Wednesday, 2 November 2016

Enhancing Women’s Capacity Key to Development

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The Agenda 2063 formulated in 2013 and the Agenda for 2030 on Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) drafted in 2015 are basic development blueprints that systematically outline the goals to be achieved mostly by the developing nations. The Agenda 2063 highlights the political, social and economic goals to be achieved holistically by the African states while the Agenda 2030 on SDGs fronts for systemic global progress.

As part of the African and global agenda for development, these two blueprints explicitly have goals that seek to bridge the gender gap that exists in the economic, political and social spheres of life, most fundamentally, on building the capacity of the female gender.

Aspiration 6 of the Agenda 2063 envisages an Africa whose development is people-driven by relying on the potential of the African people, especially its women and youth and caring for the children. More specifically, goals 50 and 52 under Aspiration 6 wholesomely capture the expected status of the African women. Goal 50 states that: the African woman will be fully empowered in all spheres, with equal social, political and economic rights to own and inherit property, sign contracts, register and manage businesses. Rural women will have access to productive assets: land, credit, inputs and financial services.

Goal 52 states that: Africa of 2063 will have full gender parity, with women occupying at least 50% of elected public offices at all levels and half of managerial positions in the public and private sectors. The economic and political glass ceiling that restricted women’s progress will have been shattered.
The global development agenda commonly termed as the Sustainable Development Goals calls for the continued emancipation of women and the advancement of gender equality. Goal 5 of the SDGs advocates for the achievement of gender equality and empowerment of all women and girls.

In Africa and the whole world, the female population is slightly over 50%. On a general scale, the number of the women classified under the working age cohort is slightly higher than that of the men. The existential challenge, however, is that despite the population of women being higher, majority continue to work in the informal sector and offering services in the unpaid economy.

According to UN Women, 74% of the women in Sub-Saharan Africa are in the non-agricultural informal employment. The unpaid economy which consists of unpaid work like child-rearing and other household duties is majorly driven by the women and unfortunately such activities are never reflected in the calculation of the Gross Domestic Product (GDP). According to a report by the International Labour Organization (ILO) known as Women at Work 2016, a total of 586 million women in the world were own-account or contributing family workers in 2015.

The same report documents that 34.9% of the women in Sub-Saharan Africa contributed as family workers while 42.5% as own-account workers.

The Socio-Economic Front
Various research studies that have been conducted clearly indicate that the economic empowerment of women and the participation of the female labour force in the economy positively contribute towards economic growth and development.

The most pertinent issue in enhancing the economic inclusion of the women in the economy regards their access to income/income generating activities and the percolation/distribution of the income that has been earned.

Increased participation of the female labour force in the economy generates other positive effects key among them access to education, decrease in child mortality rates, among others. Of course access to more income for the women implies that their children largely benefit from it.

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A report known as Women Empowered: Inspiring Change in the Emerging World written by Madeleine Albright and Phil Borges documents that women re-invest 90% of their income in their families and communities in comparison with the men who only re-invest 30-40% of their income. As earlier stated, the economic empowerment of women guarantees better healthcare for the children. A research conducted by the World Bank in 2011 reveals that if the mother has easy access to income, the survival probability of a child increases by approximately 20% in Brazil and in Kenya; a child would be about 17% taller due to the fact that mothers invest more of their income in health and nutrition.

E. Gakidou et al (2010) conducted a study using data from 219 countries beginning from 1970 to 2009 and they established that for every one additional year of education for women of the reproductive age, child mortality decreased by 9.5%. In addition, the World Development Report on Gender Equality and Development released by the World Bank in 2012 documents that increasing the share of the household income controlled by women, either through their own earnings or cash transfers alters spending in ways that benefit the children.

Comparatively, there are notable differences between sources of employment of women in the developed countries and the developing as well as the least developed countries. Research conducted by the International Labour Organization (ILO) shows that the major source of employment for women in the high-income countries is the health and education sector which employs 30.6% of all the women in these economies.

Research findings by the ILO reveal that indeed the main source of employment for women in low-income and low-middle-income countries is agriculture with Southern Asia and Sub-Saharan Africa having over 60% of all working women in the agricultural sector. The socio-economic tragedy is that most of the activities in the agricultural sector are informal and labour-intensive which lead to poor remuneration or no payment at all. A similar pattern manifests itself in the field of entrepreneurship. The 2011 Africa Competitiveness Report by the World Economic Forum notes that the rate of women’s entrepreneurship in Africa is higher than any other region in the world but the business units established are largely informal. This limits the amount of income to the women who depend on such businesses.

Because of the prevalence of the female labour in the informal economic activities, the rates and levels of social protection remain relatively lower. This implies that access to schemes and programmes that cater for health and the general social welfare is limited. Statistics from the ILO show that 40% of women in wage employment in the world do not contribute towards social protection programmes. In Sub-Saharan Africa, 63.2% of women in wage employment don’t contribute to social protection while in Southern Asia the figure stands at 74.2%.

As a result of the existing gap in the contributions towards social protection, then the well-being/welfare of the dependents especially the children is jeopardized, with looming uncertainties of accessing better healthcare, education, and housing among others.

Representation & Leadership
In most of the countries in Africa and the world in general, progress has been made with regards to the number of women in leadership positions in the political sphere and in organizations although several countries have not paid keen attention on this issue.

Across the board, the perception is that having a significant number of women in leadership positions promotes economic inclusivity. This may be very effective especially in the political arena whereby having a significant number of women in legislatures may lead to the formulation of laws that counter some of the retrogressive traditional/cultural customs that propagate male chauvinism and limit women’s access to economic opportunities.

Some African countries have made progress on women representation while others have at least done something about it. In Rwanda’s Lower House, women make up 63.8% of the total number of Parliamentarians. In Senegal, there is the Parity Law which requires political parties to ensure that at least 50% of their candidates for any elective post are women. Senegal’s legislature is made up of 42.7% women. Ethiopia’s legislature women’s composition is at 38.8%. Research conducted jointly by the World Bank Development Research Group and Columbia University reveals that having more women in the legislatures equals less corruption.

Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma the outgoing chair of the AUC.
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The Women Matter research report published by McKinsey & Company in 2014 documents that the institutionalization of economic equality for women is good for business, detailing that companies which increase leadership opportunities for women largely benefit through an increase in organizational effectiveness.

Existential & Underlying Challenges
There are several hillocks that continue to work against the reduction of the gender gap in various dimensions. These bottlenecks are common in Southern Asia, the Middle East, Northern Africa and Sub-Saharan Africa and they stem from the prevailing cultural and/or traditional customs. In some of the countries in these regions, various pieces of legislations have been enacted but unfortunately, their formulation is skewed towards the traditional customs.

Such legislations and the traditional customs have largely hindered the women from accessing economic opportunities which on a large-scale inhibit the progress of the respective economies. This limits women from establishing businesses, registering property, engaging in contractual enforcement and participating in the labour market.

In the recently released Doing Business report compiled by the World Bank, 23 economies in the world impose more procedures for women than men to start a business, 16 economies limit women’s ability to own, use and transfer property. In 17 economies, civil counts do not value a woman’s testimony the same way as a man’s.

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Furthermore, the report documents that in 17 economies a married woman must seek for permission from his husband before leaving the house. In 3 economies, according to the report, there is a different process for men and women in obtaining official identification which is a necessary requirement in starting a business. In 4 economies, the publication reveals that a woman requires her husband’s explicit permission to establish a business, for instance, in the Democratic Republic of Congo, the law requires a married woman to seek for the authorization of her husband to incorporate a business.

Women, Business and the Law, a publication of the World Bank, denotes that married women have more restrictions when it comes to property ownership. This is a reflection of the existing customary laws which are patriarchal in nature and peg property ownership on the men.

Policy & Legal Prescriptions
In overcoming these challenges that deny women access to economic opportunities, the formulation and implementation of relevant policies and pieces of legislations is inevitable. The implementation phase is the most crucial one because it largely depends on the political will. Laws that freely allow women to own property especially land, establish businesses, representation in leadership positions, access to education among others are necessary especially in the developing and least developed countries in Africa, Middle East, Asia, Latin America and the Caribbean.

Evidence suggests that changing the laws increases access to economic opportunities. Hallward and Hassan (2012) note that after a reform to the family law in Ethiopia that fronted for more equitable property rights over marital property between spouses, there was an increase in the female labour force participation and in more productive sectors. Deininger et al (2010) reveal that after changes were made to the Hindu Succession Act improving inheritance rights for women in India, there was an increase in the education for girls. Ali et al (2014) document that the changes to Rwanda’s land tenure regularization system largely benefited the women. Perhaps this is because of the relatively higher number of women in Rwanda’s legislature.

The empowerment of women economically, socially and politically in general, benefits the whole economy/society as detailed above. Therefore, as the developing and least developed countries seek to grow and develop, it is fundamental that the concerned authorities establish mechanisms to empower women on all the three facets; economic, social and political.

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