The long journey to women empowerment in Africa

Twenty years after Beijing +20, gender inequality remains one of the biggest challenges in Africa. But the African Union declared 2015 “Year of Women Empowerment and Development towards Africa’s Agenda 2063”. ILO News talks with Mwila Chigaga, Senior Gender Specialist for Africa, to measure current progress, challenges and opportunities for African women towards empowerment.

Feature | 15 March 2015

1. African Leaders have declared 2015 as the “Year of Women’s Empowerment and Development towards Africa’s Agenda 2063". Which issue do you think Members States should prioritise next?

I think Member States should prioritize the whole issue of women in the labour market and facilitating the ability of women to combine their reproductive and productive roles successfully. They should also work to prevent unequal treatment of women in employment.

2. Despite some progress, African women are still under-represented in top decision-making roles/managerial positions in the continent. How do we respond to this?

This is all a symptom of our socialization! There are very deep rooted norms and values that still mitigate against gender equality. As a result you can witness that the current gender dynamics still weigh against the productive roles of women. The image of a woman is still predominantly of her reproductive role and less value is placed on the productive role of women—this has contributed to perpetuate gender stereotypes!

3. What do you think has been the most important step forward for African Women's Rights in 2014?

One key element is the recognition of the agency of women by themselves and emphasizing the importance of women’s economic empowerment. Policy makers are now making the linkage between gender, economic growth and development. You cannot really talk about development without factoring in the fact that women are productive agents also!

4. Which of these choices would best describe Young African women’s aspirations today? Right to long term education, equal pay or say no to domestic violence?

I think there is no choice to be made here because they are all inter-linked. One can say that an educated young woman is more likely to shutter the glass ceiling and is more likely to fight for equal pay and is most likely to say NO to gender based violence. Education gives her that choice.

5. The key to African women’s economic empowerment is entrepreneurship and a focus on SMEs. Do you agree?

Absolutely! We need however to take an integrated approach to entrepreneurship. We need to look at the whole range of resources such as, business development, financial literacy, personal mastery/empowerment and access to other productive resources such as land, credit and access to finance.

6. How do you envisage the role of the ILO in supporting African Union's pro-gender equality policies in the continent?

Our value addition is women’s economic empowerment. We have a good track record in terms of women’s entrepreneurship and SME development. But maternity protection, leadership development in the African trade union movement for advancing gender equality and strengthening inclusiveness in social dialogue in partnership with Regional Economic Communities (RECs) are also of high interest among our strategic partners.

7. Combining family life with work: a challenge or an opportunity?

I think this is an extremely important issue. Ultimately it all depends firstly on the enabling social and economic policy environment. The whole issue of the “care economy” is one that needs more attention. Secondly it also depends on the situation of the individual woman and on how empowered she is. Society benefits when a woman is productive so it should always be an opportunity!

8. International Women’s Day is celebrated in March and International Men's Day in November? Is this considered as a "gender balance" or shall we have both events on a same day?

I think the idea of commemorating International Women’s day is to bring awareness to the issue of gender equality and the discrimination that is still prevailing! So since the issues are so different it’s better we keep the two separate. Men also have issues that need to be dealt with such as the definition of masculinities. These are all important issues which need to be discussed.