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  • Jennifer Adebambo

Cultural Limitations on Women Livelihoods in Cross-River State: Analysis from a livelihoods study

Updated: Sep 10, 2021

Cross River State is a littoral state within Nigeria’s Southern borders. Named in reference to the river which passes through the state, it occupies 20,156 square kilometers, shares boundaries with several states and countries including the Republic of Cameroon and the Atlantic Ocean by the south. Cross river houses 18 LGAs and experiences more rainfall than many other parts of the country while hosting a wide expanse of tropical rainforest. Livelihood in this part of the world is consistent with their environment which includes fishing, farming, trading (microenterprises) especially in products from the forest like timber and non -timber produce like the snail. Community members depend on these resources for their survival. Educational attainment is below the national average and more and more children are found on the street hawking produce as dispensed by their mothers.

Despite the intriguing beauty of the state, her members continue to live in absolute poverty. Absolute poverty refers to being unable or barely able to meet the basic requirements of food, clothing, and shelter. Within the state, rural communities occupy more land space than the urban, meaning that poverty levels at the urban regions are doubled if not tripled at the rural setting. Research shows over 60% of inhabitants are poor. This also prenotes a dis-apportioned distribution of basic amenities between the rural and urban communities, mainly because urban areas house fundamental comforts that encourage industrial set up as opposed to living in the village. Inside the LGAs are known to be overly populated, teeming especially with women and children whose main source of food security is farming. Women continue to make up the largest aspect of the labor force of the state with business in microenterprise ventures whose employees are their children. Cross-River also records the lowest figure of informal sector owners and gender disaggregation shows more female informal sector owners than their male counterparts.

With Nigeria’s downward plunge in the human poverty index (HPI), rural women can be well considered to be the poorest of their society and are largely more affected by poverty than men. Within Cross-River state, women carry out several tasks to support their family including divulging into society accustomed male-trades that have been cut out for only men, traditionally owing to its accompanying stress and rigorous nature.

For Example, the timber market of Calabar is one of the most popular means of livelihood for inhabitants, however, because of the severities accredited to the felling of trees, chopping, and conversion to suitable sizes for sales, and of course subsequent large revenue harvested, this market is male-dominated. From a key informant interview held in Calabar – several gender-based violence has been reported emanating from this revenue source as women reported men victimizing & oppressing them at marketing scenarios, especially since over 80% of traders are men. Another livelihood source is fishing. Whereas women are not known to be involved in the actual catch of fishes, they are the livewire of this income. According to research carried out by Imaobong and J. P (2010), the major involvement of women in this field is sorting, processing, transporting, marketing and distribution to consumers. This gender accredited role of who catches and who sells is rooted in our socio-cultural and religious belief system. Payments to these female workers are usually in kind (a certain amount of fish given) or with the commission after sales.

Image Courtesy: Premium Times Nigeria

From ancient times, farmland ownership has always been male – inclined, while women only had access through their husbands or their sons – implying that women could not have direct access to land because of their status. Men were the key owners and distributors of farm spaces, which was acquired either through inheritance, through the village head or via their wives (for cases where women married into a landless family, the land was given to their husbands to support their subsistence). In family settings, farms were owned, tilled and cultivated by men, the women-only supported via weeding and during harvest. In some parts of the state, it is still customary for women to only retrieve proceeds of farm or fishing from their husbands and sell in the market – selling in the market was the sole duty of the woman. Nowadays, men separate cash and economic crops like rice and yam for their own trading while women are left to sell subsistence crops like groundnut, millet, corn etc.

As in all states, women can easily lose their rights to farmland at the death of their husbands especially in cases where she bore no male children ultimately leading to her exclusion from means of economic production and a staying poverty status. Results from another study carried out by Eneji et al (2015) detailed the reduced participation of women in forest management meetings as a result of low education and marital status. In most communities, forest management meetings start in the evening and may last into the nights. Apart from the fact that many men will not allow their wives to be outside the house for so long, it was the same time apportioned for women to cook family meals, serve their husbands and help put the children to sleep.

Cultural limitations on women’s livelihood continue to deprive women of important social and institutional gatherings as a result of their gender, kitchen related responsibilities and childbearing tenures. This, in turn, means low representation at avenues of decision making and community restructuring. They are expected to ensure that family responsibilities come first, even before personal success. In a study conducted by Ugal. 2015, he explained that gender equality and women’s empowerment are crucial to the overall development of a state and country at large. In his observations, he noted that women in the Cross-River state need more education attainment in order to be productive members of society and help them have high expectations in their own familial issues or marriages. While this is not peculiar to Cross-River state, it is important to note that issues of gender bias even at livelihood sustainability levels point to the burden women bear and the largely overlooked reason behind their backward lag.

Enyenaweh’s gender analysis in various states of Nigeria further confirms the disparity experienced by women in attaining their livelihood sources. Findings showed that despite women being key cultivators and producers of agricultural produce, household decisions on how income was spent was solely the man’s responsibility, women’s decision-making power was restricted to children education and household chores. Low educational attainment was also noted to be a huge cultural bias factor in income levels between men and women as well as engaging in best practices of mechanized agricultural farming or even basic accounting skills to support their trade. This was noted as a key influence in the control of economic resources in the state.


Current data indicates increasing awareness and actions from foreign and local agencies to upholding women’s rights and participation. Women must now be viewed not as just beneficiaries of development interventions but as active participators of the decisions and interventions that reach them.

From a research study carried out by Enyenaweh – poverty alleviation suggestions made by women centered around communal development factories and the welfare of their children. These genuine concerns are pointers to development hallmarks that can proceed from women in leadership. No woman should be restricted to certain occupation or career progress or be dismissed from duty post because of her natural life process. Further implications from statistics reveal that while women generally carried the highest responsibilities in farming, child and family welfare and trading, they are least recognized, least supported and least educated. while male counterparts have overall authority on use and investments of monies whether earned by him or her. Inferring the continual subjective attributions of women as recognized by the society.

There is a need for elimination of household duty severity that negatively affects her commercial and social participation. Her commercial, community and development expertise must be taken seriously. Prof chukwuemeka Okoye (2016) in his article “Women Entrepreneurship Development, Sustainable Livelihoods and Microfinancing in Nigeria” proffered that the general way to go is to reduce the inherent burdens that are involved through ‘livelihood financing’, which involves targeted loans to ease the length of time women spend on such duties without reducing quality of their contributions to household well-being.

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