Exploring the Ups and Downs of Nigerian Women as Breadwinners

By Oviasuyi Glory | Aug 14, 2023

At 50 years old, Onajite, a married mother of four, never intended to become the sole provider. For her, this role unfolded unexpectedly. She had anticipated her husband's support, envisioning herself in a supportive role, but she found herself unprepared for the reality of being the primary breadwinner.

She says:

“I don’t think there was a time in my life that I imagined that I would be here. That I would be married and be the major breadwinner.  That I would have to provide almost everything on my own. That if my children needed anything, the responsibilities will rest on me.”

Over the years in Nigeria, there has been an increased number of female breadwinners. A 2016 survey by the National Bureau of Statistics summits that  21.1 per cent of households are female-led. Despite the prevailing patriarchal norms, factors like the cost of living crisis, single parenthood, polygamy, the loss of spouses, and husbands not contributing financially have contributed to the rise of women taking on breadwinning roles, solely becoming responsible for family welfare and maintenance.  

Chika is a 37-year-old single mother of three. She recounts that even during her marriage, she held the role of primary provider. After he left, she had to fully take on the breadwinner role. 

She says:

"It was never my plan to do it all alone. Things were already difficult when we were together. His work wasn’t constant and I was doing so much including working and borrowing just to keep us all afloat. Then one day, he got up, just took his things and left me to continue it all alone. I think he was tired. Things were really difficult.  So now, I have to feed, cloth and pay school fees for three children amongst other things.”

Agatha, a married mother of one, has assumed the primary financial burden for her family. This includes covering rent expenses and maintaining the family vehicle.

She says; “ He doesn’t bring much home so I have to pay our rent and the bills.” 

For Omobi, a 32-year-old, being a breadwinner also means taking care of an extended family. She says;“ My husband does not work. I am the sole breadwinner and also have his three sisters living with us. So you can imagine the amount of groceries I have to buy all the time.”

Many women who bear the role of breadwinners find themselves juggling financial responsibilities without abandoning traditional roles. In this dual capacity, female breadwinners not only manage financial matters but also shoulder the demands of child care and domestic chores. This dynamic can be quite strenuous as they navigate between their professional duties outside the home and the responsibilities within it. Balancing these multiple roles, both inside and outside the house, presents a demanding and challenging endeavour.

Onajite sums this up. She says; "When I leave in the morning for work, sometimes I come back quite late and I have to prepare food for the family, however tired I am. Will I say I am too tired to cook? The thing about being a woman providing is that you can’t go telling people you are doing that. People will say you are proud and trying to dominate the man. So you will have to move in silence.’’ 

She submits that what she has been most struck by is the lack of gratitude and being unappreciated. 

She says; “ I have done so much in our marriage of more than fifteen years. People think he does most of the things here but who will I tell? We once had an argument and I told him I was not feeling appreciated and he asked me, what have you done for me? That really made me sad. I think he is just really angry inside. That all these years I have been the provider that he should have been and he is just angry at me for it.”

For Chika, she speaks of the exhaustion of it all. 

She says; “ When my husband got up and left, he left me with three children all under eleven. It hasn’t been easy.   He still does not provide even as a co–parent and I have to do it all. My daughter wrote WASSCE and I had to pay for everything.”

Tragically, assuming the role of breadwinner does not shield women from the scourge of abuse. Disturbingly, a 2021 report by Australian National University researchers Robert Breunig, director of the Tax and Transfer Institute, and Yinjunjie Zhang reveals that when a woman out-earns her partner, the likelihood of her becoming a victim of domestic abuse increases by 35 per cent. Regrettably, this disturbing trend resonates with Agatha's situation, as she grapples with violence from her husband.

She says; "He has become really abusive. When we quarrel, he hits me and I am also now a wicked woman according to his siblings, because I no longer spend my money on them.”

Omobi, her unhappiness has increased as she feels exhausted and unfulfilled. 

She says; "I cannot even buy myself anything because I spend it on running the house. I have no savings and my husband thinks I want to chase his three sisters away. That is why I do not want them around anymore. I am exhausted and I am not happy.” 

In 2014, a study revealed that about one million women aged 20 to 85 were divorced or separated from their husbands, while 1.7 million were widowed. In an earlier article, Document Women referred to the increasing inequality in living standards between men and women due to the widening poverty gap.  

It is important to acknowledge the contributions of Nigerian female breadwinners to the home. These women are mostly moving in silence and it is important we also ensure support for them. Olanireti Dupe Iji, is the Founder and executive director of Youngsters and Women Advancement Initiative (YAWAI), a non-profit organization committed to the empowerment of women. 

She advocates for increased support for women. She says; “I would love for more women to have emotional and mental support, capacity building, fundraising, mentorship and guidance and support from policymakers and influential stakeholders to amplify the welfare of women. By providing these kinds of support for women, we can help to create a more equitable society.”

In a society where traditional roles and expectations often collide with the reality of modern life, Nigerian female breadwinners have emerged as silent heroes. These women, like Onajite, Chika, Agatha, and Omobi, navigate the challenges of financial responsibility while also fulfilling domestic and caregiving duties.

Their stories reveal the unspoken sacrifices and struggles they endure, facing unappreciation, abuse, and exhaustion. Despite the hurdles, these women stand as symbols of strength, determination, and resilience. It is imperative that we not only acknowledge their contributions but also provide them with the necessary support they deserve.

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