The reality in most African countries is that women lead different economic lives to men and inequalities in economic systems and structures both at small to medium levels have great impacts on any country’s development. It is indisputable that addressing the constraints to women’s economic empowerment is fundamental to lasting, inclusive and sustainable economic growth, poverty reduction, food security and to the achievement of gender equality.
Women in developing countries are underrepresented in every type of employment and are more than twice as likely to be out of the labour force altogether. They are typically found to have lower awareness and knowledge than men about financial matters and have lower financial skills, this can present significant challenges to women in making decisions about their income or assets.
In access to and control of financial and physical capital—particularly credit and land, women are less likely to be the formal owners of land, property or other assets. They suffer disenfranchisement with regards land access, use and ownership. The change of land use to cater for increasing infrastructural needs and excavation for mining also further marginalizes women out of their land because of their limited rights and voice in land transfer processes.
In many African economies, women face the cumulative effects of multiple legal constraints women when it comes to inheritance laws, laws that govern their ability to register and run a business, their ability to work and laws that regulate land and property ownership.
In agriculture women make up over 50% of the agricultural labour force and mostly specialise in the production of food crops and men in cash crops. Men therefore often have first claim on the money generated from sales of cash crops, while women use sales and exchange of food crops to generate their own incomes.
Norms affect women’s work by dictating the way they spend their time and undervaluing their potential. Housework, child-rearing, and elderly care are often considered primarily women’s responsibility. Women’s ability to own and/or inherit land, open a bank account or register a business can be greatly restricted by discriminatory laws and practices. Women’s lack of agency and voice impacts on their self-confidence which ultimately has a negative impact in how they present themselves in broader socio-economic spaces.
In addressing this mirage of constraints, it is critical to eliminate structural barriers to women’s economic decision-making power by applying a feminist and intersectional approach to addressing women’s economic empowerment. Applying a feminist lens to women’s economic empowerment will ensure that structural causes of gender inequality in the world of work are removed, with reforms focusing on removing restrictions to women’s work in labour and employment; unequal status provisions, such as head-of-household provisions, in family law; allowing and encouraging women’s ownership and joint-titling of land; enforcing equitable inheritance laws; and applying non-discrimination principles to customary laws.
In order to realise a more equitable economic space for women to participate and thrive, it important to:
- Adopt a feminist and intersectional approach to women’s economic empowerment
- Ensure public economic management and government policies are gender neutral.
- Support feminist and women’s collective organising on economic & labour rights and connect women’s agency with economic opportunities.
- Recognise and support the care economy by addressing women’s unequal responsibility for paid and unpaid care work.
- Tackle inequalities through education and training including access to relevant information and technology
- Close the wage gap and address gender-based violence in the world of work
- Address the social norms, laws and economic policies, and structural barriers that restrict women’s choices and opportunities.
UAF-Africa’s work bolsters women’s economic opportunities and ultimately their empowerment; it advances and recognises women’s economic rights, through influencing gender sensitive policy shifts, advocacy, strategic communications and accountability in order to achieve gender equality in Africa.
Through our Economic Justice programme, we support women’s human rights organisations and activists who seek to address and overcome the defining factors that contribute to women’s economic stagnation and advocate for an enabling environment with just and equitable frameworks that promote women’s economic self-reliance.