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To achieve gender equality in Africa, gov’ts and communities must tackle discrimination against women and girls, says new report

Discriminatory social norms also contribute to the toleration of harmful practices such as child marriage and female genital mutilation (FGM)

DESPITE legal reforms, deep-rooted social norms continue to expose women and girls to gender-based discrimination, according to the 2021 edition of the Social Institutions and Gender Index (SIGI) Regional Report for Africa launched Thursday by the Organisation of Co-operation and Development (OECD) in Paris.

Covering 54 African countries, the report reveals that hidden aspects of gender inequality such as discriminatory laws, norms and practices persistently affect women’s outcomes – measured by the Africa Gender Index (AGI) – in areas such as employment, entrepreneurship, health and political representation. The Covid-19 crisis has been an exacerbating factor, with initial estimates revealing that all types of violence against women and girls have increased since the start of the pandemic.

Nevertheless, the report shows encouraging progress in the region’s fight for gender equality. Women’s political leadership and participation in decision-making have increased, particularly in countries implementing specific policies such as quotas. For instance, women’s representation in those countries is 10 percentage points higher than in countries without such policies. Between 2014 and 2020, many countries endorsed legislative reforms addressing gender-based violence and supporting women’s access to land ownership and to finance.

‘We strongly believe in gender equality and its potential to contribute to the success of the world’s Agenda 2030 and Africa’s Agenda 2063. But for that, more needs to be done for women and girls in Africa, as they continue to face multiple barriers to their full participation in their societies and economies,’ stated Ragnheiður Elín Árnadóttir, OECD Development Centre Director while launching the report. She added: ‘It is about justice, but it also makes economic sense.’ The report estimates that discriminatory social institutions costed Africa the equivalent of 7.5 percent of its gross domestic product (GDP) in 2019.

Despite wide variations across the region, on average, women in Africa suffer the highest levels of discriminatory practices in the world. The report shows that gender-based violence stems from restrictive masculinity norms that perpetuate male dominance in the private sphere, combined with women’s acceptance of this violence. Discriminatory social norms also contribute to the toleration of harmful practices such as child marriage and female genital mutilation (FGM). For instance, in 2018, on average, 16 percent of African women aged 15-49 years considered that FGM should continue.

Traditional gender roles also continue to dominate at home: only 25 percent of women report being head of their household, compared to 70 percent of men. Such norms uphold unequal distributions of unpaid care work, which in turn have a negative impact on women’s participation in the labour force. Women in Africa do four times more unpaid care and domestic work than men – this is more than the global average.

In terms of economic empowerment, traditions and customs that consider men to be the rightful owners undermine women’s ownership of the critical asset of land – women own just 12 percent of agricultural land despite representing nearly half of Africa’s agricultural workforce. Men also continue to dominate traditional working sectors. For instance, men accounted for more than 80% of workers in construction, mining or transport in 2020.

As for women’s political participation, 28 percent of the population still believes that men make better leaders, and should be elected rather than women. Furthermore, persistent gender-based violence in the political sphere intimidates women and girls from pursuing leadership roles and exercising their voices in the public domain.

Against this backdrop, the SIGI 2021 Regional Report for Africa proposes tailored policy recommendations on women’s physical integrity; economic empowerment; and political voice, leadership and agency. It also provides five ways to integrate gender equality more fully into development strategies:

  • Update and eliminate legal provisions that are discriminatory, and close legislative gaps as per international and regional conventions.
  • Integrate a gender perspective across all government ministries and sectors, including gender-responsive budgeting.
  • Support gender-transformative interventions to raise awareness and support positive behaviour change, including by involving men and boys, as well as influential community leaders.
  • Strengthen peace and security efforts with a gender lens through effective implementation of UN Security Council Resolution 1325.
  • Invest more in sex-disaggregated and intersectionality data to identify gender data gaps and gain a better understanding of how social norms evolve in order to develop more effective policies and programmes.

 

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