Ideas & Debate

Deepening cost of gender gap in Africa

Gender inequality is jeopardising Africa’s efforts for inclusive human development and economic growth. FILE PHOTO | NMG
Gender inequality is jeopardising Africa’s efforts for inclusive human development and economic growth. FILE PHOTO | NMG 

According to the UN, gender inequality is costing Africa $95 billion a year.  This figure peaked at $105 billion in 2014 or six per cent of the region’s GDP. 

In a report released by the UNDP last year, it was found that women achieve only 87 per cent of the human development outcomes of men and only make 70 cents for each dollar made by men.

The causes of gender inequality are numerous and range from lower levels of female secondary school education attainment, lower female labour force participation and high maternal mortality, to the physical and sexual abuse of women and girls by boys and men, as well as women being underpaid and undervalued in the workplace. While 61 per cent of African women are working, they still face economic exclusion.

The continued marginalisation and mistreatment of women and girls is making the continent lose billions and leaving everyone, including men and boys, worse off.

Africa continues to be foolish in the tolerance of gender inequality. For example, women are crucial investors in their community and spend 90 per cent of their revenue on their family or community.

Gender inequality in Africa is a multi-layered and complex issue and class differences inform the articulation of how inequality is experienced by women.

Low-income women are often trapped in an economic and cultural reality where girls are excluded from going to school; according to the UN only 39 per cent of girls in rural areas attend high school.

Low-income pregnant women cannot afford good quality health care for themselves and their children and thus often die while giving birth and many of their children die before reaching the age of five.

Further, domestic labour is a grievous burden; African women and girls still carry out 71 per cent of water collecting translating to 40 billion hours.

While all members of the household, men and boys included, benefit from this female labour, women and girls are never compensated for their contribution.

Poor women are also often locked in the informal sector; a sector riddled with lack of regulation, which often engenders gross injustices such as under-compensation, labour law violations and flagrant exploitation, all of which disproportionately affect women.

High-income educated women who can afford decent health care and often have help around the home are still affected by gender inequality.

At work, women are notoriously under-represented in leadership positions. In Africa, only between seven and 30 per cent of all private firms have a female manager. This is largely due to patriarchal socialisation.

Women are often judged negatively for exhibiting what are deemed to be the male qualities of ambition—assertiveness and even self-confidence.

Contributions made by women are often under-appreciated and sometimes “bro-propriated”, a phenomenon where men take credit. And while high income women may have help at home, they are still disproportionately saddled with the domestic responsibilities.

These range from ensuring the home looks presentable and ensuring the children do their homework, to the emotional labour of organising daily schedules.

Africa will continue to lose billions to gender inequality and while this issue is often articulated as a “women” issue, the reality is that everyone, including men and boys, are negatively affected by the mistreatment and marginalisation of women and girls.