The Working Woman in Sub-Saharan Africa
Sub-Saharan Africa faces many challenges - this includes harsh and arid climates that lead to desertification, mass poverty, widespread malnutrition and unstable economies. Fortunately, Africa is in the midst of massive development and growth- equipped with a rapidly growing population. By 2050, the population of Sub-Saharan Africa is expected to double- this will lead to an unproportionate amount of the population under the age of 25. “Estimates indicate that 11 million youth will be entering the labor market in Sub-Saharan Africa each year for the coming decade, with the potential to dramatically promote development and reduce poverty” (World Bank Group). There is immense pressure on this young generation, however, as they must figure out how to succeed in precarious economies. The young women of Sub-Saharan Africa face even more difficulties due to gender inequality, and this article will discuss these issues.
The expansion of young women into the labor force could dramatically support a sustainable future for Sub-Saharan Africa. The question that remains is: why are young women in Sub-Saharan Africa constrained from the labor force, and how can that be changed? According to World Bank Group, the young women of Sub-Saharan Africa have six constraints that deeply affect their ability to join the labor force: skills, capital, networks, time, occupational choice and safety.
To begin with, skills are an entryway into the labor force; young women complete less education than young men, and their literacy rates are often much lower.
Capital refers to the financing the young population can receive- it is often inaccessible to the youth, as they have less collateral. This is severely damaging to young women who want to start their own business; “Female entrepreneurs are less able to make effective use of capital and to separate business capital from household finances, either due to present bias or a greater risk of expropriation from family members” (Fafchamps).
The lack of networking opportunities is rather evident- this stems from the workplace and gender discrimination women face; for example, they are less likely to be referred by their male counterparts.
Similar to other parts of the world, women are more likely to be caretakers for their family. Marriage and childbearing are time consuming on a woman; “Early marriage and teenage pregnancy are still commonplace in much of Sub-Saharan Africa, where the median age at first birth falls below 20” (World Bank Group). After birthing a child, there are also social norms and expectations for the woman to be the head of all domestic chores for the household.
The fifth constraint is occupational choice- or lack thereof. Many industries are dominated by gender segregation, and male-dominated workplaces tend to make much more money.
Lastly, a very pressing concern is the safety of these young women. There is a much higher risk of sexual harassment in the workplace, and during the commute. There is a limited capacity to respond to violence for women, as well as reluctant law enforcement.
How do we release these constraints? Of course, the answer begins with major investment. The government, as well as private sectors, must pour enormous funding into the wellbeing of the young women who represent the future of their nations. “The importance of promoting youth employment has prompted massive investment in Sub-Saharan Africa in the past decade, but few programs have emphasized the importance of targeting young women” (World Bank Group). With proper funding, women can receive substantial capital. Investments should also lead to better education, which should subsequently improve the skillsets of women. Lastly, and perhaps most importantly, there should be an investment in women’s safety. Police forces should be tasked with speedy responses to cases of sexual harassment in the workforce, and there should be serious consequences for the perpetrators.
While funding may be the most obvious and measurable form of investment, the women of Sub-Saharan Africa also need champions, willing to fight for their success. Members of government need to reexamine current policies that prevent women from succeeding. Business leaders need to realize the value of women to the workforce and economy. These types of investments are what drive FarmSahel. We provide women with resources with the goal of sustainability, in the hopes that one day they will no longer need our support. Battling gender inequality requires a shift from the status quo and it will not be easy, but empowering women will ultimately benefit the entire region.
Chakravarty, Shubha, et al. “Gender and Youth Employment in Sub-Saharan Africa: A Review of Constraints and Effective Interventions.” World Bank Group, World Bank Group, 21 Nov. 2017, papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=3074908.
Elder, S. & Kone, K. (2014). Labour market transitions of young women and men in sub-Saharan Africa. International Labour Organization Work4Youth Publication Series No.9.
Fafchamps, M., McKenzie, D., Quinn, S., & Woodruff, C. (2014). Microenterprise growth and the flypaper effect: evidence from a randomized experiment in Ghana. Journal of Development Economics, 106: 211–26.