Women have made huge strides in the push for equality in all spheres over the last two decades. However, the road to gender equality and justice is still rugged and in many other ways yet to begin. Especially women’s economic independence still faces big obstacles, which is hampering economic progress on the continent.
African women have always been at the heart of economic development, even though their labour is often not quantified and captured in national data, and their contributions are downplayed in everyday household economy. In most of Africa, women have not always been confined to kitchens, they are the hands that toil to feed nations, right from the gardens and plantations to the tables. Indeed, studies show that women produce 70% of Africa’s food – yet less than 20% of land is owned by them.
Can Entrepreneurship Deliver?
In 2018, the Mastercard Index of Women’s Entrepreneurship showed that one in three businesses in Uganda belong to women, making it one of the most entrepreneurial countries in the world. Here, many female citizens are likely to run one or two small and medium enterprises (SME), even sometimes alongside the formal day time job. However, a lot of these efforts are born out of desperation and frustration of living in an economy where the majority works in the informal sector, outside financial and social security.
In Uganda, women between the ages of 15 and 29 are still highly disadvantaged in the labour market: The Uganda Bureau of Statistics and the International Labour Organisation found that they faced higher unemployment rates, suffer from wage gaps, higher shares in vulnerable employment, and longer school-to-work transitions. So even when women are courageous enough to start businesses, they are not necessarily sustainable and most of this entrepreneurship is out of deep want to make ends meet.
This year, France has been in charge of the G7 presidency and pledged to set aside 50% of its public development aid for gender policy measures between now and 2022. They specifically spelt out “economic empowerment of African women, particularly women in the Sahel” as a key intervention. Microcredits are put forward as the measure to be pursued to bring many women to exploit their economic potential. However, it is important to learn from existing knowledge around limitations of microcredit systems.
Experimental studies have found that providing financial capital like subsidised microcredit coupled with business training modules, while effective for men, does not have any impact on female owned enterprise profits.
The main reason for this surprising finding is that women still face several systemic constraints to investment in their business, especially from family members, and their finances are often used to buy day to day household needs and not for productive investments. Hence the suggestion that “for successful interventions to be transformative, they need to move beyond basic access to financial and human capital and also tackle central psychological, social, and skills constraints on women entrepreneurs.”
Reforming social norms
There can be no sustained change in the fortunes of women unless we record gender power shifts and challenge social norms which impact on how women and girls are perceived as economic actors, and how they are engaged in production. Social norms that assign women and girls responsibilities but deny them of the most basic rights have to be challenged and replaced with more positive norms.
Long ignored unpaid care work women do around homes and for extended families must be addressed. In Africa, women spend 16 million hours every day collecting water, with women and girls responsible for collecting 71 percent of all household water. Women work longer hours and earn less than men, so any efforts towards economic empowerment of women must recognise the need to address the imbalance in the care work. This also means that there are shifts towards proper recording of this work, redistributing and remuneration of women’s work.
For Germany and the G7, they must go beyond pronouncements on economic empowerment and invest in women and mechanisms that will disrupt and dismantle inequality. Addressing justice systems for women to be able to circumvent and reject these economic controls on a personal level is key.
Women are not free unless their nations are free
We live in a globalised world where globalisation works well for a few, but certainly not for African women. The current pushes against reproductive rights of African women by right wing politicians and populists aided by conservative actors at home should concern those working towards women’s economic empowerment. Announcements of feminist foreign policies are nothing if they don’t centre and prioritise women’s reproductive freedom.
Womens economic empowerment hinges on women having the right to their bodily autonomy, right to decide when and if to have children and access to sexual and reproductive rights and services.
Towards a G7 feminist policy?
But what would a true G7 feminist diplomacy look like? Of recent there have been calls by West African Francophone nations to manage their currency the CFA franc, which is pegged to the euro, and its convertibility is guaranteed by the former colonial ruler France. The majority of Sahel countries, where France would like to see advancement of women, are its former colonies.
African women’s present struggles are inextricably linked to our past as a continent and if France and other G7 members like Germany are to truly address women’s economic empowerment, they must now more than ever listen and act on the calls to decolonise African economies and borders.
- Rosebell Kagumire, Activist, Curator and Editor of AfricanFeminism