UNDP Report: Gender Gap Costs Sub-Saharan Africa $95bn Annually

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Abimbola Akosile

The new Africa Human Development Report 2016 has disclosed that gender inequality is costing sub-Saharan Africa on average $95 billion a year, peaking at $105 billion in 2014 – or six per cent of the region’s GDP – jeopardising the continent’s efforts for inclusive human development and economic growth.

The report titled ‘Advancing Gender Equality and Women’s Empowerment in Africa’ was published by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), and released in Nairobi Kenya on August 28.

Speaking at the launch, which was attended by Kenya’s President Uhuru Kenyatta at the Tokyo International Conference on African Development (TICAD) VI, UNDP Administrator Helen Clark said “If gender gaps can be closed in labour markets, education, health, and other areas, then poverty and hunger eradication can be accelerated.”
Achieving gender equality and women’s empowerment is the right thing to do, and is a development imperative, Clark said.

The UNDP report analyses the political, economic and social drivers that hamper African women’s advancement and proposes policies and concrete 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.

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. The report estimates that a 1 per cent increase in gender inequality reduces a country’s human development index by 0.75 per cent.

The Human Development Index (HDI) is a summary measure of average achievement in key dimensions of human development: a long and healthy life, being knowledgeable and have a decent standard of living
While the continent is rapidly closing the gender gap in primary education enrolment, African women achieve only 87 per cent of the human development outcomes of men, driven mainly by lower levels of female secondary attainment, lower female labour force participation and high maternal mortality.

The report states that while 61 per cent of African women are working they still face economic exclusion as their jobs are underpaid and undervalued, and are mostly in the informal sector.

African women hold 66 per cent of the all jobs in the non-agricultural informal sector and only make 70 cents for each dollar made by men. Only between 7 and 30 per cent of all private firms have a female manager.

In a key finding, the report estimates that total annual economic losses due to gender inequality in the labour market have averaged $95 billion per year since 2010 in sub-Saharan Africa and could be as high as $105 billion, or 6 per cent of the region’s GDP in 2014.

Social norms are a clear obstacle to African women’s progress, limiting the time women can spend in education and paid work, and access to economic and financial assets, according to the report. For instance, African women still carry out 71 per cent of water collecting translating to 40 billion hours a year, and are less likely to have bank accounts and to access credit.

It also noted that African women’s health is also severely affected by harmful practices such as under-age marriage and sexual and physical violence, and high maternal mortality – the most at-risk women being those of childbearing age. According to the report, a 1 percentage point rise in adolescent birth rate increases the overall adult female mortality rate by about 1.1 percentage points.

“With existing gender disparities, achieving the Sustainable Development Goals and Africa’s Agenda 2063 would remain an aspiration, and not a reality”, said UNDP Africa Director Abdoulaye Mar Dieye. “Closing the gender gap would not only set Africa on a double-digit economic growth track, but would also significantly contribute to meeting its development goals.”

The report proposes four strategic pathways to greater gender equality and women’s empowerment – adopting legal reforms, building national capacity to accelerate women’s involvement in decision-making, adopting multi-sectoral approaches in promoting gender equality and women’s empowerment, and accelerating women’s ownership of assets and management of resources.

It further recommends six enabling actions to fast-track the achievement of gender equality and women’s empowerment, and by extension, the SDGs and Africa’s Agenda 2063.