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Using data to close gender gaps and accelerate women’s empowerment in Africa

26-Jun-2019

While Africa’s economic performance is improving, gender gaps must close quickly in order to achieve the structural transformation of each country. Africa’s economic growth reached an estimated 3.5% in 2018 and is projected to rise to 4% in 2019[1]. But its impact has not been inclusive. Structural challenges such as acute poverty, chronic unemployment, poor infrastructure and rising demands for social services must be addressed to ensure sustainability and inclusiveness. Women and youth in rural and fragile areas experience difficulty in accessing basic social needs and economic opportunities. Poverty in Africa disproportionally affects women and youth, whose vulnerability is increasing due to climate change impacts and fragility. However, the need to provide gender-disaggregated data is a challenge for most African countries which impedes efforts to close gender gaps.

What is the state of gender-disaggregated data on the continent?

Measuring gender equality, a key development goal through SDG 5, with gender-disaggregated data is a relatively recent practice, which has revealed structural inequalities and held stakeholders accountable for their commitments. Greater efforts have since advanced the gender agenda in Africa and across the world. While inequalities are discussed on continental and national platforms, evidence is still lacking on the scope of gender equality and on the realities of women’s lives and experiences, particularly for the most vulnerable on the continent. Without reliable data, national governments, development agencies and actors cannot accurately identify or address issues, or evaluate the impact of decisions on the population.

The African Development Bank Group launched the Africa Gender Index (AGI) in 2015[2] which addresses the lack of gender-disaggregated data on the continent to highlight the gaps, challenges and progress towards gender equality. The AGI illustrates the patterns of gender equality through its three dimensions: economic, social and representation by voice. The index is novel in having a dual purpose: to provide evidence on gender equality for the 54 African countries, and to take actions to promote development.

What does gender-disaggregated data reveal on gender equality in the continent?

The AGI report indicates that great progress is being made on the continent, particularly on human development (women’s access to education, sexual and reproductive health) and representation (national leadership). In fact, two of the most equal societies in the world are in Africa (Rwanda as the first and only parliament where women hold a majority and Namibia for its gender-neutral constitution). Over the last year, certain countries such as Rwanda, Ethiopia and Mauritius have continued to make progress towards equal societies with structural transformation and an increasing number of women in parliament, ministries and other decision-making bodies. This brings women’s priorities into the political agenda, such as gender-sensitive budgeting, and mainstreaming gender in all ministries.

Drawing from the AGI results, most African countries are closing the gender gap in basic education enrollment, as the ratio of girls to boys in primary and secondary school increased from 87% in 2005 to 91% in 2012. However, several factors influence girls’ attendance such as: cultural and social pressure for girls’ marriage and taking responsibility for domestic tasks. This undermines the progress made on gender equality in education, and highlights the importance of going beyond measurement to reveal other gaps. By analysing the root causes of inequalities, the AGI also provides evidence for policy dialogue and action.

Women face multiple constraints to access and control over resources in respect of economic opportunities. These constraints vary according to different factors (age, urban or rural area, fragility), but it amounts to a ‘feminisation’ of poverty, indicating that gender influences access to socio-economic opportunities. The AGI finds that while female labour participation rates are high in Africa, with 85-90% in Burundi, Tanzania, and Rwanda, and equal participation in Nigeria, Togo, and Burundi - women work primarily in low-paying occupations, and are more likely to be informally employed than to earn a wage through formal employment[3].

Addressing gender inequalities for economic efficiency

Closing gaps in economic opportunities is not only essential for women’s empowerment, but for African economies as a whole, particularly for GDP growth, poverty reduction, and the “inter-generational benefit” defined as the positive impact on following generations of gains generated from breaking women’s poverty cycle.

The Africa Gender Index indicates that only 23% of women have access to credit in Africa, 15% have access to land and the gender wage gap is 74%. The loss from gender inequality in global wealth is estimated at $2.5 trillion in sub-Saharan Africa[4].

Overall, a one-size-fits-all approach will not bring down the barriers affecting women’s abilities and opportunities. Africa is a diverse continent, with significant regional and national differences. Economic institutions and legal frameworks affect women’s status, in terms of autonomy, well-being, and opportunities, at the national level and in domestic spheres.

The AGI report is complemented by the Bank’s Country Gender Profiles to further analyse the national situation and provide a strong policy dialogue tool for social and gender changes through economic institution and legal framework reforms.

Acting on this evidence, the Affirmative Finance Action for Women in Africa (AFAWA) aims to create an enabling environment in which financing for women and improved opportunities can be guaranteed. It works on the basis of three pillars: strengthening access to financing for women-owned and women-led businesses; building the capacity of women entrepreneurs and financial institutions; and engaging with African governments to ensure the application of the legal, policy and regulatory reforms that are required to release women’s business potential.

Gender-disaggregated data highlight the gaps and show the inequalities that exist across sectors between women and men. This is a vital first step towards the development of policies and adequate actions based on real needs and priorities. It supports African decision-makers by acknowledging and addressing some of the most serious barriers that prevent African women from engaging equally with men, provides insights for civil society advocacy for social justice, and helps the Bank to improve its gender-related policy dialogue and interventions.

Aïssatou Aïda Dosso is a Gender and Social Inclusion Specialist in the Department of Gender, Women and Civil Society at the African Development Bank


[1]  https://www.afdb.org/fileadmin/uploads/afdb/Documents/Publications/2019AEO/AEO_2019-EN.pdf

[2] https://www.afdb.org/fileadmin/uploads/afdb/Documents/Publications/African_Gender_Equality_Index_2015-EN.pdf

[3] AGI Report

[4] http://documents.worldbank.org/curated/en/172021527258723053/pdf/126579-Public-on-5-30-18-WorldBank-GenderInequality-Brief-v13.pdf

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