African women are among the most hardworking, but least privileged in terms of income and opportunities

05/11/2015
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Four papers focusing on gender, poverty and inequality received considerable attention, Wednesday, November 4, 2015, at the 10th African Economic Conference in Kinshasa, as they highlighted constraints and proposed solutions regarding women’s financial inclusion and empowerment, as well as to their access to land.

The first presentation by United Nations University researcher Maty Konte investigated the effect of gender discrimination in access to finance. For Konte, gender equality and women’s economic empowerment have been a central goal in achieving successful and sustainable development. However, using the period 1980-2010 as a sample for her investigation, she noted that the majority of women in many developing countries are still disproportionately disadvantaged in terms of economic opportunities and access to resources.

The paper also argues that in Sub-Saharan Africa in particular, there are a significant number of women entrepreneurs by necessity due to existing gender discrimination in the labour market. It also states that these women may not improve their performance by means of greater access to higher loans and credit due to their lack of educational, managerial and entrepreneurial skills.

“Policies intended to promote better access to formal financial services for women have the potential to raise the growth rate of the economy. These policies may also help create more jobs for those women.”

Promoting women entrepreneurship and access to credit markets

Echoing Maty Konte, Emmanuel Nwosu at the Department of Economics, University of Nigeria, Nsukka, Enugu State, showcased the prominence of women entrepreneurs and their access to finance in Nigeria’s development. The study suggests that the government should set up advisory councils and departments for men and women to educate them in entrepreneurship.

For Nwosu, the lack of access to credit and enterprise performance in his country and other Sub-Saharan African countries “is an issue of concern.” Talking of constraints to credit markets, he raised issues of collateral, complex application procedure, asymmetric information among others. “To support growth of enterprises in Nigeria, there is need for making access to formal credits less stringent to all, in particular to women entrepreneurs. But entrepreneurs should be ascertained on the need to keep proper financial records.”

We count as key development actors

The third paper was presented by Lonoi Maloiy, a University of South Australia Doctoral student, entitled “Patriarchy and control of resources: Contributing factors to the feminization of poverty in Kenya.” The study examined the paradox that African women are among the most hardworking, but least privileged, not only in terms of income, but also well-being and opportunities.

“Due to lack of opportunities, women are forced into low wages or low status careers,” she highlighted, explaining that, “Two thirds of Africa’s poor are women, but they are among the most hardworking in the world.

“A possible reason for this paradox is that African women face many barriers when attempting to access education, careers and economic resources,” she said.

While Maloiy argued that the representation of Kenyan women in formal employment is low at 30 per cent, she recognized that the under-representation in the workforce is not isolated to her country. “The same issues can be found in other parts of Africa, with women largely in informal sector or in unpaid positions within domestic and agricultural sectors.”

From her viewpoint, the barriers stem from political, social and cultural factors, which are important not only to identify, but to comprehend as well. “Such marginalization has contributed to the under-representation of women in formal employment, public decision-making as well as inadequate access to financial resources and education.”

To conclude, Maloiy suggested that educational programmes for males would assist with gradually phasing out of patriarchal attitudes that inhibit women from accessing education and thus furthering their careers. “Women count as a key development actors. Our full participation will determine whether strategies will be sustainable and effective.”

Securing women’s access to land in Africa

The issue of women’s lack access to land was another key issue discussed during the session and one which researchers said remains “one of the most challenging for African women.”

“Improving African women’s access to land will be crucial and gender transformational,” Namizata Binaté Fofana, a lecturer at Felix Houphouet Boigny University in Abidjan, underscored.

She presented a paper entitled “Gender and political economy of land in Africa,” which points out the need for innovative approaches that go beyond property rights in operationalizing good strategies to strengthen women’s access to land.

Drawing from cases in Rwanda, Ethiopia, Uganda, South Africa, Kenya and Tanzania, the author called for concrete actions by African governments “to fill the gap between political commitments and implementation.”

The three-day African Economic Conference was jointly organized by the African Development Bank, United Nations Development Programme and United Nations Economic Commission for Africa as a platform designed to bring together African researchers, policy-makers and development agencies to brainstorm and come up with mechanisms to address the continent’s development challenges.

The conference brought together more than 250 economist-researchers, policy-makers, private sector operators as well as civil society representatives. The conference, which ran from Monday, November 2 to Wednesday, November 4 in Kinshasa, was dedicated to “Addressing Poverty and Inequality in the Post-2015 Development Agenda.”