Gender equality: An imperative for inclusive growth
In December 2014, I delivered the keynote address at the African Forum on Inclusive Economies, which was co-convened by the Africa Development Bank (AfDB), Rockefeller Foundation, and United Nations Economic Commission for Africa (ECA). The Forum was timely, addressing the question of how to strengthen economic inclusivity in Africa as a strategy to boost growth and ensure its sustainability.
Why inequality matters
As the Special Envoy on Gender at the African Development Bank, I confront daily the question of exclusion. I am increasingly persuaded that addressing inequality, whether gender-related or otherwise, is not just a moral imperative, it is necessary for sustainable development.
Let me start with a few statistics. Africa has performed better than other developing regions with respect to women’s participation in the labour force, which stood at 61 percent in 2009 compared to the global rate of 52 percent. However, significant disparities in remuneration, choice of trade and job security persist. Particularly, African women perform a disproportionately higher share of unpaid or unproductive labour, given that women’s work days are longer than average – up to 50 percent longer in some countries. Productivity of women farmers is estimated to be 30 percent lower than that of men. This reflects their lack of access to inputs, such as infrastructure, finances, land and water. It is estimated that only a quarter of employers in Africa are women. And roughly 30 percent of African countries restrict women’s choice of trade or profession. Similar gender disparities are evident in leadership roles, human development and legal status and rights.
Addressing these disparities delivers important development benefits. Studies have shown that eliminating gender inequalities in access to agricultural inputs increases overall output by up to four percent. The reform of the land tenure system to improve land security for women in Rwanda, for example, increased capital investments by 10 percentage points leading to improved yields and incomes. Increased control of income by women is associated with greater investments in children’s education and welfare. Evidence also suggests that improving education of girls reduces child mortality rates by nearly 10 percent, while enhancing national incomes.
A renewed focus on gender equality, our chance to act
Campaigns for gender equality have produced wide-ranging improvements in the state of women across Africa as much as they have done for women across the globe. Specifically, Africa has seen improvements in women’s participation in the labour force, increased enrolment of girls in primary schools, reduction in fertility, and increased participation of women in political processes in comparison to past efforts to enhance gender equality. Twenty-first century challenges require fresh thinking.
Let me conclude by tabling a few proposals. The AfDB’s Gender Strategy identifies three core areas of support: legal status and property rights, economic empowerment, and capacity-building. What does this mean for the inclusive growth agenda?
It means at a macro level, sensitising policy-makers and assisting governments to institutionalise gender equality through, for example, advocacy for reforms to harmonise civil and customary laws. It entails, at a micro level, skill development, creating economic opportunities specifically targeting women, improving women’s access to finance, and enhancing quality of employment. In the area of infrastructure development, it means construction of infrastructure that alleviates the caregiver burden on women, as well as adopting project designs that maximise benefits accruing to women during construction and service stages.
Inclusive growth requires regional integration, and requires coordinated efforts to facilitate trade, both formal and informal, by establishing strong and balanced institutions and empowering traders with knowledge of transit regulations, among other things. Women and girls in fragile states experience special challenges that must be tackled through both stronger institutions and community-based support. The AfDB and its partners are committed to supporting African governments in delivering this change.