Women’s empowerment is a critical issue in poverty reduction, unemployment and sustainable development. Development experts have established that the quickest way to poverty alleviation is to provide soft loans, gainful employment, and access to portable water and free or affordable health care to women. Any intervention that fails to account for these variables and the needs of women will not achieve the optimised level of impact.
Women’s empowerment in Osun
The state government of Osun in Nigeria, under the leadership of Governor Rauf Aregbesola, ranks first in the nation with respect to women’s empowerment. For example:
- 600 women were selected from the 30 Local Government Areas (LGAs), totalling 18,000, and provided with interest free loans;
- 1,200 were trained in various skills and given N20,000 interest free loans under the UNICEF replication Initiative.
- 3,007 women were employed under the Osun Elementary School Feeding Programme (O-MEALS), which is the subject of this paper.
The O-MEALS Programme
1. Programme design
Formerly known as the Home Grown School Feeding and Health Programme (HGSFP), the O-MEALS Programme was restructured and enhanced by the State of Osun in 2012. The programme was first initiated by the Federal Government in 2004 through the Universal Basic Education (UBE) Act. The Aregbesola administration undertook a comprehensive review of the HGSFP, launching O-MEALS in 2012.
The programme provides a nutritious meal every day for 252,000 pupils in elementary school (grades 1-4) in the state’s public schools. To cater to this demand, the state government recruited and trained 3,007 women caterers to serve meals in the 1,378 public primary schools.
Evenly spread, the women caterers were picked from the 30 LGAs in the state, provided with chef attire and modern cooking utensils through a guaranteed soft-loan scheme (interest free), in collaboration with a reputable commercial bank. Bi-weekly, they are paid allowances electronically for the scheme.
The programme gained international endorsement by the Partnership for Child Development (PCD) of the United Kingdom in 2012. This led to the signing of the Osun Elementary School Feeding Transition Strategy Plan Document, to further strengthen the programme and the pact between PCD and the Government of the State of Osun.
2. Programme impact
This initiative has achieved tremendous unquantifiable direct and indirect benefits:
- Women participants are able to rent out the cooking utensils when the schools are on break;
- they serve their families the food they prepare before taking it to the schools;
- various other women cooperatives have sprung up in the state; and
- Women’s unemployment has reduced.
This is the most sustainable, equitably distributed and successfully institutionalised women’s empowerment programme in the country. It has also had positive impacts on childhood nutrition and school enrolment.
A vision of the future: National programme scale-up
Nigeria has 36 states comprising of the Federal Capital Territory and 774 LGAs. Assuming the Federal Government, led by President Muhammadu Buhari, adopt this programme, it will be one of the biggest and sustainable women’s empowerment programme’s in the world.
For the purpose of argument, if each state empowers 3,000 women, evenly spread across the 774 LGAs, a total of 108,000 women would be directly empowered. The impact on the economy will be the enjoyment of considerable inclusive growth.
In addition, if each of the 108,000 women has at least one child and a husband, a total of 216,000 people will be fed directly at home. Osun feeds 252,000 pupils per day, if each state feeds 250,000 per day, Nigeria will be providing free meals for nine million pupils per day, holding great potential for childhood development and nutrition.
The impact of national scale-up would reduce unemployment, allowing for equitable distribution of resources across the nation, a reduction in poverty, and economic growth. It provides a model for other nations to emulate.
Over 100,000 thousand women have benefitted from various empowerment programmes in the Nigerian state of Osun. These cut across micro finance, skill acquisition, and agricultural programmes. They have helped in reducing poverty, increasing household income, reducing child mortality, and increasing education delivery.
The O-MEALS Programme provides an inspiring approach for countries around the world looking to develop and implement programmes and reforms that will impact positively on women, children and society at large.
The empowerment of women is the most effective tool for development.
- Kofi Annan (1938-2018), seventh Secretary-General of the United Nations
AgroNigeria (2016). Osun O-MEALS Scheme: Homegrown Excellence. Accessible: