IWD: E-commerce as tool for women empowerment

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Beyond the lenting period which often takes the whole of the month of March, the month in the modern era, has also become known for its wave of gender equality campaigns hinged on the celebration of International Women’s Day, and 2022 is not an exception.

With the theme ‘Gender Equality Today For a Sustainable Tomorrow’, several forums and platforms are being deployed to keep the conversation going on the need for a world that gives equal opportunities to the female gender in every sphere of human activities. Information technology has made the day a global phenomenon by driving huge awareness about the needs for female gender empowerment.

Technology is also making life better for the female folks in Nigeria through e-commerce. Digital commerce is a huge lever for the SMEs sector in which Nigerian women play a significant role. There are over 41 million SMEs in Nigeria, and female owned businesses take 40% of the market. Research from United Nations Informal Sector Development and the Bank of Industry demonstrated that women are the principal labour force in the informal economy, particularly in agriculture, food and beverages, retail, textiles, and cross-border trade.

The increasing rate of internet penetration in the country is birthing e-commerce activities and is opening new doors for female entrepreneurs. Thousands of female owned businesses today would not be in the marketplace, if not for e-commerce. Several women have leveraged e-commerce to grow their businesses by listing products on e-tailing platforms. Also, female retailers in the informal sector are joining the fray by shopping for inventory on B2B online platforms.

Aside from the empowerment of e-commerce breeds for the female gender, it has also eased the pressure of combining business with family activities. The challenges of combining business or formal jobs for any woman are many. “I had to quit my job after I got married four years ago. I opened this store with my savings and soft loans from my husband. It made raising a family easier for me to some extent. Last year, I discovered how to do it better by ordering goods online. Now I don’t go to the market before restocking my shop. I order and the company delivers. 

“I also have a friend who operates an online store from her room in Iju, in the outskirts of Lagos. She often tells me how she’s been selling to customers in other states. They order, she gets one of these logistics companies to help her deliver them. At times, she goes to the car park to deliver through interstate buses. A lot of women are having better lives today thanks to e-commerce. And you earn more respect from your husband as a woman when you are productive,” said a mother of two who runs an Informal retail store in Lagos. 

Retailers like her are having better days with the help of Alerzo, TradeDepot, Market Force and the rest who connect them to manufacturers and distributors via mobile app. They not only enjoy the ease and convenience of these services, they also get goods at better prices. 

According to industry expert and CEO of Alerzo Limited, Adewale Opaleye, e-commerce is driving the inclusion of women in economic activities, and championing the cause of hitherto marginalised markets dominated by women. “Driven by the conditions these women have had to endure, we made them our target audience. We serve women who have been marginalised for years, many of whom bear the responsibility of providing for their families. 

We serve women who, driven by the fiercest form of protection known to mankind, are determined to provide a better life for their children. We serve neighbourhood friendly informal retail stores to grow their businesses by providing both logistic and financial services,” he said. 

Many industry observers are of the view that driving awareness around the possibilities in the e-commerce space will go a long way in empowering several Nigerian women, increase their productivity and increase opportunities for them in the general scheme of things. 

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