How to liberate Africa

What can a mother of six do when her husband’s sporadic contributions to the household run dry?

What can a mother of six do when her husband’s sporadic contributions to the household run dry?

Thirty-five year old Amina created a job. An extraordinary achievement for a previously unemployed woman living in Djougou in north-west Benin.

A micro-loan from a local organization helped Amina create a successful business. Today she is selling cooked rice at the nearby school.

One day, she says, she will open a restaurant.

Providing economic opportunities for women and creating entrepreneurs like Amina create positive ripples beyond their immediate family.

Not only do they improve their own income and welfare, changing their own lives and those of their children. More than that, it is fundamental for creating economic growth and development in Africa.

Africa needs a better future.

Despite progress in many areas, the continent has largely been left behind by globalization just as, most countries in Asia, Latin America and Eastern Europe have surged ahead.

Without things changing, it is today unlikely that African countries will meet the UN Millennium Development Goals, including that of gender equality, by 2015.

Inequality between men and women exists in spite of international agreements on gender equality.

It exits in spite of equality between men and women being constitutionally ordained by most countries.

And it exists in spite of the many studies which show that it is an economic win-win situation to increase women’s participation in the workforce.

Then why is it that female participation in the labour market is much lower than the participation rate of males?

Why is it that women still get the lowest pay, the least education, access only to the most unskilled jobs, and are mostly employed in the informal sector?

Around just 10 percent of all wages in Africa go to women, although women on average work 10-15 hours more per week than men. And African women own only around one percent of the continent’s overall economy.

To address these and other key topics determining the future of Africa, the Danish Africa Commission puts economic growth and employment in Africa at the top of the international agenda.

Launched in Copenhagen in April 2008, bringing together public and private sector notables, it is chaired by the Danish Prime Minister, Anders Fogh Rasmussen.

The majority of its 18 members are African:

The role of women is a critical part of the Commission’s work, not just because it’s the politically correct thing to do.

We know that economic growth and gender inequality are closely related: the less the inequality the higher economic growth.

Improving the African women’s lot, unleashing the entrepreneurial energy of the many Aminas out there can only ensure a more prosperous continental future.

But how?
To do so governments, labour market organizations, civil society and the private sector, supported by international donors should focus their actions by identifying four key actions which can unlock this great potential.

• First, reduce women’s time burdens by investing in water supply and sanitation, energy for household needs, access to public transport and investment in labour-saving technology especially in agro-processing, opening up and adding real value to the rural areas.

• Second, empower women in small- and medium-scale businesses, the engine-room of African economies, through access to micro-finance and skills training.

• Third, facilitate female entrepreneurs by ensuring equal rights – including rights to ownership and by supporting their business and social organizations, and listening to and acting on their policy concerns

• Fourth, introduce targets for gender equality in public sector employment and promotion through public sector reforms.

Africa’s women are a hitherto largely untapped source of huge energy and economic potential.

No one likely works harder world-wide than the rural Africa woman, tending her crops, raising her family literally on her back, and traipsing hours every day for water and other basics.

Properly harnessed, this energy can transform Africa, liberating its women from such burdens and the continent from underdevelopment.

Luisa Dias Diogo is the Prime Minister of Mozambique.
Greg Mills directs the Johannesburg-based Brenthurst Foundation. Ulla Toernaes is Minister for Development Cooperation in Denmark. All three are members of the Africa Commission.

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