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Development – Not About Dislike, Exclusion
21 October 2014 , By Geraldine J. Fraser-Moleketi, Source: Addis Fortune

Today, the majority of women in Africa are self-employed in low-growth sectors or in low-skilled jobs, notably agriculture, that offer little prospects of generating higher incomes. This is the result of a variety of factors, such as poor access to quality education and health services, and insufficient access to finance.

However, this is not the full picture. There are many examples of women who are excelling in the private sector, giving rise to hope.

Yet, if decisive participation of women in some income-generating activities, such as trade, and appropriate technology, is now proven, there are other areas, such as industry, banking and real estate, where women are left out. Entrepreneurship and any other form of economic responsibility are barely accessible, sometimes even forbidden, to women.

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While it is widely recognised today that investing in women represents one of the largest opportunities to pursue Africa’s inclusive growth agenda, change is not coming about as fast as we hope. We do not want women to be seen as the majority in only the second economy. We want to see women emerging in great numbers in non-traditional sectors.

Over the decades, we have seen women across Africa stepping up to the challenge of leadership in both the public and private sector. While impressive strides have been made in this space, Africa must capitalise on the human capital of womenl who by number alone make up a large pool of potential talent needed to drive the continent forward.

Of course, certain challenges abound that have held women back, but these challenges can be further reduced by having targeted mentorship, access to education and other initiatives that encourage more women to realise their vast potential. The number of women in leadership roles is still too low compared to what it could be, and nurturing growth in this arena will benefit both the men and women of African countries.

When the industry is booming and the economy is rising, as has been the case in Africa over the past decade, we must ask ourselves: It is rising for whom? How will the women, men and children of the continent benefit?

The opportunity of a rising continent needs to be seized to take advantage of the demographic dividend, with women using their potential as important contributors and players in Africa’s development. For this to happen, we need a change in mindset and stop thinking in terms of our own countries and enclaves, and take a broader and more holistic view. We have to seize this window of opportunity to trigger change at a larger-scale. Investing in women means investing in Africa’s future.

Why invest in women?

If women and girls are given equal access to education, land rights, opportunities to enter the job market, and more control over their lives, overall development prospects would improve for all. Also, creating more and better opportunities for women and girls makes good economic sense, as it aims at unlocking the potential of every second human being on this planet to participate in and contribute to the economy.

When one looks at annual global consumer spending, women control 20 trillion dollars. And this is expected to rise to 28 trillion dollars over the next five years.

Looking at annual global earnings, women earn 30 trillion dollars. This is expected to rise to 80 trillion dollars in five years.

A study from Ernst & Young, a consultancy, illustrated that when we think of the third emerging global market, it will be the women’s market. Over the next decade, the impact of women on the global economy – as producers, entrepreneurs, employees and consumers – will be as significant as that of China’s and India’s respective one-billion-plus populations.

Recently, a new generation of African women has decided to prove and impose their capabilities, showing that economic power can also be conjugated in the feminine. All across the African continent, many private companies are now run by women.

In Ghana, women own large-scale textile and furniture manufacturing companies, while in Kenya and Zambia, they run the profitable rose-export business. In Ethiopia, a woman owns the largest supermarket chain; in Eritrea, a woman owns the largest manufacturing company; in Uganda, a husband and wife own the largest cell phone company; in South Africa, women own jewellery factories and appliance stores, and are heavily involved in major corporate structures.

Women are involved in non-traditional exports, trade, banking and transportation in many African countries. Thus, over the years, things have gradually changed to reach a consensus that the involvement of women in all the workings of the economic sector, even the most sensitive, is essential to the continent. However, many of these women, entrepreneurs and sometimes pioneers in the formal economy, continue to be discriminated against when they create their businesses, mainly because of certain stereotypes and prejudices.

The economic empowerment of African women is a prerequisite for sustainable economic growth. In agriculture, women make up more than 40pc of the labour force, but only represent between three percent to 20pc of landholders.

Women-owned enterprises make up as little as 10pc of all businesses. If we can erase these inequities and put women on equal footing with men, we know that we can unlock human potential on a transformational scale. Just by empowering women farmers with the same access to land, new technologies and capital as men, we can increase crop yields by as much as 30pc and feed an additional 150 million people.

While the promotion of economic empowerment requires a holistic approach, the issues of financial inclusion are fundamental and at the very heart of these efforts. It is widely recognised that financial inclusion benefits individuals and households, and well-functioning financial systems benefit entire countries.

Access to financial services, however, remains highly unequal, with poor people – and particularly women – frequently being the least served by existing institutions and systems. The various challenges differ from country to country.

In some countries, women have only limited access to credit or insurance products, while in other countries women have more difficulties opening a savings account or face access barriers to any financial product. These diverse constraints offer many opportunities for improving women’s financial inclusion and are often linked to reaching overall development goals.

We need to ensure that the kind of inclusion required happens. The world is made up of men and women, boys and girls, so it is not about the dislike of any sex.

African people have to join hands to continue building on their capacities. It is about how we do optimise the human capital that is there.

Geraldine J. Fraser-Moleketi, Special Envoy On Gender for the African Development Bank (afdb).
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