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Gender inequality in Africa is one of the key drivers of poverty, yet there is the lack of political will to make substantive and concrete financial commitments to achieving gender equality. The money simply must follow the rhetoric.

2015 was an exciting year for global and African development priorities in terms of innovation and re-invention. Pivotal international summits took place that focused on defining goals and targets for the global sustainable development agenda in the post-Millennium Development Goals (MDG) era. The Third International Conference on Financing for Development held in Addis Ababa in July 2015 brought forth agreements on mechanisms for financing this agenda in Africa, and beyond. There is much to laud not only from these forums and processes but also the vanguard African initiatives enshrined in visionary African Union frameworks such as Agenda 2063. Nonetheless, I posit that the road ahead is a long one because in reality not enough has been done to better the lot of African women in particular. One of the key reasons that we are yet to effectively tackle with respect to gender inequality in Africa, which is one of the key drivers of poverty, is the lack of political will to make substantive and concrete financial commitments to achieving gender equality.

So let us start at the beginning; the word ‘gender’ is seemingly in and of itself innocuous. Gender as defined by the WHO refers to,

‘the socially constructed characteristics of women and men – such as norms, roles and relationships of and between groups of women and men. It varies from society to society and can be changed. While most people are born either male or female, they are taught appropriate norms and behaviours – including how they should interact with others of the same or opposite sex within households, communities and work places’[1].

So what is the cause for all the furor when the subject of ‘gender equality’ arises? After all gender equality simply recognizes that men and women, boys and girls should be treated equally in all spheres of life. Yet intrinsic to the definition and understanding of gender is that there are traditional roles and responsibilities that are unique to men and women, girls and boys, and by virtue of that construct, there are inherent and unbalanced power dynamics that are inevitably at play. These gendered power dynamics lead to distinct inequalities between women and men, inequalities that have historically disadvantaged and continue to disadvantage women and girls. Therein lies the crux of the conversation and the rationale for the need to finance gender in development in a manner that will right entrenched imbalances.

In order to unpack this issue effectively, the distinction between equity and equality is a subtle yet critical one that cannot be ignored particularly if the aforementioned objective of gender equality is to be met. Though often used interchangeably, the implications of these words differ. Equality requires that men and women be given equal access to opportunities and resources whilst equity recognizes that from the outset, girls and boys, women and men are not operating on an equal footing and therefore in order to achieve ‘fairness, strategies and measures must be available to compensate for women’s historical and social disadvantages...’[2]. Equity is therefore the process that leads to equality via programs, resources and decision-making processes that address imbalances.

This understanding is particularly pertinent to the discourse on financing gender in the post-MDG era as it is only through the implementation (which necessarily requires financing) of progressive laws and policies that appreciate this distinction, that systemic inequalities that continue to disenfranchise and marginalise African women and girls can be rectified.

So, then, comes the question that many often think but in the interest of political correctness hesitate to utter out loud: Why does it matter if women don’t necessarily have all the same opportunities as men?

This is why. We on the African continent should care because as fatuous as it may seem to state, women are human beings. It is reprehensible that whilst women represent approximately 52% of the population of the African continent they continue to experience discrimination and are grossly underrepresented in economic, political and cultural spheres. This is not only a gross breach of natural justice but is critically impeding and undermining economic growth and transformation on the continent particularly in light of the fact that investments in gender equality yield the highest returns of all development investments (OECD 2010).

Indeed it has been calculated that if gender gaps in the public, private and social sectors were closed in countries, an additional $12 trillion could be added to global GDP by 2025. Simply put, without gender equality, women’s empowerment and the realization of women's human rights, sustained economic growth and development will remain out of reach for African nations. Yet despite this, women continue to be exploited and their contributions to society and the economy as a whole uncounted, unrecognised and under remunerated.   

So what are the relevant African instruments central to gender justice/equality?

The African continent has proved itself time and again to be at the forefront of introducing progressive policies and frameworks on key issues and gender equality is no exception. These African instruments to varying degrees make a deliberate effort to address the gaps in financing for gender. A clear example of this is seen in Art. 10 (3) of the Maputo Protocol which expressly calls for reduction in military spending by states in favour of social expenditure and women’s rights in particular. Art. 13 speaks to a broad range of economic and social welfare rights for African women such as ‘the right to equal remuneration for jobs of equal value for men and women [3] and the need to ‘ensure the equal application of taxation laws to women and men [4]’ as well as the need to ‘recognise the economic value of the work of women in the home [5]’.  It also refers to the specific conditions that States must ensure in order to realise these rights, including systems for social insurance, for instance.

The African Union (AU) Constitutive Act promotes women's empowerment and gender equality whilst the AU's Gender Policy provides a roadmap for implementing the AU's responsibilities on women's rights. The AU has further led the charge on ensuring women’s roles in decision-making with the unprecedented Gender Parity Principle to concretise the fifty-fifty gender balance in the African Union Commission (AUC). In 2004 the Solemn Declaration on Gender Equality in Africa (SDGEA) was adopted with Member States committing to accelerate gender equality at all levels and in 2009 the African Union Commission declared 2010-2020 as the African Women’s Decade providing a framework to accelerate the implementation of commitments on gender equality at all levels.

We are now firmly ensconced in the post-MDG era and this pace has in no way waned. Indeed, there is ostensibly a renewed wave of vigour towards achieving gender equality both globally and on the African continent with the introduction of Agenda 2030 (the Sustainable Development Goals) and Agenda 2063 (the African Union’s Vision and Action Plan for transformation) that are both dynamic development frameworks that place gender equality firmly at their centre.

The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) are the seventeen (17) recently endorsed (September 25th 2015) UN goals adopted by 193 countries that aim to end poverty, protect the planet and ensure prosperity for all by the year 2030. The global sustainable development agenda is also commonly referred to as Agenda 2030.

Agenda 2063 is the African driven and owned vision and action plan that provides a strategic framework for the socio-economic transformation of the continent over the next 50 years. Agenda 2063 is rooted in Pan-Africanism and provides a strong foundation and road map for African nations to realise their potential and maximise the use of their resources. One of the aspirations articulated in Agenda 2063 is to realise ‘(a)n Africa whose development is people driven, especially relying on the potential offered by its Youth and Women. Under this umbrella, there is specific reference to the need to achieve ‘(f)ull gender equality in all spheres of life’[6].

It is important to note that these global and regional frameworks are not mutually exclusive and thus should not be viewed or monitored in isolation. In actuality this means that member states’ national action plans must be guided by regional, continental and international frameworks that are viewed holistically.

The Addis Ababa Action Agenda (AAAA) agreed upon in July 2015 at the 3rd International Conference on Financing for Development clearly highlights the complimentarity between global and regional frameworks by providing a clear roadmap for financing the global sustainable development goals (Agenda 2030) in Africa. Through the AAAA ‘countries agreed to an array of measures aimed at widening the revenue base, improving tax collection, and combating tax evasion and illicit financial flows’[7].  Crucially, the Agenda identifies the clear gap in funding for gender equality given that currently ‘the gender financing gap ranges from 60 to 90 per cent in many countries’.[8] The AAAA makes concrete recommendations including a standalone and transformative goal on achieving gender equality and women’s empowerment and has ‘32 specific references to gender equality in relation to various aspects of financing sustainable development [9].

Beyond the domestic revenue base, ‘developed countries ...annually contribute less to the overseas development assistance (ODA) than the required $46.1 billion’[10] and the AAAA highlights this issue. However, more concrete assertions as to the failure thus far of ODA to adequately accommodate women’s specific needs such as sexual and reproductive health and rights (to name but one of many issues uniquely affecting women and girls in Africa) would have been welcome.

The Promised Land: What does good financing for gender equality look like?

The Sustainable Development Goal on gender equality (Agenda 2030) calls for equality between women and men. Goal Number 5 aims to ‘(a)chieve gender equality and empower all women and girls’ by ensuring member states not only develop policies but also allocate financing for the provision of public services, infrastructure and social protection to promote gender equality.’ But on any journey, it is imperative that the destination is clear and defined. What does economic empowerment look like for African women and how will effective financing ensure we reach this proverbial ‘promised land’? Broadly speaking empowerment means access to economic resources and opportunities; jobs, financial services, property and other productive assets, skills development and market information, unimpeded and freedom from violence and other societal ills that negatively and disproportionately affect and disadvantage women and girls.

What this in effect translates to is financial incentives and support; technology and infrastructure; the creation of economic opportunity; capability building; advocacy and shaping attitudes; and laws, policies, and regulations[11] to secure the prosperous future of Africa as a whole, men and women alike and together.

Globally, women on average are paid 24 per cent less than men, more often than not for equal work. 75% of the work African women are engaged in is in the informal sector, rendering them vulnerable given the lack of basic services such as health insurance, maternity leave or pensions which are essentially tantamount to indirect taxes as they translate to out of pocket expenditures that they can ill afford. This means governments must ensure the promotion of equal pay and decent work, including living wages thereby empowering African women as agents of their own economic well-being.

According to the report of the High Level Panel on Illicit Financial Flows, convened jointly by the African Union and the UN Economic Commission for Africa, Africa loses $50 billion annually through illicit financial outflows to developed countries.  The inequality in taxation and illicit flows has a number of effects on women. Firstly, governments experience deficits in their budgets and to compensate raise indirect taxes such as VAT on goods and services. This response typically has a disproportionate effect on poor women in particular who traditionally spend more on goods subject to value added tax (food, sanitary items). When there are budgetary cuts it is most often social welfare expenditure that is first on the chopping block thereby further compromising poor people and in particular African women who have become the face of poverty in Africa. The less tax a country collects, the less it has and will spend on women’s rights.

One of the strategies central to remedying this is gender responsive budgeting (GRB) which ‘provides a set of tools and methodologies to maintain a gendered approach throughout the fiscal policy cycle, ensuring women’s needs are resourced’[12]. Progressive tax policy and gender responsive investment in social and physical infrastructure is central to achieving this. If GRB is to have the desired effect, the new financing for development architecture must ensure adequate training and capacity building on the approach for all concerned government departments as the strategy will only fall on deaf ears particularly if the need for it and its proper application are not only poorly articulated, but also under-resourced. In addition, in order to ensure a gendered approach to financing for development, there must be transparent and ongoing (not just before elections!) consultations with women’s groups (and civil society as a whole) and open publication and access to budgetary information.

As far as economic empowerment of women is concerned, agriculture is a massive component given the significant reliance on the agricultural sector in Africa. Women in Africa provide almost 70% of agricultural labour and produce 90% of the food yet own significantly less land than men [13]. On average, across 10 countries in Africa, only 12% of women report owning land individually [14]. It is staggering to realise that agricultural outputs in Africa could increase by up to 20% if women’s access to agricultural inputs was equal to men’s [15]. It is a fact that the vast majority of African women are engaged in agriculture and that it is an indispensable source of income for them and their families. It is clear therefore that there is need for financing simple time-saving technologies, like maize grinders to make these tasks less labour intensive, greater access to credit for small scale women farmers and legal reforms that will ensure greater land ownership for women, among other measures.

Financing for gender is central to a number of key development priorities. With regards to access to education, it extends to achieving gender parity at primary and tertiary levels in order to broaden women’s employment opportunities which is only possible if there is adequate investment in infrastructure and services that render this possible; which includes financing social services that allow young mothers to return to school.

Appropriate financing for gender sensitive priorities is a crucial discussion with regard to the recognition, reduction and redistribution of women’s unpaid care work which plays a crucial role in maintaining the market economy. There is need, for instance, to invest in initiatives that shift perceptions, norms and roles about care work and to create a strong tax base for government spending on measures to reduce the burden on women and girls (e.g. access to water sources, care services for the elderly).

From the foregoing it is clear that there are a plethora of development issues that have a uniquely gendered perspective that require equally gendered financing approaches if the goals of Agenda 2030 are to be achieved. It is therefore encouraging that on the African continent as well as globally, we are moving towards a financing architecture that seeks to respond to this dynamic. We have built it and now we must live it; but to do so the money simply must follow the frameworks.

Government plans and budgets with regards to gender equality are simply not speaking the same language given the sustained funding deficit. This discouragingly points at a lack of political will veiled in lip service and paper commitments. It goes without saying therefore that while new African and global frameworks have set new and ambitious targets, this is not enough. The call for implementation of existing frameworks for gender equality is not a new one but is no less poignant and true if we are to truly herald an era of progress and prosperity for African women and girls.

* Brenda Muturi is a lawyer and advocate of the High Court of Kenya with a Masters in International Law. She is currently the Pan Africa Gender Justice Lead at Oxfam GB based in Nairobi, Kenya.




[3] Art.13 (b) Optional Protocol to the African Charter on Human and People’s Rights on the Rights of Women in Africa

[4] Art. 13(j) ibid

[5] Art. 13 (h) ibid

[6] Agenda 2063, The Africa we Want, Draft Document at Pg. 54 (accessed 8th March 2016)












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