FG plans tax relief, more funds for women entrepreneurs

From Uche Usim, Abuja

The Minister of Finance, Budget and National Planning, Mrs Zainab Ahmed, assured on Monday that the federal government through the implementation of Finance Acts 2019 and 2020 will provide tax relief, funds and other support to micro, small and medium enterprises (MSMEs), many of which are women-owned.

In her goodwill message at the 2021 International Women’s Day Commemoration: National Policy Dialogue, the minister stated that the government was working hard to ensure that public financial management processes are more gender-sensitive with credible disaggregated data available.

‘Such a focus will yield sustainable and scalable change. We are also scaling up existing and developing new interventions at the intersection of gender equality and fiscal policy/public financial management. These include gender-responsive budgeting, and assessments of the gender responsiveness of key fiscal interventions (including fiscal stimulus packages) with specific commitments aimed at improving the safety, livelihoods, and economic status of women and girls. This is an area in which we at the Ministry of Finance, Budget and National Planning are focusing more deliberately and will be prioritising, in partnership with the Ministry of Women Affairs and other critical stakeholders,’ Mrs Ahmed explained.

According to the minister, gender equality and women’s economic empowerment remain critical to ensuring inclusive and sustainable development. ‘If we fail to act now, the goals espoused in the 1995 Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action, the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, and the African Union’s Agenda 2063 will remain out of reach.’

The minister noted that this year’s Women’s Day theme, “Women in leadership: Achieving An Equal Future In A COVID-19 World”, was a loud call to celebrate the unfailing resilience and inspiring leadership of women and girls around the world.

‘At the country level, our champions include, the Honourable Minister of Women Affairs, Dame Pauline Tallen, who has been a tireless advocate for gender equality and has taken a bold stand in the campaign to end violence against women and girls. Internationally, we can count Deputy Secretary-General, Mrs Amina Mohammed, and recently appointed World Trade Organisation Director-General, Dr Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, amongst our gender advocates and champions of change.

On the importance of the dialogue, Ahmed said: ‘Today’s policy dialogue marks an important and necessary opportunity to course correct. Furthermore, the dialogue is especially timely as it occurs alongside the development of the next generation of medium- and long-term National Development Plans (for which gender mainstreaming is a priority), and of our Integrated National Financing Framework (INFF).

In her words: ‘As we work to build back post-COVID-19, we in government, under the leadership of H.E. President Muhammadu Buhari, are prioritising our most vulnerable (including women and children). We are implementing an Economic Sustainability Plan, having put in place a comprehensive fiscal stimulus package, and are scaling up our social safety net programmes. Additionally, we have increased investments in the health and education sectors in the ‘2021 Budget of Economic Recovery and Resilience’.

Considering the challenge of domestic revenue mobilisation, Mrs Ahmed stated that projects in the education sector, including the new Adolescent Girls Initiative for Learning and Empowerment (AGILE), have been adapted to support distance learning and mitigate the risk of children, particularly girls, not returning to school. ‘To make the critical investments necessary to close the gender gap and secure the economic empowerment of women and girls, we must address the longstanding challenge of domestic revenue mobilisation. We are, therefore, working to develop the second phase of the Strategic Revenue Generation Initiatives (SRGI),’ she also said.

The minister noted that ‘even with the progress made, however, we are far from our goal. Women and girls continue to bear the disproportionate burden of the COVID-19 pandemic – on the frontlines, in their homes, and across various sectors. They must be given the opportunities and tools with which to be socially, financially, and economically empowered.’

She advocated that every woman and girl should be guaranteed safety in their respective homes, schools, communities, and places of work. ‘We must stop gender-based violence, and end the so-called “shadow pandemic” once and all; this is our shared responsibility as a people.

Making reference to the Ministry of Women Affairs efforts, the minister said that the Ministry has taken key steps in this regard, through the launch, in collaboration with the European Union (EU) and the United Nations (UN), of the National gender-based violence (GBV) situation room and data dashboard to monitor and fight all forms of GBV in the country.

‘Today is also an opportunity to recognise the men and boys who are taking a stand, raising their voices, and taking concrete steps towards gender ensuring equality and to ending violence against women and girls. We must come together to achieve the empowerment and equitable representation of women in leadership and decision-making roles across all sectors, particularly in roles relating to governance and policy-making,’ she noted.