Gender budgeting vital tool for empowerment of African women


On March 8, Africa joined the rest of the world in commemorating the International Women’s Day. The day is celebrated to mark the economic, political, and social achievements of women in the past, present and future.

This year’s celebrations were marked under the theme “Equality for women is progress for all”, with a particular focus of women’s equality regarding financial inclusion.

It is widely recognized that equitable access to education and financial services can play a pivotal role in poverty alleviation and in decreasing the vulnerability of poor people. In his message to mark the day United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki Moon said that countries with more gender equality have better economic growth. 

“Companies with more women leaders perform better. Peace agreements that include women are more durable. Parliaments with more women enact more legislation on key social issues such as health, education, anti-discrimination and child support.”

The African Union commemorated the day under the theme of “Stand-Alone Goal on Gender Equality and Women’s Empowerment in Post 2015 agenda”.

In her statement, the chairperson of the African Union Commission Dr Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma called for transformation of the continent in order to meet its development objectives.

“That is why we have made transformation as the foundation of the Common African Position on the post-2015 development agenda. Part of this transformation agenda is the mainstreaming of gender and women’s empowerment throughput all pillars and goals of the development agenda, with specific goals on gender equality and women’s empowerment,” observed Dlamini-Zuma

Also in her message to commemorate the day, Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, the United Nations under-secretary-general and executive director of UN Women noted: 

“If we act decisively, with the knowledge that empowering women and girls and supporting their full participation can help solve the greatest challenges of the 21st century, we will find lasting solutions to many of the problems we face in our world.”

She said that by advancing equal opportunity and removing structural barriers to women's economic empowerment, inequality will be reduced and spur inclusive economic growth.

“So let us build on the lessons learned and the knowledge that equality for women is progress for all, and make greater and bolder progress as we work to achieve the Millennium Development Goals and chart a new post-2015 development agenda,” stressed Mlambo-Ngcuka.

The African Commission on Human Rights and People’s Rights Advocate, Soyaga Maiga, who is the commissioner of the Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Women in Africa, in her address to mark the day said guaranteeing the right to equality for women was crucial.

“Women empowered is a nation empowered,” she said.

She called upon AU member states to ratify, domesticate and implement the Maputo Protocol, a crucial document to the advancement of women’s rights on the continent and mostly important, the non-discrimination and equality of women in Africa.

“Putting women on a par with men is synonymous to progress. Let us continue to celebrate the women who have trail blazers in various works of life on our continent and who continue to be role models to others,” said Maiga.

In his address to celebrate the IWD 2014, African Development Bank (AfDB) President, Donald Kaberuka, lamented of the slow progress in the development of Africa.

“African women are coming along, on the back of their talents, as long as those doors open… Nonetheless, progress is patchy, within and between countries. Much remains to be done,” said Kaberuka.

“We hear Africa” rising” with all the nuances needed when we use that phrase. It can only rise so far until both halves of our Continent of one billion people have the same opportunities, and are provided with the chance to develop their talents and put them towards creating prosperity in Africa,” he said.

Kaberuka underscored that the future prospects of Africa are very much a function of our ability to leave no-one behind, to make full use of our talents of our people irrespective of their ethnicity or gender.

In a document ‘Gender and Economic Empowerment In Africa’ by the Africa Partnership Forum and New Partnership’s Development (NEPAD) says that Africa’s growth and development agenda can only succeed if the continent is able to draw on all its resources and talents, and if women are able to participate fully in economic, social and political life.

African women continue to face social inequalities and the lack of opportunities they face simply because of their gender.

The Millennium Taskforce on Poverty and Economy once noted that one of the greatest barriers to human capital transition is the denial of basic human rights to a significant part of the population and this applies broadly to women.

It has been noted that gender inequalities creates gender gap and as result hampering progress in the development of the African continent.

According to Gender and Development Group – World Bank, from the report “Gender Equality and the Millennium Development Goals 2003”:

“Gender inequality, which remains pervasive worldwide, tends to lower the productivity of labour and the efficiency of labour allocation in households and the economy, intensifying the unequal distribution of resources. It also contributes to the non-monetary aspects of poverty, lack of security, opportunity and empowerment that lower the quality of life for both men and women. While women and girls bear the largest and most direct costs of these inequalities, the costs cut broadly across society, ultimately hindering development and poverty reduction.”

Gender equality is enshrined as a fundamental Human Right in Article 1 of the UN Charter, which states that one of the purposes of the UN lies in: “…promoting and encouraging respect for human rights and for fundamental freedoms for all without distinction as to race, sex, language, or religion.”

One of the most important way in closing this gap is through gender budgeting.

The Executive Director of the Zimbabwe Women’s Resource Centre and Network (ZWRCN), Dorothy Adebanjo, once pointed out that gender budgeting reduces gender inequalities.

“The overall goal of gender budgeting is to reduce gender inequalities and to promote gender-sensitive development policies for poverty reduction and improvement of the welfare of women and men, boys and girls through the national budget to achieve gender-sensitive budgets that address the needs of all people equitably, while taking into consideration the special needs of people with disabilities, the youth and the elderly,” indicated Adebanjo.

As indicated in the World Bank Report, “women and girls bear the largest and most direct costs of gender inequalities but the costs cut more broadly across society ultimately harming everyone”.

The United Nations shows that women with children constitute the majority of the poor in many countries. Where women can move out of poverty their children appear to face a brighter future, but where their chances are limited, poverty is transmitted intergenerationally. 

“In many cases, girls have higher dropout rates as they are the first to be pulled out of school to help with household work and childcare. Yet, experience has shown that investment in girls’ and women’s education not only makes for greater equity but also tends to translate directly into better nutrition for the family, better health care, declining fertility and potentially greater economic empowerment,” adds the UN.

Agriculture being the engine of growth in Africa it employs about 70 percent of the population and contributes to about 40 percent of the GDP.

In Africa, women are the backbone of agriculture, gender inequalities in access to land and agricultural inputs reduce agricultural productivity.

According to Food Agricultural Organisation on average, women comprise 43 percent of the agricultural labour force in developing countries and 50 percent in parts of Africa.

As most of African economies are agro-based, experts say that low agricultural productivity reduces growth and food security, increasing therefore the vulnerability and poverty of the African population.

Maternal mortality rates continue to be extremely high in Africa. 

According to the World Health Organisation, almost all maternal deaths (99 percent) occur in developing countries.

The United Nations Population Fund indicates that today women account for nearly half of all people living with HIV worldwide. Over the past two years, the number of HIV-positive women and girls has increased in every region of the world… In sub-Saharan Africa, 76 percent of the young people (aged 15-24 years) living with HIV are female.

It also indicates that African women have not been able to benefit from investment and the expansion of trade in agricultural products.

Moreover, Western macro-economic policies pose hindrances to the development of the African continent. They have produced high adverse effects on the population particularly on women exacerbating gender inequalities and ailing African development prospects

In the document quoted above, it says that globalisation, or the liberalisation of trade, investment and financial services, and a strong emphasis on privatisation is clearly exacerbating inequality.

The document adds that studies of globalisation that emphasise these trends tend to neglect the role of women in these processes, yet the increasingly mobile nature of capital (as production processes spread in order to take advantage of the low cost of labour) and the increasing mobility of labour across state borders cannot ignore the fact that these processes involve vast numbers of women.

“A reliance on low-waged female labour, for example, is a key feature of export-oriented industrialisation and high levels of inequality in globalised production lines is directly linked to the deregulation of labour markets that has accompanied the global shift towards a more liberal market economy.

‘It is therefore clear that despite that fact that women are playing a major part in globalised networks of production and labour markets, they have not necessarily benefited from this engagement,’ reads the report.

There is growing evidence that the number of women in Africa living in poverty has increased disproportionately to that of men.

 The recently adopted Gender Strategy: Investing in Gender Equality for Africa’s Transformation (2014–2018), by the AfDB envisions an Africa where African women and girls, have easy access to knowledge; where women’s skills and innovations are optimised, their capacities contribute to greater economic opportunities, and where they fully participate in decision-making processes.

More than two-thirds of the adult population in many African countries have no access to formal financial services.

In Sub-Saharan Africa, financial exclusion is as high as 76 per cent. Exclusion is highest among women, youth and the very poorest sections of society. 

As Africa marked the International Women’s Day on the 8th of March under the theme “Equality for women is progress for all” let it be as the above quoted document reads “gender sensitive budgeting is “good budgeting” African countries should use annual budgets to ensure that public money is spent in ways that reduce the gender gap.”

With the Southern African Development Community (SADC), Gender and Development Protocol that is now in force justice for women should be guaranteed using gender budgeting as one of the key tools.

Africa should be more transparent and accountable in their budgets with some governments having ratified to important documents, to gender equality through the ‘Solemn Declaration on Gender Equality in Africa’ and the ‘Protocol to the African Charter on the Rights of Women in Africa’ which they ate ratified to, so as to achieve the millennium development goal number 3 which says ‘promote gender equality and empower women’.

“Investing in women is not only the right thing to do. It is the smart thing to do. I am deeply convinced that, in women, the world has at its disposal, the most significant and yet largely untapped potential for development and peace,” once Ban Ki-moon, UN Secretary-General rightly pointed out.

March 2014
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