Gender inequality in African labour markets under the spotlight in two AfDB reports

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The African Development Bank continues to commemorate the International Women’s Day through forums to discuss challenges in accelerating gender equality.

A March 27 meeting on Gender and Livelihoods organized by the AfDB’s Chief Economist Complex at the Bank’s headquarters in Abidjan focused on studies showing that men were more advantaged in securing well-paying employment opportunities than women. A recent study, conducted by the Bank, revealed that in Botswana, men have an up to 44% advantage over women in paid employment. They are also twice as likely as women to be employed in professional job categories. Similarly, in Mali, men are two or three times more likely than women to be salaried workers.

Titled Gender Inequality in Labour Markets: An Empirical Investigation of Botswana and Mali, the forthcoming report further says women are more likely to be hired in low-paying clerical jobs or as unpaid family workers in Botswana. This effect is more pronounced in cities, towns and urban villages.

In Bamako, Mali’s capital, 30% of men were employed as salaried workers compared to women at 14%. Other urban areas recorded 18% of men as being salaried workers while only 5% were women. In rural areas, 4% of men were salaried workers compared to just one percent of women.

Lack of proper policies promoting the participation of women emerged as a key impediment to women’s effective participation in Africa’s labour market.  “We need to ask ourselves how do we improve women’s employment and economic opportunities. What is the policy infrastructure like, and what policy reforms are needed to support and encourage more women to compete in the labour market?” asked Alice Nabalamba, Chief Statistician in the Bank’s Statistics Department, and author of the study.

A forthcoming AfDB study on the Gender Gap in Employment and Entrepreneurship in Swaziland says that, in addition to policies, supporting initiatives to improve women’s access to credit creates opportunities for women to start new businesses or boost existing ones. “Opening up avenues to help women access credit is giving women a chance to pursue productive rather than subsistence entrepreneurship and participate in development,” said AfDB’s Zuzana Brixiova, who co-authored the report with Thierry Kangoye from the Bank’s Research Department.

Brixiova presented a paper on the theme at the 2014 African Economic Conference in Addis Ababa in November.

The report recommends improving land ownership rights of women to enhance their access to credit through collateral land rights boost women’s bargaining power, and improve their lives, the report states. In many African countries, traditional land ownership systems have meant that women are dependent on men for access to land, gender experts say. The report also underscores the need for finding new ways to circumvent the collateral requirement, as, for example, the Standard Bank has done in several African countries through lending to small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) based on psychometric testing (e.g. SME Quick Loan).

Steve Kayizzi-Mugerwa, AfDB’s Acting Chief Economist and Vice-President, added education and ensuring zero tolerance for violence against women to the list of key measures to be considered in order to increase women’s employment and economic opportunities.

Simon Mizrahi, Director of the Bank’s Quality Assurance and Results Department, who chaired the session, underscored the importance of unlocking the productive potential of women entrepreneurs and raising the share of women who are “opportunity” rather than “necessity” entrepreneurs. 

Education, and building capacity and skills, especially for adult women, will increase women’s negotiating skills and helps them to build their savings, Nabalamba indicated in her study of gender inequality in labour markets in Botswana and Mali.

Violence against women, on the other hand, leads to losses in productivity and well-being, impacting national budgets, people’s lives and overall development, according to UN Women.