development institutions, the private sector, and civil society coalitions for sustainable impact.
In the public sector, the following policy recommendations can address these changes. First, implementing digital policies like the Nigeria National Broadband Plan (2020–2025) committing to minimum network capacity of 25Mbps and 10Mbps for urban and rural locations, respectively, will address right of way (RoW) pricing across the States. Second, the National Digital Economy Policy and Strategy (NDEPS) (2020–2030) seeks to “attract and grow digital jobs across all sectors of Nigeria’s economy.” Third, the NDEPS imperative to domesticate digital enterprises through the National Startup Bill will increase the supply of digital solutions, while COVID-19’s acceleration of the future of work will avail virtual and global work opportunities. Fourth, enforcing the provisions in the 2015 Cybercrime Act, alongside the ability to identify and trace online persons, will improve online behaviors and trust that will enable Nigerians to use online services confidently. Fourth, Nigeria’s labor legislation and policies are based on traditional full-time, location- based work. Thus, the changing nature of work will require modern laws that, for example, enhance worker agency and policy frameworks for regulating online work by sector. Fifth, the Nigerian state should pay more attention to building her national brand. The impact of being known as a country where BEC scams originate reduces the digital work opportunities for most of her unemployed and underemployed citizenry. Sixth, the benefits of online work can support de-urbanization from populated cities like Lagos and enable Nigerians to live traffic-free. Such an approach will require the State and local government to provide the digital infrastructure and other inducements to reduce urban migration and attract young digital workers. For example, some European economies are using digital nomad strategies and visa schemes to repopulate their cities. Finally, specific to PWDs, accessibility standards and regulations for inclusiveness under international conventions and best practices are necessary. For young women, specialized interventions to build digital skills and entrepreneurs will enhance their participation. Achieving these will require the swift action of the Federal Ministry of Women’s Affairs and Social Development to implement the strategies in the National Gender Policy (NGP) and other strategies that advance women’s inclusion, like the Central Bank’s Framework for Advancing Women’s Financial Inclusion.
Complementing the public sector changes are private and development sectors interventions ranging from supporting the design and sustainability of online work platforms to enhancing women’s skills and capabilities to take work in higher-paying roles and advocating online work for women. These include:
However, policy is just one of the four interrelated dimensions needed to create a more empowering space in terms of platform livelihoods for women. Altogether, we need individual and systemic, formal and informal changes, namely:
4) social norms
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