More women becoming MPs and heads of state a fix. But it’ll take up to 98 years to close our gender gap

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2005 was a big year for African women in politics. Liberia's Ellen Johnson Sirleaf (right) won at the polls to became Africa's first elected woman president, while Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka was appointed deputy president – the first woman named to that position in SA. (Pictures: Harold Cunningham/WireImage/Joe Corrigan/Getty)
2005 was a big year for African women in politics. Liberia's Ellen Johnson Sirleaf (right) won at the polls to became Africa's first elected woman president, while Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka was appointed deputy president – the first woman named to that position in SA. (Pictures: Harold Cunningham/WireImage/Joe Corrigan/Getty)

When there’s no food to eat, they are the ones who make a plan.

They get a micro-loan, plant a few seeds, rear backyard chickens, sew some garments, then go out to hawk their wares and produce in the CBD. Or they start teaching themselves how to braid hair, do nails or bake. 

Women working in the informal sector are generally the ones helping make sure kids go to school and don’t go to bed on empty stomachs. But things have only gotten worse for them during the pandemic.

While sub-Saharan Africa has the sixth-highest regional score, it’s registered its highest gender gap score in 16 years, says the World Economic Forum (WEF) in its 2022 Global Gender Gap Report , which annually paints a picture of how far the world is in achieving gender parity.

“By calculating how much the gap has been reduced each year since the report’s first edition in 2006, using a constant sample of 102 countries, it is possible to project how many years it will take to close each of the gender gaps in each of the dimensions tracked,” says the report which concludes that it could take about a century to close the global gender gap in sub-Saharan Africa.

Read more | Backbone of middle class – those aged 35-44, earning R20k-R35k per month – under most debt pressure

“Sub-Saharan Africa ranks ahead of Middle East and North Africa, and South Asia,” reads the report in part.

“At the present rate it would take 98 years to close the gender gap in the region.”

These findings closely echo the results of a poll conducted recently by financial services provider Debt Busters.

Not only did the survey’s findings indicate that more women than men have been forced to rely more heavily on debt just to survive in the past few years. But is also found that the upwardly mobile women in their mid-30s and above are finding that they have to provide for more and more people – whether family or friends – as the youth unemployment crisis worsens in SA.

The 35-44-year-old demographic (what Debt Busters’ COO Benay Sager refers to as the “backbone of the middle class” – people earning between R20 000 to R35 000 per month and aged between 35 and 44) is under the most severe debt repayment pressure, the survey found.

These are largely the women who have remained employed during the turbulence caused by Covid-19 in the past couple of years, yet their income has not grown in line with inflation or they have needed to take on more responsibilities – helping to take care of family, friends or distant relatives who are now unemployed.

The WEF research tracks the gender gap according to four criteria:

  • Economic participation and opportunity;
  • Educational attainment;
  • Health and survival, and
  • Political empowerment

While on the economic participation front, SA and our region of Africa may be faring badly, South Africa does seem to be improving in the Political Empowerment subindex.

“The subindex is headed by Rwanda, South Africa and Mozambique, with Sierra Leonne, Burkina Faso and Nigeria towards the bottom,” says the report. 

“The increase in score derives from the growing share of women assuming parliamentary seats across the region.

“In 12 of the 36 countries, more women became parliamentarians, including, by order of magnitude: Chad, Guinea, Cape Verde and Cote d’Ivoire."

“Women were also elected or appointed heads of state in the past year in Ethiopia, Togo, Tanzania and Uganda, improving the corresponding indicator’s gender parity score.”

South Africa is a regional leader in closing the political empowerment gap, says the report.

“In addition to Iceland, only 11 countries have closed more than 50% of their gap on this subindex (political empowerment)." They are:

  • Finland (0.68)
  • Norway (0.66)
  • New Zealand (0.66)
  • Nicaragua (0.63)
  • Costa Rica (0.56)
  • Rwanda (0.56)
  • Germany (0.55)
  • Bangladesh (0.55)
  • Sweden (0.51)
  • Ireland (0.50)
  • South Africa (0.50)

But, overall, SA sits at No 41 (0.998) in the Educational Attainment subindex; No 92 when it comes to Economic Participation and Opportunity (0.649), and at 32 under Health and Survival (0.979).

Read more | ‘I want to remain relevant’ – Patience Masua on being Africa’s youngest sitting MP

Notably, 2005, the year before the first Global Gender Gap Index was published, was a big year for African women in politics.

Liberia's Ellen Johnson Sirleaf won at the polls to became Africa's first elected woman president, while Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka was appointed deputy president – the first woman named to that position – in SA.

Sixteen years later, the index has found the gender gap has improved to 68.1%, globally, a slight four-year improvement compared to the 2021 estimate of 136 years to parity.

“However, [this improvement] does not compensate for the generational loss which occurred between 2020 and 2021,” reads the report.

“According to trends leading up to 2020, the gender gap was set to close within 100 years.”

In sub-Saharan Africa, Rwanda, Namibia and South Africa have the highest gender parity, while Mali, Chad and Democratic Republic of the Congo rank lowest.

So, If you’re a woman in 2022, it seems the best sub-Saharan Africa countries to live in, with respect to gender parity, may be Rwanda, Namibia, South Africa, Burundi and Mozambique.

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