Closing the gap

Steps are being taken to even out the gender inequality score in Africa

Closing the gap

In SA, women make up half of the country’s Cabinet ministers and fill top positions in some of the leading universities and companies. But despite some encouraging transformation, the pace has not moved nearly fast enough. While the speed of world change has been accelerated by technological developments and innovation, full gender equality seems stuck in neutral. In this day and age, many women still continue to earn less than men doing the same work and are frequently passed up for opportunities in the workplace.

According to the ILO Global Wage report’s 2018/19 statistics, covering 70 countries, women continue to be paid nearly 30% less than men overall. In SA, the gender pay gap is worryingly large, with the gulf widening recently in tandem with poor economic growth. The country hovers close to the bottom of the global list.

It is often an uphill battle for women beyond the corporate space in the informal sector as well, where many small and microenterprises are owned by females. Women business owners in particular often struggle to secure funding for their businesses.

However, there have been some encouraging developments to support women entrepreneurs in Africa. One of the more extensive projects is a partnership between the AfDB and Entreprenarium, a pan-African foundation that invests philanthropic capital in the training and financing of women and young entrepreneurs.

As part of this programme, the fourth Affirmative Finance Action for Women in Africa (AFAWA) masterclass was recently held in Pretoria. These classes include advice on financial planning and start-up methodology as well as mentoring and coaching sessions. The training forms part of the AfDB’s goal to support over a thousand women entrepreneurs in six African countries. So far, applications for financing are also being reviewed in Côte d’Ivoire, Gabon and Kenya, with a view to supporting the most promising projects. AFAWA intends to mobilise more than $3 billion worth of financing for women-empowered businesses in Africa. The AfDB says the plan is to put gender at the forefront of its development agenda, with an eye on inclusive transformation.

Shifts are also needed in Africa’s rural areas, where it can be even harder to operate a business. Studies show that if women had the same access to agricultural production resources as men, their productivity would surge by between 20% and 30%, with an anticipated increase in agricultural GDP of 2.5%. Women also plough back their earnings into their families. The FAO has pointed out that an increase of $10 to a woman’s income achieves the same improvements to children’s health and nutrition as a $110 increase in a man’s income.

Connecting female agriproducers with companies along the value chain would help women have better access to regional and global markets. An increasing number of female-led tech startups are starting to shake up the agricultural sector in several African countries and help bring farmers closer to markets. For example, digital platforms have been set up to aid women agripreneurs network and develop business relationships. Through fostering co-operation and learning, many female small-scale farmers will be more equipped to make the move into agribusiness.

Attitudes need to shift, but both the private and public sectors will have to play their part – from women-led business networks and more advocacy, awareness and role models to company policies and legislative changes that go beyond targets and lay the foundation for reaching meaningful gender equality.

By Kim Cloete
Image: Clinton Prins