By Phyllis Wakiaga
Evidently, the novelty and productivity that women bring into a business is being lauded across the world for having a reverberating effect on all growing economies. According to the OECD, the economic activity rate for women in Africa is the highest in the world with a value of 61.9. Former Mozambique President, Joachim Chissano wrote in 2014, ‘Africa is urbanising rapidly, and as it does so, greater participation by women in male-dominated occupations or sectors could increase worker productivity by up to 25%’.
However, women’s labour and contribution continues to be undervalued for the outcome it brings and is not accorded the same gravitas as men’s contribution. In most cases, even the vocabularies applied to describe Women’s work will either domesticate or undermine their participation in the economy. Their work is presented ‘naturally’ as negligible or low-paying and therefore underserving of recognition. Yet recognition principally empowers women to gain mobility and agency in the society.
It is important to state that the call to recognize the economic value of women is not a call towards ‘women empowerment’ but rather, it is a wake-up call to embrace smart economics. The recognition of Women’s work has been attributed to the decline or advancement of economies all over the world. Still, most of this economic activity is classified as informal, which results in under-representation of its contribution. In many cases, data that seeks to capture women’s labour participation overlooks the ‘informal sector’ and accounts only for the services industry, especially ICT and Telecoms. The outcome is consequently biased because these sectors, due to their nature, are inaccessible to the majority of women.
In a past article, The Economist indicated that in the next decade, nearly 1 billion women are likely to enter the global labour force. Going by this information, it is time to reconfigure our work structures and definitions to favourably capture women’s contribution because it is the only way that we can be sure of economic sustainability. The article gives a scenario of transformations to the GDP we are likely to see should we begin to value the work that women do. For example, a 5% and 9% increase in GDP by 2020 to both America and Japan respectively. So imagine how much more developing countries whose numbers are voluminous in this regard stand to gain.
One way to do this, especially for Africa, is to make the formalization processes more accommodating and nurturing. As it is right now, many women prefer to remain in the informal sector despite its challenges because the alternative has been made inaccessible owing to issues such as expensive permits, multiple levies, and rigid tax regimes that favour big businesses. Therefore, for most micro or small businesses trying to penetrate this seemingly ‘protected space’, it’s a long and painful process. It is discouraging and stifles the spirit of entrepreneurship.
More importantly, as a society, the perceptions of Women’s participation and contribution need to change. In a world where language is part of any society’s core, we must begin to alter the language used to define Women’s contribution. The newly adopted International Labour Organization definition of Decent Work as Opportunities for women and men to obtain decent and productive work in conditions of freedom, equity, security and human dignity – is a good place to start to embrace the way in which we recognize women’s participation in building the economy. A win for women is a win for everyone and more importantly, it is a guaranteed way to secure the future of our economies.
The Writer is the CEO of Kenya Association of Manufacturers and the UN Global Compact Representative for Kenya. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.