By Nyaguthii Wangui Maina*
[This is a series of blog posts on the African Feminist Strategy meeting on Financing for Development & the Post 2015 Development Agenda, the first of which can be found here]
People want to live in societies that are fair, where hard work is rewarded and where one’s socio-economic position can be improved regardless of one’s background. With a focus on the structural realities of Africa’s economy today, the position of African women in global and local economies is precarious. Sub Saharan Africa has a 30% gender pay gap at the lower level; this means that regardless of doing the same amount/type of work, women receive 30% less than their male counterparts. When one digs a little deeper, it is common place to see women in low-salaried insecure occupations such as small-scale farming, or as domestic workers where they comprise about 83 per cent of the workforce as reported by UN-Women. It is also reported that globally, women do nearly two and a half (2 ½) times as much unpaid care & domestic work as men.
Our world is definitely out of balance.
“We must transform these structures that keep us disempowered,” an emotional participant bellowed as discussions began on how to transform women’s structural location in Africa’s development. Ms Florence Butegwa of UN Women presented her organisation’s flagship report Progress of the World’s Women 2015-2016: Transforming Economies, Realizing Rights which nuances why the global economy is ill fit for women and further provides possible solutions to this imbalance. At the heart of this report is an optimistic scrutiny of economic and social policies that make it possible for both women and men to care for their loved ones without having to forego their own economic security, success and independence;essentially a just, egalitarian and rewarding world for all.
While Africa is sustaining a growth rate of 5%, above the global average of 3%, this growth is not generating employment or decent jobs for its population. Agriculture remains the most important source of work in Sub-Saharan Africa, employing 59% of women and 56% of men. Yet, virtually all agricultural employment is informal. Other sectors taking priority in Africa are Energy, Infrastructure and the Extractive Industry, where women are least represented or participating in the informal parts of these sectors. Gendered hierarchies within informal employment mean that men dominate in the more protected and remunerative jobs at the top (i.e., informal employers and informal wage workers), while women are over-represented among the least secure and lowest-paying occupations at the bottom. Globally, women are 63% of ‘contributing family workers’, who work in family businesses or farms for no direct pay. These workers are particularly likely to lack financial independence and decision-making power in the home.
“Paid employment does not always provide a route out of poverty. Nor does it automatically lead to women’s empowerment or protect them from economic dependence; there are issues of autonomy.To guarantee women’s right to an adequate standard of living, employment policies have to be accompanied by social protection and social services that provide income security and enable people to live their lives in dignity,” stressed Ms. Butegwa.
“Twenty years after the landmark Fourth World Conference on Women in Beijing, and at a time when the global community is defining the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) for the post-2015 era, the global consensus on the need to achieve gender equality seems stronger than ever before. Empowering women and girls is among the goals aspired to by all, from grassroots organisations, trade unions and corporations, to Member States and intergovernmental bodies. But how far has this consensus been translated into tangible progress on the ground, and what more is needed to bridge the gaps between rhetoric and reality?” posed Ms. Butegwa.
There are solutions. The report proposes a number of specific ways in which to mobilise resources to pay for public services and social transfers: for example by enforcing existing tax obligations, reprioritising expenditure and expanding the overall tax base. Rather than simply adding paid work or poverty reduction to women’s already long ‘to-do’ lists, responsibilities for income-earning, care-giving and domestic work need to be redistributed more equally, both between women and men and between households and society more broadly.
Substantive equality requires fundamental transformation of economic and social institutions, including the beliefs, norms and attitudes that shape them, at every level of society, from households to labour markets and from communities to local, national and global governance institutions.