Achieving gender equality and women’s economic empowerment through improved macroeconomic policy formulation: An impactful solution
8 March 2024
Author: Magidu Nyende and Josephine Cherotich
Significant obstacles still stand in the way of women's access to economic possibilities. Photo credit: Getty Images

There is a growing recognition of the importance of women’s economic empowerment (WEE) as a critical driver for sustainable development. The 2030 Agenda on Sustainable Development sets a powerful vision for inclusive and sustainable growth, with a pledge to leave no one behind. This vision specifically focuses on empowering women in the economy and addressing gender disparities in the workplace. However, progress in Africa regarding this matter has been slow. The African Institute for Development Policy (AFIDEP) has identified limited prioritisation of gender considerations within macroeconomic policy frameworks as a key reason for this slow progress. These frameworks serve as the foundation for economic development in any country.

Women in Africa face numerous barriers, including unequal pay for equivalent work, limited access to property, finance, and entrepreneurial opportunities, and a disproportionate burden of unpaid household and care work. Additionally, they have limited access to high-status job opportunities. These disparities are particularly evident when comparing the prevalence of women in lower-status, lower-paid positions to that of men. Despite the fact that over half (61%) of women in Africa are part of the labour force, the majority (89%) work in the informal sector. In this sector, pay is typically lower, social protection and benefits are lacking, and job security is often uncertain.

While significant progress has been made in acknowledging the significance of gender-responsive macroeconomic policies such as understanding the varying impact of government budgets on men and women or encouraging targeted investments in sectors dominated by women, the translation of policy rhetoric into tangible actions often falls short due to a lack of true dedication. In certain instances, the incorporation of gender perspectives into macroeconomic policies is treated as a superficial task rather than a profound transformation in economic planning. Superficial actions, such as the creation of a gender unit within a government department, may be taken. Although this may appear to be a step towards gender mainstreaming, it frequently lacks the necessary resources, authority, and influence to bring about substantial change. As a result, this symbolic gesture may serve more as a public relations manoeuvre than a genuine commitment to revolutionising policies and practices.

First, gender-disaggregated data is crucial for informing policy design and implementation. It is essential in identifying and addressing the specific needs and challenges faced by women in various sectors and regions. Although there are some efforts to collect and compile such data by national statistics and researchers, it remains limited. To overcome these challenges, it is imperative to prioritize the collection and analysis of gender-disaggregated data. This entails enhancing data collection methods, promoting research on gender-specific issues, and fostering collaboration among governments, NGOs, and international organisations to gain a more comprehensive understanding of the needs and challenges faced by women in diverse contexts.

Furthermore, the lack of comprehensive monitoring and evaluation tools poses challenges in assessing whether policies are achieving their desired outcomes. Consequently, it becomes difficult to identify successes, failures, or necessary adjustments. To address this issue, it is crucial to prioritise capacity-building initiatives for officials and establish robust monitoring and evaluation mechanisms. Collaborations with civil society organisations can also enhance accountability and provide valuable insights. Additionally, implementing transparent reporting mechanisms, such as gender budget statements and analyses, can improve the transparency of gender budgeting. This will empower policymakers and the public to monitor the allocation of resources across genders, serving as a crucial instrument for holding governments accountable.

Nevertheless, there are success stories on the continent. Efforts have been made to improve financial inclusion for women, and Kenya for instance, has seen particular success through mobile banking and digital financial services, such as M-Pesa. These services have effectively reached women in rural and underserved areas, enabling them to access essential financial services like savings, payments, and transfers. Additionally, microfinance institutions across Africa have played an active role in providing financial services to women, especially those in rural and informal sectors. These institutions offer tailored products like small loans, savings accounts, and insurance that cater to the specific needs of women entrepreneurs and small business owners. However, revising regulatory frameworks to accommodate alternative collateral models, such as cash flows, business performance, or community endorsements, has the potential to better serve the needs of women entrepreneurs.

Labour market policies should also be revised to eliminate gender-based discrimination and promote equal opportunities for women. This can be achieved by addressing wage gaps, promoting work-life balance, and creating supportive environments that enable full participation in the workforce. Maternity and paternity leave policies play a pivotal role in promoting gender equality in the workplace. There is a need to actively promote the formalisation of the informal sector. This includes simplifying registration procedures and offering financial incentives, such as tax breaks, which can ease the transition to formality. Implementing targeted regulations for the informal sector ensures compliance without imposing undue burdens. Additionally, extending social benefits, such as healthcare insurance and pension schemes to women in the informal sector helps address their unique needs. This ensures that women engaged in informal work have access to legal protections, social security, and opportunities for skill development.

Moreover, it is crucial to integrate gender perspectives into trade policies to ensure that women benefit from international trade. This involves addressing barriers that hinder women’s participation in global value chains, advocating for fair trade practices, and promoting the export of goods and services from women-owned enterprises. This can be achieved by providing capacity-building programmes, financial support, and networking opportunities to enhance their participation in global trade.

Education and awareness campaigns play a crucial role in advancing transformative macroeconomic policies. These campaigns should specifically target traditional gender norms, empowering women with knowledge about their rights, and fostering a shift in societal attitudes towards women’s economic roles. Additionally, it is crucial to enhance women’s representation in decision-making processes at all levels to ensure their voices are influential in shaping economic policies. For example, the introduction of women representation quotas in political positions is imperative.

For its part, AFIDEP is filling a critical gap in the regional policy debate on gender equality by focussing on policy dialogue and capacity development to enhance the integration of gender in macroeconomic policies and implementation. This focus by AFIDEP is premised on the belief that to truly promote women’s economic empowerment, it is essential to prioritise gender equality in transformative macroeconomic policies. And, the development and implementation of such policies necessitate a comprehensive approach that includes data-driven decision-making, a genuine commitment to change, and continuous monitoring and evaluation of policy outcomes.