Women in Africa still at the short end of progress


“The subject of transformation for women is a very sensitive one, and it’s a very emotive subject. I think the issue here is that so many people, so many countries, so many government leaders are talking [of the] empowerment of women, but the talk does not match the action,” Nomvula Makgotlho, chief director of gender and women empowerment at South Africa’s Department of Trade and Industry, told CNBC Africa.

“Talk is very big but unfortunately I don’t think in terms of action we are seeing as much as we would like to see.”

The report, which was published in May, conducted a survey of more than 50,000 people in 34 African countries found that the education gap remains wide, with women continuously facing discrimination in the workplace, in courts and among traditional leaders in their respective communities.


Added to the report’s findings was that 26 per cent of women across 34 African countries reported never having formal education, compared to 19 per cent of men.

(WATCH VIDEO: Gender equality at the heart of Africa’s transformation)

Makgotlho added that the process within government has been additionally slow despite the number of programmes, policies and instruments at an international and local level available to remedy the inequality.

“We are actually concerned, hence we are spending most of our time because we want the pace to be a bit faster,” she explained.

In South Africa, attempts have been made to combat gender inequality particularly in senior government and corporate realm by proposing the implementation of a 50 per cent women quota. The bill has however had a mixed reception from proponents and opponents.

(READ MORE: S.Africa’s new gender bill ruffles feathers with 50% women quota)

Samantha Richmond, Afrobarometer operations manager for capacity building, added that an additional issue alongside the slow progress is implementation.

“We do have very good policies and as our report shows, close to 60 per cent of Afrobarometer respondents felt that government is doing a fairly good job of addressing women’s empowerment, which one could speculate that that actually relates to the legislative framework of things,” said Richmond.

The report also found that women account for 64 per cent of the 774 million illiterate adults in the world. Where employment is concerned, it was found that both globally and in the continent, only 21 per cent of parliamentary members were women.  

“As always, it’s about implementing these policies. Governments in Africa have a lot to deal with, and having women’s issues as a central focus is one of the challenges that they face in terms of other competing areas that they have to deal with,” Richmond explained.