Africa has over 700 companies with an annual revenue of more than $500 million, including 400 with revenue above $1 billion. The ability of these companies to thrive rests on building and retaining talented women and men. Empowering both women and men employees, suppliers, distributors, and customers and ensuring they succeed is not only a human rights obligation, it is good business and increasingly a core part of their mission and values.
Private sector engagement is key to gender equality
Deepening engagement with the private sector, both large and small is key to achieving the global 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development (SDGs). Achieving targets related to full and productive employment and decent work for all women and men, and equal pay for work of equal value (SDG 8) and gender equality and empowering all women and girls (SDG 5) among others is possible.
Growing jobs in retail, food and agri-processing, health care, financial services, light manufacturing, and construction are already impacting communities. Companies can advance sustainable development and women’s economic empowerment by choosing to do business in ways that ensure women and men can contribute and benefit equally. By making gender equality central to business practices, the private sector can be a driver of economic and social progress that benefits all.
Despite progress, gender gaps remain and women’s prospects in the world of work are far from being equal to men’s. Today, more women are both educated and participate in the labour market and there is greater awareness that more gender equality reduces poverty and boosts economic development. Yet, six out of ten women participate in the labour force compared to seven out of ten men and the unemployment rate for women (8.2%) is higher than men’s (6.4%). For every dollar earned by a man in manufacturing, services and trade, women earn just 70 cents.
Globally, advancing gender equality could grow GDP by 12% by 2025, this translates to 300 million more economic output in Sub-Saharan Africa. UNDP’s report on closing gender gaps in labour and productive resource in Africa finds that if women participated in the workforce at the same rate as men, an additional 74.4 million women would enter the workforce and economic output would increase by USD 962 billion. Closing gender gaps in women’s labour force participation, paid work, employment and productivity could increase economic output by 3% to 16%.
Barriers to overcome
Deep rooted obstacles to achieving women’s full potential at work include low-paying jobs, few channels to voice their concerns and structural and cultural barriers to career advancement. These include education gaps, stereotypes, lack of female role models, the absence of good childcare options and decent maternity leave, as well as risks to their personal safety and security. Only 22 countries in sub-Saharan Africa meet or exceed the ILO standard of 14 weeks paid maternity leave.
Women in male dominated sectors such as mining risk harassment and gender-based violence and limited inclusion in mining value chains. Social norms assign women and girls the primary responsibility for care and domestic work, hence, on average they spend twice as much time as men.
Empowering women is good for business and livelihoods
Unilever is lifting profits through a Sustainable Living Plan with gender equality in its business model. As women represent over 70% of Unilever’s consumers, increasing their incomes allows increased consumption and empowering women as micro-entrepreneurs selling Unilever products brings in new customers, many in poor and rural areas.
Fifty companies in Uganda and Rwanda are empowering women and achieving the SDGs through UNDP’s Gender Seal Certification Programme for Private Sector (Gender Seal). The Gender Seal initiative certifies that a company promotes and integrates measures for gender equality as an integral part of corporate governance and “good business”. This programme was pioneered by UNDP in Latin America in 2009 to provide tools, guidance and assessments towards eliminating gender-based pay gaps; increasing women’s roles in decision-making; enhancing work-life balance; enhancing women’s access to non-traditional jobs; eradicating sexual harassment at work; and using inclusive, non-sexist communication.
Participating companies are changing organisation culture, shifting cultural norms and societal expectations and providing more equal opportunities for women and men in the workplace by implementing a Gender Equality Management System (GEMS). This creates career advancement for women, more participation in leadership, and improved human resource management, strategic planning and communication.
As more public and private organisations in Gambia, South Africa and Gambia partner with UNDP to advance gender equality, UNDP in Africa is developing a cadre of African Gender Seal experts. Cross regional collaboration with Latin America includes training and customisation of tools taking place in November 2018 in Kampala, Uganda for experts from 20 countries.