Why we should invest in decent employment for young mothers in Nigeria

And how to do it

A Case Study by Lihi Lavie, Pauline van Andel and Eva Haverkort (Leiden University)

‘How to create decent employment for young mothers in Nigeria’, that was the challenge that a team of three students from Leiden University College started with, in February of this year. To find out the best practices and most promising employment opportunities, they reviewed a number of past interventions in the area and interviewed several Nigerian entrepreneurs and experts. Their findings – summarized in this blog post – were used to inform the Challenge Fund for Youth Employment, on the importance of investing in young mothers, and on the ways in which it can best be achieved. The research concludes that there is a large number of young mothers in Nigeria, and there are many opportunities to create decent employment for this group. Most importantly, it shows that investing in employment for this group has a great positive impact on the mothers, their families, and the alleviation of poverty in the Nigerian society as a whole. 



Nigeria has over 30 million women between the age of 15 and 24. Many of these women, a third by estimate, become mothers at a very young age, leaving them with responsibilities of childcare and household obligations. Without a decent job, they are largely dependent on their parents or partners. Young mothers do not only encounter gender discrimination in the workplace, but they are often also less educated than men. As a result, they often end up in indecent employment that does not provide a safe working environment or meets their needs as mothers.


Importance of young mothers’ employment for the future generation

“Provide a man with an income, and he will send his sons to school. Provide a woman with an income and she will send all her children to school.” This was said by one of the Nigerian entrepreneurs that was interviewed. The quote indicates how large the impact of investing in young mothers is. When a mother receives a stable income, she is more likely to send her children to school compared to men, which increases economic opportunities for her children. This relieves the family from poverty in the long term. 


Achieving decent employment for young mothers

Decent employment includes a fair income, which can sustain the employee in her and her family’s livelihood. Moreover, the job has to accommodate to the needs of young mothers, meaning that it is flexible and includes childcare provisions. Finally, decent employment  provides a safe and secure workplace, with equal opportunities for men and women. 

One sector in which many young mothers currently find employment is the informal sector, which provides flexibility, yet does not deliver financial and social security. Self-employment, which is often informal, can be viable, especially in case it requires very little start-up capital. Think of selling commodities, or working in the creative sector as a hairdresser or tailor. 

Preferable options are formal jobs that suit young mothers’ needs.  In several interviews with entrepreneurs, it became clear that these jobs can best be provided by small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs). SMEs allow for personal relationships between the employer and the employee. This way, employers can respond to the specific needs of the young women, and support them, for example  to become financially independent, by helping them set up personal bank accounts. Young mothers can significantly contribute to the success of the SME with their dedication. Despite their specific needs, young mothers are an invaluable workforce. Nigerian entrepreneurs indicate that they are extremely hardworking and reliable since they have more at stake than only their own livelihood.

Furthermore, in both the informal and formal sector, it is important that the young mothers will have access to both vocational training and soft skills training. It is essential to not only help young mothers at the beginning of their employment, but also in their career paths for sustainable success. Any intervention aimed at creating decent employment should adapt to the cultural context, by assessing the culture and the risks beforehand. This can, for example, be done by engaging with the religious leaders and the partners of young mothers. Finally, adjusting to cultural context also means recognizing that young mothers need to be encouraged to be ambitious and aspire personal growth. 



To achieve sustainable employment for youth in Nigeria, we should not only invest in the present, we must invest in the future as well. The group of young, underemployed mothers in Nigeria is very big. Investing in decent employment for this very large group of young mothers in Nigeria will have a great positive impact on them, their children, and their families.

The Challenge Fund for Youth Employment is encouraged to invest in this group, by selecting employment initiatives that are building on their soft skills, flexibility, and encouragement.

A more detailed description of how to achieve decent employment and what type of interventions are most promising are available here.