Not yet Uhuru for Women

Workers’ Day provides an opportunity to celebrate, honour and appreciate the value of workers across the globe as well as to reflect on pertinent issues that affect them. However, as we celebrate Workers’ Day, it is imperative to assess the status of women, who make up a significant amount of workers across the continent. Sadly, it is not yet Uhuru for the majority of women across Africa!

This year’s Workers’ Day comes at a time when the world is dealing with the Covid-19 pandemic. Many mechanisms have been put in place, including lock-downs where citizens are requested to stay at home while only essential service providers, which include health personnel, go to work. It is common cause – which is also backed by the World Health Organisation (WHO) figures – that women constitute the majority – 70% – of the health and social care services. As the virus has been spreading globally, it is women who are at the fore-front of providing care and social services to affected people.

With such global statistics, this means that even within the context of the African continent female health and social care workers are more involved and affected in tackling the virus. This includes placing their own lives at risk, meeting the demands of care work, which also impact on their ability to spend time with loved ones.

As we commemorate Workers’ Day, let us be cognisant of the fact that women continue to face a multiplicity of structural barriers and discrimination in the labour and economic space. While women’s participation in the work place is generally high in Africa as compared to other parts in the world, they continue to work fewer hours in paid employment and still perform the vast majority of unpaid household and care work.

In Sub-Sahara Africa, over 60% of all working women remain in agriculture, often concentrated in time and labour-intensive activities, which are unpaid or poorly remunerated.

Further, as the International Labour Organisation (ILO) states, on average women carry at least two and a half times more unpaid household care work than men. Women spend 4 hours and 30 minutes per day on unpaid care work, compared to 1 hour 20 minutes for men in the same developing countries.

Even where women are formally employed, the gender wage gap is a sign of the discrimination that they continue to face. The Global Gender Gap Report 2020 shows that while some progress has been made, women’s participation in the labour market is still low. ‘On average, only 55% of adult women are in the labour market, versus 78% of men, while over 40% of the wage gap (the ratio of the wage of a woman to that of a man in a similar position) and over 50% of the income gap (the ratio of the total wage and non-wage income of women to that of men) are still to be bridged’.

Women’s participation in senior and managerial positions within the workspace also leaves a lot to be desired. Globally, women account for 36% of the private sector’s managers and public sector’s officials. Politically, women’s participation in leadership positions also continues to lag behind. Only 24.7% of the global Political Empowerment gap has been closed in 2020.

It is thus disheartening to note that while women make up more than half of the world’s labour force, they continue to lag behind in terms of access to economic participation and remuneration.

The challenge of underpaying women and the limited access they have to participate in economic activities is an indication of underlying structural discrimination and violence whose roots are also found in social and gender norms that confine women and girls to certain roles in society that impede on their ability to effectively participate economically.

This discrimination is not only present in the labour market, but in other areas of women’s lives such as access to education, where a boy child is still preferred over a girl child, access to credit where requirements for collateral make it difficult for women to get credit as land tenure systems and other laws often make it hard for women ownership, and hence make it extremely challenging for them to access loans.

The above demonstrates how gender disparities continue to adversely affect women’s lives and well-being. Where women are head of households, not only does the wage gap adversely affect them but their families too who depend on them. Also, being under-paid not only communicates that one is under-valued and disposable, but it also says no one cares about one’s contribution and the value of their work. This can have adverse effects on one’s self-esteem and sense of worth when the substance and value of what they do is given less regard. In turn, this also impacts on the quality of their work and performance.

It is, therefore, critical that as we celebrate Workers’ Day we remember that it is not yet Uhuru for women. Addressing gender inequality and parity is not only beneficial for women but society at large. Research by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development has shown that closing the gender parity gap would increase the GDP of countries in 20 years, with 12% estimation for developed countries and an even wider margin for developing economies.

Investing in gender equality within the economic and educational space promotes more inclusive growth for both men and women because women are more likely than men to invest in the human capital and well-being of their families when capacitated to do so.

It is, therefore, time to realise and acknowledge that gender equality in the work place is a human right, and a moral and economic necessity that should be respected, promoted and protected as a matter of urgency. Sustainable economic prosperity cannot be achieved when women’s labour continues to receive less recognition than that of men as it means that only half of the world’s economic participation and contribution is recognised.

As we celebrate this day we call upon governments and the private sector across the continent to prioritise closing the gender wage gap and to effectively tackle the structural barriers women face in the economic space. With 10 years to go before 2030, gender equality in the work space should be addressed urgently, for there can be no sustainable development to talk about when women are still lagging behind economically.

Edited by Khopotso Bodibe, Communications & Media Specialist, MenEngage Africa Alliance.