Recognise Women’s Contribution to Transform Economy

By Soko Directory Team / Published March 2, 2017 | 10:01 am



Kasama, Zambia. Sharon and her husband grow maize, beans, and cassava on their farm. They are participating in the Catholic Relief Services financial diaries program. They have a baby girl, Florence.

Economic transformation in Africa is only possible through Women’s active and recognised participation. In theory, this statement is universally acknowledged, in practice efforts towards this lag, especially in the corporate and enterprise spaces.

Women’s labour and contribution continues to be undervalued, and is not accorded the same gravitas as men’s. Even the vocabulary used to describe women’s work either domesticates or undermines their participation in the economy. Their work is presented as negligible or low-paying and, therefore, underserving of recognition. Yet recognition principally empowers women to gain mobility and agency in the society.

Agency is the ability for women to acquire capacity to take charge of their income streams, to invest, own land and produce and take part in their civic duty in order to construct policies that are designed to transform communities. It is the boost that guarantees quality output, creation of opportunities and social advancement.

The call to recognise the economic value of women is not a call towards “women empowerment” but rather a wake-up call to embrace smart economics. The recognition of women’s work has been attributed to the decline or advancement of economies all over the world.

In a 2013 study published by OECD titled Women in Africa, 70 per cent of the agricultural work force and 90 per cent of foodstuff production was done by women. The report also stated that “African women produce 61.9 per cent of economic goods” a number exceeding the average produce output of the OECD at the time. However, most of this economic activity is classified as informal which results in under-representation of its contribution.

In many cases, data that seeks to capture women’s labour participation overlooks the “informal sector” and accounts only for the services industry, especially ICT and telecoms. The outcome is consequently biased because these sectors, due to their nature, are inaccessible to majority of women. AFDB’s “Recognising Africa’s Informal Sector” report states that nine in 10 rural and urban workers have informal jobs and most of them are women and youth.

This also constitutes 80 per cent of the labour force, which contributes 55 per cent of sub-Saharan Africa’s GDP. This is a testament to the fact that the productivity of many women’s work finds nurturing grounds in the informal sector.

However, because this sector is already facing biases in terms of recognition as “prestigious” and valued work, it is incapable of providing the social benefits and infrastructure found in the formal sector. These benefits are designed to protect workers by providing a safe and productive environment to operate in, thereby optimising labour for increased quality output.

In many ways, the informal sector environment exacerbates the undermining of the value of women’s work.

By so doing it does very little to lift majority of the women’s population out of poverty. Hence, we are left with a situation where women in Africa are the hardest working and most productive, but also the most impoverished.

It is time to reconfigure our structures and resources to work favourably towards women because it is the only way that we can be sure of a stable future. One way to do this is to make the formalisation processes more accommodating.

As it is right now, many women prefer to remain in the informal sector despite its challenges because the alternative is inaccessible owing to issues such as expensive permits, multiple levies, and rigid tax regimes that favour big businesses. For most micro or small businesses trying to penetrate this space, is a long and painful process that stifles the spirit of entrepreneurship.

Economic transformation in Africa is only possible through Women’s active and recognised participation. In theory, this statement is universally acknowledged, in practice efforts towards this lag, especially in the corporate and enterprise spaces.

Women’s labour and contribution continues to be undervalued, and is not accorded the same gravitas as men’s . Even the vocabulary used to describe women’s work either domesticates or undermines their participation in the economy. Their work is presented as negligible or low-paying and, therefore, underserving of recognition. Yet recognition principally empowers women to gain mobility and agency in the society.

Agency is the ability for women to acquire capacity to take charge of their income streams, to invest, own land and produce and take part in their civic duty in order to construct policies that are designed to transform communities. It is the boost that guarantees quality output, creation of opportunities and social advancement.

The call to recognise the economic value of women is not a call towards “women empowerment” but rather a wake-up call to embrace smart economics. The recognition of women’s work has been attributed to the decline or advancement of economies all over the world.

In a 2013 study published by OECD titled Women In Africa, 70 per cent of the agricultural work force and 90 per cent of foodstuff production was done by women. The report also stated that “African women produce 61.9 per cent of economic goods” a number exceeding the average produce output of the OECD at the time. However, most of this economic activity is classified as informal which results in under-representation of its contribution.

In many cases, data that seeks to capture women’s labour participation overlooks the “informal sector” and accounts only for the services industry, especially ICT and telecoms. The outcome is consequently biased because these sectors, due to their nature, are inaccessible to majority of women. AFDB’s “Recognising Africa’s Informal Sector” report states that nine in 10 rural and urban workers have informal jobs and most of them are women and youth.

This also constitutes 80 per cent of the labour force, which contributes 55 per cent of sub-Saharan Africa’s GDP. This is a testament to the fact that the productivity of many women’s work finds nurturing grounds in the informal sector.

However, because this sector is already facing biases in terms of recognition as “prestigious” and valued work, it is incapable of providing the social benefits and infrastructure found in the formal sector. These benefits are designed to protect workers by providing a safe and productive environment to operate in, thereby optimising labour for increased quality output.

In many ways, the informal sector environment exacerbates the undermining of the value of women’s work.

By so doing it does very little to lift majority of the women’s population out of poverty. Hence we are left with a situation where women in Africa are the hardest working and most productive, but also the most impoverished.

It is time to reconfigure our structures and resources to work favourably towards women because it is the only way that we can be sure of a stable future. One way to do this is to make the formalisation processes more accommodating.

As it is right now, many women prefer to remain in the informal sector despite its challenges because the alternative is inaccessible owing to issues such as expensive permits, multiple levies, and rigid tax regimes that favour big businesses. For most micro or small businesses trying to penetrate this space, is a long and painful process that stifles the spirit of entrepreneurship.

More importantly, as society the perceptions of women’s participation and contribution need to change. In a world where language is part of any society’s core, we must begin to alter the language used to define women’s contribution. A win for women is a win for everyone.


—The writer is chairlady, Kenya Association of Manufacturers




About Soko Directory Team

Soko Directory is a Financial and Markets digital portal that tracks brands, listed firms on the NSE, SMEs and trend setters in the markets eco-system.Find us on Facebook: facebook.com/SokoDirectory and on Twitter: twitter.com/SokoDirectory

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