Advancing women’s economic inclusion

The African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) has the potential to bring significant economic and social gains for the region, leading to higher incomes, lower poverty, and faster economic growth, according to a new World Bank report done in partnership with the AfCFTA Secretariat.

About 2.4 billion women of working age are not afforded the equal economic opportunity that men have and 178 countries maintain legal barriers that prevent their full economic participation, according to the World Bank’s Women, Business and the Law 2022 report.

In 86 countries, women face some forms of job restriction and 95 countries do not guarantee equal pay for equal work. Globally, women still have only three-quarters of the legal rights afforded to men – an aggregate score of 76.5 out of a possible 100.

However, despite the disproportionate effect on women’s lives and livelihood from the global pandemic, 23 countries reformed their laws in 2021 to take much-needed steps towards advancing women’s economic inclusion, according to the report.

Sub-Saharan Africa

Sub-Saharan Africa has a wide range of performance on the Women, Business and the Law index, ranging from 89.4 in Mauritius to 29.4 in Sudan. The region implemented comprehensive reforms, achieving the second-highest improvement in the index last year.

Per the report, Ghana achieved a score of 75.0 which is based on the average of each economy’s scores for the eight topics included in this year’s aggregate score. A higher score indicates more gender-equal laws.

Imperatively, the lack of access to financial services reduces women’s capacity to escape poverty, and it reduces their opportunities to participate in economic activities. Providing financial support for women means greater participation, opportunities, and control over resources for women. When women generate their own income, experience shows that they invest in their families and communities, thereby reducing poverty.

“Women cannot achieve equality in the workplace if they are on an unequal footing at home,” said Carmen Reinhart, Senior Vice President and Chief Economist of the World Bank Group. “That means levelling the playing field and ensuring that having children doesn’t mean women are excluded from full participation in the economy, realising their hopes and ambitions.”

This edition of the World Bank report also explores the operation of Women, Business and Law indicators in practice in 25 economies. An analysis of the laws’ implementation schemes reveals a substantial gap between legislation on the books and legal operation. Laws alone are not enough to improve gender equality; factors at play include not only their implementation and enforcement, but also social, cultural and religious norms. These gaps will be further explored in future cycles of Women, Business and the Law reports.

The African Union’s Strategy on Gender Equality and Women’s Empowerment (GEWE) emphasises the need for the economic empowerment of women for Africa to achieve its goals for inclusive and sustainable development as envisioned in Agenda 2063.

The overall goal of the Decade on Financial and Economic Inclusion for African Women is that every woman must be able to work, be paid, and participate in the economy of her country.

This involves examining the regulatory, legislative, and policy context to determine the changes needed to foster women’s financial inclusion and assist financial institutions in adopting approaches tailored to women, as a separate market segment. In addition to access to financial products, technologies and services, achieving financial inclusion for women would require overcoming socio-cultural norms and gender barriers.

One of the main objectives of this new African Women Decade is the development of market access by enhancing new credit solutions for women, generating access to infrastructure in downstream processing and distribution as well as training them in agro-industrial technology.

For these goals to be realised, African states have to put in place policies and targeted complementary measures and programmes such as: entrepreneurship, business management and technology training, financial literacy, financial planning, investment, and capacity building. Emphasis should be on women-led Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs) by supporting them to overcome the constraints of accessing finance as well as market information and networks.

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