POLITICAL, economic and social obstacles in the way of women in Africa are costing the region on average $95bn a year, peaking at $105bn in 2014– or six per cent of its GDP, according to the Africa Human Development Report 2016.
The report, by the UN Development Programme (UNDP), warns that such gender inequality is jeopardising the continent’s efforts for inclusive human development and economic growth.
It analyses the obstacles that hamper African women’s advancements and proposes policies and positive actions to close the gender gap.
These include addressing the contradiction between legal provisions and practice in gender laws; breaking down harmful social norms and transforming discriminatory institutional settings; and securing women’s economic, social and political participation.
‘Far too many African women are trapped at the lower end of the spectrum of economic opportunities, which often perpetuates the same socio-economic status for their own families,’ the report says.
Deeply-rooted structural obstacles such as unequal distribution of resources, power and wealth, combined with social institutions and norms that sustain inequality are holding African women, and the rest of the continent, back, according to the report.
It estimates that a one percent increase in gender inequality reduces a country’s human development index by 0.75 percent.
Despite the doom and gloom, the report notes, ‘Using UNDP’s different human development indicators, there is wide variation in values and ranking across the African region and between the different African sub-regions.
‘Overall, Africa has one of the fastest rates of improvement in human development over the past two decades but also has the lowest average levels of human development compared to other regions in the world.
‘At the same time, not all African countries have low human development.’ The report notes 17 countries that are doing relatively well on the human development stakes: five each from Southern and North Africa, four in Central Africa, two in West Africa and one in East Africa.
The highest human development levels in Africa are in Algeria, Libya, Mauritius, Seychelles, and Tunisia, while 36 African countries (out of 44 countries worldwide) are classified in the low human development group, according to the report.
It adds that countries with initially low levels of human development have made the largest gains since 2000: Tanzania, Burundi, Mali, Zambia, Niger, Angola, Sierra Leone, Mozambique, Rwanda and Ethiopia.
However, the pace has slowed since 2010, says the report, which adds, ‘Calculations using the UNDP gender indices indicate significant gender inequality in almost every African country.
‘Gender gaps in income and non-income dimensions mean that women often experience lower human development outcomes than men.
‘On average, African women achieve only 87 per cent of male human development levels.’Looking at the social dimensions of gender equality in health and education, the report discovered there were ‘fewer opportunities for women, in particular, and society, as a whole, to achieve well-being.’
This is notwithstanding the advances that many African countries have made in the past two decades in expanding basic health, education and other social services to citizens.
‘Yet, many women face severe deprivations in their health due to such factors as early age marriage, sexual and physical violence, and the continued unacceptable high incidence of maternal mortality,’ says the report.
‘Inequality in how women and men have different health and education outcomes is still evident across and within sub-regions.
‘Gender inequality in social services translates into lower opportunities for the well-being of women in particular and society as a whole.’
Within African economies, women are still having a raw deal, according to the report, which notes that for every $1 earned by men in manufacturing, services and trade, women earn 70 cents.
On the political front, the report notes, ‘When more women are involved in politics and leadership positions, women’s rights, priorities, needs and interests are less likely to be ignored or silenced.
‘Closing gender gaps in public administration helps to ensure democratic governance, restore trust and confidence in public institutions, and accelerate the responsiveness of government policies and programmes.’
The report acknowledges that women have indeed made progress in politics and leadership positions in the civil service, trade unions and the private sector.
‘But here again progress in achieving gender equality is still lagging due to a combination of political, economic and social resistance to change,’ says the report.
Looking for a way out of this impasse on gender equality in Africa, the UNDP report suggests: ‘The challenge is not fine-tuning existing legal standards, but rather, ensuring standards are advocated, accepted and fully implemented and enforced.’