“The fact that women control the majority of the purchasing decisions in the households means they have greater influence in the market and ultimately the economy. Women have the power. I believe that regardless of the past injustices, at this stage we are at a point where we have accumulated a sufficient amount of evidence that proves beyond reasonable doubt that women are the future leaders of Africa. Africa needs a Triple Bottom line focus, responsible entrepreneurship and women entrepreneurs are the answer.” – Kega-Florence Mukwevho of MVP Fast Foods (Ventures Africa, Why Investing in Female Entrepreneurs Make Economic Sense, 2014).
The president of Africa’s populous country and biggest African economy, Nigeria’s Muhammadu Buhari, on Friday, made a comment on the international stage which many have criticised as unsavoury. He said “I don’t know which party my wife belongs to, but she belong to my kitchen, living room and the other room” in response to his wife, Aisha’s interview with the British Broadcasting Corporations (BBC). Although his media adviser took to the social media networking site, Twitter to defend the president, saying it was just a joke, many people believed it to be a reflection of the president’s general view on women – that is, women are meant to be the cooks and sex objects.
A male commenter, staunch Buhari supporter by the way, conceded that the “joke” was in a poor taste, but said it reflects the African view of women by men and sadly, a large percentage of women, even if it was 2016.
By African standards, a woman’s place is in the kitchen, in a blunt refusal to accept that “women’s economic participation encourages increased GDP, better governance within political structures and improved performance as a result of leadership within organisations,” as Ernst & Young put it in its 2011 Women of Africa, a powerful untapped economic force.
It was Jeremy Williams who said: “if you don’t believe that women should work, you have effectively halved the earning potential of your country.” Entrepreneurial women from time immemorial have contributed to nations’ development and economic growth, despite untold hardship. There are abundant of data to show that women in African and all over the world have made immerse contribution to countries’ socio-economic growth.
Data on women’s contribution to economy
Women have over the years, played an important role in Africa’s growth rates, which are said to be “accelerating.” The Economist, in its January 2011 issue, “Africa’s impressive growth,” noted that six African economies were identified as among the 10 fastest growing economies in the world between 2001 and 2010, putting the continent’s collective GDP at $1.5 trillion, exceeding that of Russia at S$1.23 trillion and nearly equalling Brazil’s at $1.6 trillion in 2009.
In the South Asian region for instance, where the percentage of women entrepreneurs is less than 13 per cent, the women own 37 per cent of all businesses the world over and generate $29 to $36 billion through businesses in South Asian region alone, data show.
A 2015 data from the National Association of Women Business Owners showed that more than nine million U.S. firms are now owned by women, employing nearly eight million people and generating $1.5 trillion in sales, in the United States of America.
In Africa, sadly, the pictures get a little darker.
According to United Nations Economic and Social Council, women in Africa constitute 52 per cent of the total population, contribute 75 per cent of the agricultural work and produce and market 60 to 80 per cent of food.
Quoting the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) Human Development Report, the council said the female labour force in sub-Saharan Africa in 1993 was about 73 million, representing 34 per cent of those employed in the formal sector, earning only 10 per cent of the income while owning one per cent of the assets.
“These figures clearly indicate the need for increasing women’s access to both formal and informal resources,” the council said.
Despite women’s exponential contribution to the continent’s economy, the fact remains that gender exclusion has drawn the continent’s development back by a number of years, and has cost it a lot in economic gains, according to development agencies working in Africa.
It will be recalled that the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) said in August 2016 that gender inequality is costing sub-Saharan Africa on average $95 billion a year, peaking at $105 billion in 2014. Losing $95 billion a year means Africa is losing six per cent in GDP every year and this jeopardises the continent’s efforts for inclusive human development and economic growth, according to the Africa Human Development Report 2016: Advancing Gender Equality and Women’s Empowerment in Africa, launched by the UNDP.
One of the major and clear obstacles to African women’s progress, the UNDP said is social norms, which limit the time women can spend in education and paid work, and access to economic and financial assets.
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,” the report said.
“With existing gender disparities, achieving the Sustainable Development Goals and Africa’s Agenda 2063 would remain an aspiration, and not a reality”, UNDP Africa Director Abdoulaye Mar Dieye, said, adding that: “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.”
Half of the world’s population cannot be ignored
“Women are the corner stone of African economic development and are currently under represented. I think it’s time for a balance in the business arena throughout the continent. Women hold dynamic and valuable characteristics which are an asset to the business terrain.” – Banke Kuku, Banke Kuku Textiles (Ventures Africa, Why Investing in Female Entrepreneurs Make Economic Sense, 2014).
The UNDP report analyses the political, economic and social drivers that hamper African women’s advancement to include “deeply-rooted structural obstacles” such as “unequal distribution of resources, power and wealth, combined with social institutions and norms that sustain inequality.” These, the UNDP said, “are holding African women, and the rest of the continent, back”
To remove these hindrances, it was recommended that African nations address the “contradiction between legal provisions and practice in gender laws;” breakdown “harmful social norms”, transform discriminatory institutional settings; and “secure women’s economic, social and political participation.”
Dr Ruta Aidis, Project Director, Global Women Entrepreneur Leaders Scorecard and CEO and Founder, ACG Inc, in a 2015 email to Entrepreneurship+, noted that women need equitable access to resources. According to her, there is still a wide disparity among countries when it comes to access to fundamental resources such as education, internet, bank accounts and Small and Medium Enterprise (SME) training programs.
She added that “access to growth capital and innovation ecosystems” must be made liberal for women entrepreneurs, in addition to provision of stable business environments with strong levels of R&D investments, innovation ecosystem and availability of capital.
“The evidence is substantial. African economies are poised for growth,” Ernst & Young says in its 2011 Women of Africa, a powerful untapped economic force, urging business and political to “set the tone, recognize, support and encourage women to be participants, beneficiaries and enablers of the African growth story.”
It is about time African leaders, starting from President Buhari, recognise this.