Poverty is a common plague afflicting people all over the world especially in the less developed countries. According to M.L. Jhingan (2003), poverty is misery-go-round plaguing the less developed countries (1).
Nigeria enjoyed steady economic growth and relative stability in the 1960s and 70s especially with emergence of the mining industries. The per-capita income grew steadily and few people were between the poverty line as the agricultural public and industrial sectors absorbed a highest percentage of the labor force.
However, as from the late 70s, the economy had to contend with severe economic difficulties resulting from falling oil revenue, world economic recession, deteriorating terms of trade, debt overhangs and macro-economic imbalances. Other factors were high inflation rate, unemployment, bad economic principles, huge wastage of scarce resources and bad governance. Hence, poverty has remained one of the most pressing issues in Nigeria today. It has not only become entrenched and multifaceted over the years, it has defied efforts at eradicating it. Poverty is associated with lack of inadequate basic necessities of life such as food, clothing, light and shelter among others.
Prior to the 1970s, there was this general belief that rapid economic growth (i.e., increase in productivity) and rising per capita income would automatically improve people's welfare. However, experience soon proved that high economic growth would necessarily transform income structure into an equitable distribution of benefits as the country experienced high inflation and unemployment. Hence, attention was shifted to the development of human capital in line with the basic human needs approach to alleviating poverty in the 1980s consequently, Nigeria embraced greater investment in education, infrastructural development, health, nutrition and other social sector. However this approach soon ran to a hitch due to the economic crisis of the mid 80s. Consequently, the incidence of poverty rose to 43 percent in 1985, though it fell to 34% in 1992 due to the 1986 structural reforms (2). However, with the collapse of macro economic discipline in the 1990s, the country was plagued with high inflation, low productive activities and economic stagnation. The poverty incidence rose to 61% in 1997 and over 70% in 1999. and Nigeria ranked 54th in the Human Poverty Index (2).
The situation above called for concerned efforts by all stake holders namely, the government, multinational organizations, community based institutions, private and non-governmental organization to improve the living standard of the populate. The various governments at all levels at different times embarked on poverty alleviation programs to cushion the effects of poverty. Such programs among others included the Directorate of Food, Roads and Rural Infrastructure (DFRRI), Better Life Program (BLP), Family Support Program (FSP), National Directorate of Employment (NDE), Family Economic Advancement Program (FEAP), People's Bank of Nigeria, Federal Urban Mass Transit Program, National Agency for Mass Literacy and National Agricultural Land Development Authority (NALDA).
Despite the laudable programs outlined above and the huge scarce resources devoted to poverty alleviation, the level of unemployment especially among women and youth continued to rise while poverty conditions worsened. The past efforts were probably undermined by deteriorating in fiscal discipline, corruption, political instability, bad governance, financial indiscipline and inconsistent government policies. In recognition of the economic implication of poverty and the failure of past governmental efforts, some non-governmental organizations have stepped efforts to alleviate poverty among the women folks living in the rural areas. Worthy of note of these organizations is the Country Women Association of Nigeria (COWAN). COWAN aimed at alleviating poverty among women living in the rural areas.
Women have always seen at the vanguard of development. In a typical African setting, women are responsible for over 70% of food production and processing. Nevertheless, they have little or no access to productive assets. Most often times, she is denied access to loan facilities for lack of collateral securities. In realization that women empowerment and the improvement of their political, social, economic and health status are essential for development, it is imperative therefore to examine the impact of the micro finance provided by COWAN on poverty alleviation among rural women.
This study therefore aims at examining the activities of COWAN as it relates to poverty alleviation among rural women. The study, examines the socio-economic characteristics of COWAN beneficiaries, the influence of micro-finance provided by COWAN on selected socio-economic variables of women and the role of COWAN in women's economic, social and political empowerment.
Literature review: Poverty has generally been defined as...