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Comment & analysis

Realising economic justice by empowering women

Lila Kiwelu

2009-09-03, Issue 446

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cc Neil JS
Despite scores of studies and summits, gender equality in Africa remains elusive, Lila Kiwelu writes in Pambazuka News. Here Kiwelu shares some practical tools for tackling one of the most important causes of inequality on the continent – African women’s lack of access to and control over resources.

The importance of gender equality in Africa has been over-emphasised. Research has been done, reports written and summits have been attended to drive this point home. Yet real equality between the men and women, boys and girls has not been achieved. Numerous studies have identified lack of access to and control over resources by African women amongst the most important causes of gender inequality on the continent.

A report released by the World Bank entitled Engendering Development reemphasised that improving rural women’s access to productive resources including education, land, and fertilisers in Africa could increase agricultural productivity by as much as one-fifth. Indeed, the facts are out there but the action in response to this is wanting.

This article is not meant to be a déjà vu of all that has been written regarding this matter but rather to inspire action in empowering women, which ultimately will enhance economic justice.


One way of empowering women can be through addressing national budgets so that they are gender responsive. Gender responsive budgets are a variety of processes and tools aimed at assessing the impact of government budgets, mainly at national levels, on groups of women and men, by analysing gender relations in particular societal contexts. It makes clear sense that allocations made in the budget are gender sensitive because the contributions of men and women differ, and in this case women are the ones who bear the largest burden of poverty.

The benefits of gender budgets have, in fact, been raised by international and regional agencies such as the Commonwealth, UNIFEM, UNDP, SADC as well as gender activists and scholars.

Their main argument is that although most macroeconomic policies aim to improve human development and reduce poverty, the achievement of these goals is jeopardised by inefficiencies resulting from the failure to take into account the gender relations, as well as the specific needs of women and men.

For instance in many homes the decisions on how to spend the family income are made by men. This is the reality of the patriarchal society we live in. Therefore, while we do our best in bringing economic justice, we must have in mind that the only way to do this is through sensitivity to and transformation of the unequal gender relations in the society.


Secondly, Structural Adjustment Programmes imposed by financial institutions such as the International Monetary Fund (IMF) have led to a further increase in women’s roles in and out of the home. The reduction of government spending on programmes that focus on health or water or sanitation has a direct impact on women, as they face greater challenges particularly in reference to their reproductive health and the search for clean drinking water.

Studies have indicated that the introduction of agricultural technologies and better seed varieties which are aimed at improving productivity among farmers, and reducing government spending on the provision of agricultural inputs often have the opposite effect on women, by increasing the time spent on various aspects of the agricultural cycle like weeding and bird-scaring.


It is imperative that women are involved in the decision-making processes within these structures, bestowing upon us the terms of compliance. This is one sure way of increasing their capacity in making decisions that will be of more benefit to them and the society at large. This does not refer just to the educated women only, but also to the women farmers in the rural areas. Their voices must be heard and this can only be done if they are part and parcel of the decision making process within economic sectors. In fact, they have to be the core partners if indeed poverty is to be tackled.


Fully and effectively implementing the African Union Protocol on the Rights of Women in Africa would be a crucial starting point for African governments. Solidarity for African Women’s Rights (SOAWR) , a coalition of non-governmental organisations with 30 members has been advocating for that for the last six years.

The protocol holistically fortifies the framework for the promotion and protection of women’s rights significantly. Issues such as violence against women, HIV/AIDS, health and reproductive, as well as rape, sexual slavery and other sexual violence all have an impact on the woman’s ability to remain productive in society.

Poverty cannot be tackled by using only one approach but rather by encompassing all aspects affecting women’s productivity and enjoyment of all fundamental rights. Ratification of this protocol is a great starting point in addressing gender inequality in the continent as the protocol advocates for all that is beneficial to women. For instance, their right to inheritance, access to and control over land, property and natural resources, which are key to economic empowerment. The ratification and implementation of the Protocol in conjunction with women’s awareness of the existence of the law and how to use it to realise their rights will definitely have a positive impact towards achieving economic justice. Are African governments listening?


* Lila Kiwelu is a gender justice and governance intern with Oxfam GB.
* Please send comments to [email protected] or comment online at Pambazuka News.


Musa, R., & Edeme, B. Advocating for Women’s Rights: Experiences from Solidarity for African Women’s Rights Coalition
King, E. & Mason, A., 2002, EnGendering Development-Through Gender Equality In Rights, Resources and Voice, World Bank < in Annan-Yao, E et al Gender, Economics and Entitlements in Africa (Council for the Development of Social Science Research in Africa, 2004)
Kabeer, N., 1993, Reversed Realities: Gender Hierarchies in Development Thought in Annan-Yao, E et al Gender, Economics and Entitlements in Africa (Council for the Development of Social Science Research in Africa, 2004)
Kabeer, N and Subrahmanian, R., 1996, Institutions, Relations and Outcomes: Framework and Tools for Gender-Aware planning’ in Annan-Yao, E et al Gender, Economics and Entitlements in Africa (Council for the Development of Social Science Research in Africa, 2004)
Mukasa, R.S. 2008, The African Women’s Protocol: Harnessing a Potential Force for Positive Change (Sunnyside, Oxfam: Fanele)

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