It Will Take More Than A Job To Economically Power Women

(3BL Media/Justmeans) – International Women’s Day on 8 March has come and gone, but the work still goes on for gender equality. It is widely acknowledged that when women achieve their full potential at work, women and communities are not the only ones that benefit, as gender equality is also good for business. Therefore, the important role that business plays in the lives of women means that the private sector is uniquely positioned to strengthen women’s economic empowerment and should use its influence to help create change. There is no better place to start than in sub-Saharan Africa.

The United Nations believes gender inequality costs the region an average of US$95 billion a year. By eliminating it and empowering women, the productive capacity of one billion Africans could be raised, delivering a huge boost to the continent’s potential. Now, in a new report by Business for Social Responsibility’s (BSR), ‘Women’s Economic Empowerment in Sub-Saharan Africa: Recommendations for Business Action,’ and the three accompanying briefs for the apparel, mining, and mobile telecommunication industries, it has prioritised the areas where companies are likely to have the biggest impact to help advance women.

BSR’s research gives companies a critical insight into the specific barriers holding women back in sub-Saharan Africa. It found that working women, regardless of industry, face common challenges – from the need for additional education and training for career progression, to a lack of female role models, the absence of decent childcare options and maternity leave, and risks to their personal safety. While some women have made it into senior business roles, the majority of women are found in lower-paying, vulnerable jobs, which can heighten many of these challenges cited. These common factors mean that companies across industries can share and learn about these obstacles and find ways to tackle them. As it will take much more than a job to economically empower women.

Women are already very active economic participants in sub-Saharan Africa, but their contributions are not always recognised, rewarded, or encouraged - particularly if they are from low-income households. Women face a range of barriers, including entrenched poverty; poor access to housing, finance and health services. Plus, social norms also dictate what types of jobs are ‘acceptable’ for women and force many to take on a heavier share of domestic responsibilities. This why BSR believes companies need to go beyond the narrow focus of economic participation and identify ways that they can shift cultural norms and societal expectations. Improving infrastructure and strengthening governance systems, that can allow greater access to information, services, and opportunities will make a difference to women.

Companies will need local and global partners to bring about this shift and will need to consider all the ways they can drive change. For example, companies can advocate that governments remove laws restricting women’s land ownership, or can channel funds into programs that support women’s education and entrepreneurship. The challenges facing women are complex. Tackling them will require significant commitment and investment by all sectors of society.

Photo Credit: Images of empowerment on 3BL Media