Women's skills are needed for Africa’s industrial boom, says AfDB research economist

03/11/2014
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Women must be empowered with entrepreneurial and ICT skills in order to contribute significantly to the industrial growth of Africa. This was the message put forward Saturday at the 2014 African Economic Conference in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, during a session titled “Addressing the Skills Deficit”.

Scholars presented their research to participants who included politicians, economists and entrepreneurs – and from their representations, the resounding conclusion was that the large skills gap in Africa can be bridged by extending practical and vocational skills to women. The researchers analyzed that whereas gender equality has been overly emphasized, it has mostly enabled women to attain employable, but not entrepreneurial, skills.

“Differences in education and skills, including ICT skills together with greater opportunity cost for women, account for gender differences in entrepreneurial outcomes. This explains why women in Africa are less likely to operate high-productivity enterprises,” said Zuzana Brixiova, a Principal Research Economist at the African Development Bank.

“Again, in comparison to male-managed firms, female-managed firms are less likely to have their own website and use emails to interact with clients and suppliers. They are also less likely to have an internationally recognized quality certification and use technology licensed from foreign companies.”

Brixiova argued that to address such key challenges, policy-makers need to take serious note of the skills divide, and in particular, create relevant models that extend ICT skills to women in order to make their industries more productive.

With unemployment recorded at 11.9% in 2012 and 2013, and with youth making up 50% of the unemployed, Brixiova warned that unless policies in Africa change, many women will continue to get frustrated and join the informal sector more rapidly every year.

“Without changing the gender equality narrative, millions of women risk being left behind because there is a clear gender dimension to the technological divide. It is no longer acceptable for women to lag behind men in access to training or in application of technology,” she said.

“Policy-makers should identify the factors that force many women in Africa to join the less productive informal sector, as well as seek to address why women get lower education attainments in several countries on the continent.”

Generally, value addition in human capital is paramount for Africa’s ultimate industrial boom – and basic education alone will not suffice, according to Manitra Rakotoarisoa, an Economist at the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations.

While presenting his research, Rakotoarisoa said that investing in human capital after or during the formal education process, is a decisive step to achieving strong manufacturing industries.

“Creating value addition for employment is a message that needs to resonate in least developing countries endowed with abundant natural resources,” he said.

“By doing this, policy-makers will avoid the past mistakes of relying too heavily on volatile gains from raw material exports and instead tread more stable paths of skill-based manufacturing to build prosperity.”

According to the World Bank, real per capita manufacturing value added in Sub-Saharan Africa was about US $61 in 2004, which is only about one-eightieth of that in developed countries.