News & Events

Africa’s women in full flight

Botswanan Sakhile Reiling (left) became Air Botswana’s first female pilot

African women are world leaders when it comes to taking top jobs in the aviation industry

In December 2017, a Boeing 777 made African history when it flew five hours from Addis Ababa to Lagos, Nigeria with an all-female crew. Captain Amsale Gualu piloted the plane, with the help of women cabin crew, check-in attendants, flight dispatchers and ground staff. Captain Gualu told the world media on landing: “This flight shows us that if women get equal opportunities and work hard, I’m sure they can achieve whatever they want in all fields, including the aviation industry.”

Two years earlier, Air Zimbabwe flew an all-female domestic flight, making pilots Chipo Matimba and Elizabeth Petros the first female pilots to fly internally on Air Zimbabwe. The women took to social media: “History has been made! First all female flight deck crew on the Air Zimbabwe Boeing 737!”and “Two CAPTAINS!! #FLYBABES. #PaintingTheSkyPink!”.

These women-only flights were no accident; both airlines were making a point, pushing an agenda to encourage African women to think about the career possibilities available to them within the heavily male-dominated aviation industry. Women in aviation around the world make up at least 50% of personnel – mostly as cabin and ground crew. This figure dips dramatically as positions become more senior.

Figures recorded by the International Air Transport Association (IATA) show that less than 5% of airline CEOs are women. The figure for female pilots falls to between 3-5% worldwide. Women are less represented in aviation than in any other industry. But, not in Africa. An IATA meeting in Sydney in June this year announced that African airlines, and the aviation industry on the African continent, are bucking this trend.

Air Namibia’s acting managing director, Mandi Samson, told the conference that her airline had four top management positions filled by women. “For once, Africa is leading in something,” she said.

Samson is correct. In South Africa, for example, women hold significant positions. Poppy Khoza leads the critically important SA Civil Aviation Authority (SACAA) as its CEO, while Zuks Ramasia is general manager of operations at South African Airways (SAA). And it is now 20 years since Asnath Mahapa made history in 1988 by becoming South Africa’s first female African pilot.

But success has not come easily for the women at the top. For Mahapa, flight school came with challenges, and she remembers being “the only woman in my class and I had to work ten times harder than the men”. Since then, while the global average of women captaining aircraft stands at around 5%, the actual number of female pilots in South Africa is in the double digits. And the number of black female pilots is steadily growing across Africa, much more quickly than in the rest of the world.

The number of women in senior positions in the aviation industry in Africa has impressed the airline industry sufficiently to ensure that they are constantly called on to give motivational speeches or talk to aviation conferences.

Siza Mzimela is the recently appointed interim CEO of South African airline SA Express. She also has the distinction of being the first black woman in South Africa to start and own an airline, Fly Blue Crane. (The airline is no longer operating. It was suspended by IATA in September 2017 and bankruptcy proceedings are under way).

However, Mzimela’s list of accolades includes being the first black executive vice president of SAA as well as the first woman to make it onto the IATA board. Mzimela is not surprised that Africa ranks as having the largest number of women within the global aviation industry. But she points out that the numbers are coming off a ridiculously low base.

“There might be more women engaged in aviation on the African continent, including here in South Africa,” she told Africa in Fact, “but make no mistake; it’s the toughest environment for women and we have to work twice as hard as our male counterparts to prove ourselves. It is still challenging for women, and there is vast room for improvement. We need more women pilots and technicians and women in key organisational positions.”

Mzimela believes that the reason South African women in aviation have had more success than their global sisters is due to race rather than gender bias.

“When men have to promote someone, they choose one of their own,” she said. “Fortunately, and unfortunately, black men did not automatically come through as pilots. It was the preserve of white men for a long time and black men and black women were equally disadvantaged. We, therefore, are on a fairly equal footing regarding entry into the aviation field, and therefore we have a better chance of getting into the industry.”

Mzimela points out, however, that while 50% of South Africans are women, the number of CEOs and captains of industry does not reflect that split. “We need an aviation policy to correct the imbalances of the past. In this industry, there is a low turnover of pilots – nobody leaves until they retire. That has meant that transformation will take longer because it will take longer for pilots to work their way up the chain of seniority.”

Khoza notes that an “overdue dialogue” to improve the numbers of women in the African aviation industry has begun. “This assertion was corroborated by women from various corners of the world during discussions at the first-ever Global Aviation Gender Summit hosted by SACAA,” she told Africa in Fact.

“Close to 500 top-ranking represen- tatives of the aviation industry – including airlines, aircraft manufacturers and airports, as well as governments from across the world – gathered in Cape Town in August [2018] to chart a new path that will bring about meaningful gender transformation and equality in aviation.”

“From our discussions,” Khoza said, “we heard that the challenges of a female aviator in Chile are the same as those faced by a female aviator in China. It was encouraging to note that everyone at the summit agreed that the status quo cannot continue unchallenged. In South Africa, in particular, we are witnessing some improvement, even though women still constitute less than 10% of aviation technical personnel.’’

More young women, Khoza insists, have to join the ranks of other pioneers who “trounced gender and racial stereotypes to make it in the aviation industry. We do have success stories and each one of them deserves recognition and acknowledgement.”

Refilwe Ledwaba is one of those success stories. She is a pilot, a flight instructor, and the first black woman in South Africa to fly helicopters. In 2009, she also started a non-profit organisation for young women in the SADC countries, Southern African Women in Aviation and Aerospace Industry (SAWIA). “I wanted to ensure that the aviation industry provided a platform for women to grow, to find mentorship and guidance and to fund the opportunities for young women who wish to join the sector in the future.”

Ledwaba introduced the Girl Fly Programme in Africa, aimed specifically at high school girls. The non-profit organisation, endorsed by the SACAA, has an informal database of about 1,000 members from all over the Southern African Development Community (SADC). “I’m passionate about the development of women, which is why I saw the need for such an organisation,” Ledwaba told Africa in Fact.

It all started when, on a flight to Cape Town, she heard the woman piloting the plane, Captain Margaret Viljoen, say: “This is your captain speaking”. “Until then, I had not even considered that a woman could fly a plane!” she said.

Botswanan Sakhile Reiling, who became Air Botswana’s first female pilot back in 1988, now describes herself as “an aviation consultant (with Saxon Wings Aviation Consultants) as well as an aviation safety auditor currently involved with a number of significant clients around the world. I travel to where the work is.” Reiling’s career includes two years spent as CEO at Botswana Air and five years in senior management positions at Comair. She also spent time as the GM of Air Safety Operations at SACAA and spent five years in senior managerial posts at SA Express Airways.

“Africa has made significant progress in ensuring that women are not overlooked for aviation-related jobs,” she told Africa in Fact. “However, more still needs to be done to dismantle legacy practices that continue to hamper growth. For example, support is required at policy level to mandate current industry players to play greater roles in accepting women within their various organisations.”

Reiling agrees with other female aviation executives that young women must be exposed from an earlier age to the possibilities of an aviation career. “Many do not realise that they too could enter the aviation industry and contribute in an important way,” she said.

Zuks Ramasia, GM of operations at SAA, believes it is up to women to help women in aviation.

“In aviation, most opportunities for women in meaningful management echelons are still determined mainly by men since there are few women in senior roles to influence and motivate women in junior positions across the value chain,” she told Africa in Fact. She blames the high attrition rate on the promotion limitations placed on women with potential.

“We, the women in influential positions, need to mentor and coach women, challenge the status quo and not be deterred by the men in office who often pretend we do not exist.”

“As women in the industry we need to stand together to promote awareness, to develop, to nurture, to celebrate and to empower women in our industry, starting by shaping young minds at school.”

Khoza points out her success rate at helping achieve parity. “In the organisation that I lead, when I took over, the executive management committee was male dominated. Five years later, 50% of the executive is female and black. It starts at grassroots level.”

SACAA funds the training of young South Africans, especially female students from economically deprived households, who want to become aviators.

“Transformation is not a responsibility of government and regulators such as the SACAA only,” Khoza said, “but a collective responsibility of all, including the business sector. Transformation is a moral obligation and a human rights issue that should not be limited to race only but extended to gender and business opportunities.”

Stereotyping, she said, is the hardest challenge that women face in aviation, “coupled with unconscious bias”.

“The picture that people imagine of a pilot is not likely to be that of a Captain Boitumelo or Fatima in the cockpit. Our young girls cannot picture themselves following in the footsteps of women pioneers in the aviation sector primarily because aviation is still seen as a preserve for men.

“What then becomes important is the socialisation of young girls, to instill a belief that they can be anything they want to be. We need to move away from creating a mindset of categorising industries based based on gender.

Young girls can be aeronautical engineers, they can be air-traffic controllers, they can successfully pilot any aircraft of their choice. However, the limiting mindset, which we instill in them at a young age, only perpetuates the stereotypes, which we must demystify.”

In 2017, 26-year-old Second Lieutenant Thokozile Muwamba broke another glass ceiling when she became Zambia’s first female fighter pilot. She told the BBC her ambition was to become the first female Zambian air force commander. “Wow, to be in the air… it feels… it’s wonderful,” she told the broadcaster then. “You feel like you don’t want to come back onto the ground.”

Muwamba joined the military in 2012 and was chosen to be part of a Zambian airforce programme specifically designed to shift the gender bias towards men.

She told the Times of Zambia: “Women should begin to participate and realise their abilities. Because I understand this, I am ready to undertake this task ahead of me.”

And she is not the only woman who’s taken to the skies as part of her country’s airforce. Lieutenant Ouma Laouali, 31, became Niger’s first female pilot in 2015. As a member of the Nigerien airforce, she was trained by the United States to help in the fight against the terrorist organisation Boko Haram.

The women who are important in Africa’s aviation industry are clearly united in what they see as the way forward: expose young women to the world of flying and work tirelessly to reverse the stereotyping that has discouraged young women from taking flight, accompanied by policies to facilitate transformation. 



Lionesses need historians more than fish need bicycles

The African story abounds with great women whose achievements are often reduced to prurient anecdotes

Until lions have their own historians, tales of the hunt shall always glorify the hunter. So, says the Igbo proverb, which became a rallying cry for a generation of post-colonial African historians. But what of the lionesses? Are their tales being told? But enough with animal adages. Neither lions nor lionesses write history, while people do. The key question is: do the current written histories of Africa adequately include the experiences of the continent’s women?

Depends where you look. And who you ask. Since the 1960s, the university-based study of African women’s history has become a dynamic, global field. Where once the economic, social and political contribution of African women was regarded as an historical terra nullius – with women either entirely absent or relegated to minor roles in textbooks and tomes – there is now an ever-increasing body of research that includes analysis on a wide variety of societies, over 50 countries and hundreds of thousands of years.

Academia is acknowledging that African women enter the historical narrative from a variety of geographies and climates and that they carry diverse status, education, culture, age and other attributes. Moreover, all of the above can change or stay the same or circle through a combination of both within the endless ebb and flow that is human life and lives over time.

Academic historians recognise that what they study is not the past per se but rather an interpretation of the past, which is subject to revision and reinterpretation whereby distinct interest groups apply different standards, priorities and values and reach different conclusions. There is general consensus that interest groups with more social, political and economic clout have the power to dominate the narrative.

There is now widespread acknowledgement that the gendered nature of modern power is such that male stories are disproportionately present and that women’s stories are often assigned less value. The growth of African women’s history as a discipline demonstrates that spaces can and have been created to examine and challenge such power dynamics.

That’s the good news. The bad news is that almost all such scholarship sits behind paywalls on university websites. Non-professional historians are largely excluded from this information and the debates that such study stimulates. Outside of ivory tower academe, what passes for historical “knowledge” in the general chitchat of daily life more often than not either ignores them entirely or depicts women in terms of their perceived impact on men.

Historical evidence of African women is as old as humanity. Sometimes older. Humans evolved in Africa and so it is Africa that provides the backdrop for the first minimising of prehistoric women in the paleoanthropological corpus. Until the early 1980s archaeologists overlaid modern Western gender norms and sexual divisions of labour onto pre-historic, sometimes pre-human hominid peoples. Man the Hunter was widely considered to be the key evolutionary driver of human brain development and subsequent tool-making innovation.

Frances Dahlberg’s 1983 monograph, Woman the Gatherer, set forth a strong case for an alternative evolutionary trajectory in which Woman the Tool Inventor played an equal part in the human story. Which is all well and good – but for the fact that, over three decades later, that message doesn’t appear to have gotten through to the masses. Museums are the point at which the public and professional historians ought to intersect, but Africa’s pre-historic women are all but invisible at such sites. Androcentric stereotypes abound. Almost invariably, graphic material explaining the hominisation process depicts individuals of the masculine sex making their way from australopithecine to homo – thereby rendering the earliest African women invisible.

As Myra and David Sadker argued in Failing at Fairness (1995), “each time a girl opens a book and reads a womanless history, she learns she is worth less.” How much more so if she isn’t even in the diagram exploring the essence of our species?

Yet it is debatable as to whether exclusion is preferable to defamation. African women who achieved scientific, political or economic success have often been pulled into warped morality tales masquerading as history, which reduce a plethora of complex characters to wicked women who drew men into their beds and on into their death. The deeds of women in times past are subjected to such treatment worldwide but the practice seems particularly prevalent when it comes to telling tall tales about successful African women, who are almost invariably subjected to what amounts to a form of “ye olde” slut shaming. The accompanying character assassination is seldom supported by the sort of historical evidence-based scholarship found on the other side of the paywall.

Consider Cleopatra. Mary Hamer’s Signs of Cleopatra: Reading an Icon Historically (2001) offers us vast quantities of contemporaneous written records demonstrating the diplomatic, naval, linguistic, cultural and philosophical skills of Cleopatra VII Philopator (69-10 BC), the last active ruler of the Ptolemaic Kingdom of Egypt. Her tenure alone speaks to such skills. She ruled for 21 years and at the height of her power controlled virtually the entire eastern Mediterranean coast. She was incomparably richer than anyone else in the region. And yet she survives in the popular imagination through a distorted depiction of her romantic relationships. She built fleets, suppressed several insurrections, controlled a currency and guided a nation through plagues and famines but she is remembered as a bare-breasted seductress bathing in milk.

Linda Heywood and Louis Madureira’s 2015 article, Queen Njinga Mbandi Ana de Sousa of Ndongo/Matamba: African Leadership, Diplomacy, and Ideology, 1620-1650 offers chapter and verse on their study subject’s skills as a military leader, strategist, diplomat and exponent of realpolitik par excellence. Research reveals the woman who defined and dominated what is now Angola in the 17th century to be a complex and contradictory character. At times, she profited from the trans-Atlantic slave trade, while at other times she protected escaped slaves. For over 40 years, she successfully limited the Portuguese colony at Luanda to a few square kilometres. How is it that her achievements are less well known than gratuitous and unsubstantiated gossip about her immolating a harem of male lovers?

Publicising the achievements of African women from previous generations has the potential to impact on the development of self-respect for African girls and women going forward. There is inspiration in knowing about the trials, tribulations and triumphs of Asante-born Nanny of the Windward Maroons (c.1686 – c.1755) who escaped from slavery in Jamaica, led a successful armed rebellion, freed more than 1,000 previously enslaved people and achieved a 1740 peace settlement with colonists, under the terms of which she negotiated a land grant of 500 acres at what became known as Nanny Town.

In the face of Boko Haram’s terror and intimidation tactics, which threaten girls’ access to education across West Africa, there is strength to be drawn from knowing that in 859CE an African woman, Fatima bint Muhammad Al-Fihriya Al-Qurashiya, founded the University of Al Quaraouiyine in Fes, Morocco. UNESCO describes it as the oldest existing, continually operating and first degree-awarding educational institution in the world. Female alumni include Fatima al Kabbaj, member of the Moroccan Supreme Council of Religious Knowledge.

At its most pernicious, observations of a past that never was are used to support patriarchal practices that exclude women from power in the present. During Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari’s 2016 visit to German Chancellor Angela Merkel he responded to a question about his wife’s political opinions with the comment that, “I don’t know which party my wife belongs to, but she belongs to my kitchen and my living room and the other room” because he could “claim superior knowledge over her”.

Indeed, 2016 was a banner year for Nigerian patriarchal put-downs. In the same year, that country’s senate rejected a Gender and Equality Bill that included equal rights for women in marriages, divorce, property ownership and inheritance. Several senators stated that they opposed the law on the grounds that it was “un-African” and “anti-religious” to accord women equal rights with men.

Such statements invoke tradition, but the historical record shows otherwise. Kamene Okonjo’s studies of women’s political participation in Nigeria show that pre-colonial West African women were often much more economically, socially and politically independent and powerful than modern “traditionalists” would have us believe.

Their disempowerment came about by way of colonial Eurocentric, not indigenous African values. Chima J Korieh’s Gender and Peasant Resistance: Recasting the Myth of the Invisible Women in Colonial Eastern Nigeria, 1925-1945 (2003) offers evidence that while Nigerian women had historically participated in the government, the British colonial authorities saw these practices as “a manifestation of chaos and moral disorder” and would only engage with the political institutions headed by men.

Struggles over alternative views on the desirability of female political and economic power sparked significant anti-colonial revolts, including what modern historians tend to call the Women’s War of 1929 (Ogu Umunwanyi in Igbo), which was described by colonial authorities as the Aba Women’s Riot.

A watered-down version of the Nigerian Gender Equity Bill was subsequently passed in 2017 but the claiming of tradition to support female subjugation illustrates how a patchwork of patriarchies can cross the hunter/lion duality. There are times when hunters and lions form alliances around their common predator paradigm and call on faux history in support of shared interests. As we recognise and rectify the exclusion and misrepresentation of female African lives from the study of history, let us take cognisance of life’s complexity.

Even if certain sorts of lions and lionesses now have/are historians, accounts of their times past are likely to be incomplete unless the experiences of the earthworms and the elephants and the E.coli are included. Not to mention the valuable perspectives provided by the trees and the reeds. And the wind and the rain. Ultimately, ours is an interdependent ecosystem. 


Dr Anna Trapido is an anthropologist and a chef. She trained as an anthropologist at King’s College, Cambridge, completing her PhD in the department of community health at Wits University, Johannesburg. She qualified as a chef at the Prue Leith Chef’s Academy in Pretoria, and uses both disciplines in her work. She has won gold at the World Gourmand Cookbook Awards three times (for To the Banqueting House – African cuisine an Epic Journey, Hunger for Freedom – the story of food in the life of Nelson Mandela, and Eat Ting – lose weight, gain health, find yourself).

Kenya’s women fight back

Female activists and politicians in Kenya say misogyny and violence against women are an all-too familiar aspect of political campaign periods

“They threw raw eggs at me as they abused me, saying I am a woman and therefore not fit to be their leader. At a shopping centre, where I was holding my final campaigns before the voting in the 2017 elections, an elderly man stood up and angrily shouted at me: ‘So you want to be a member of parliament? Who will take care of your family? Your place is to bear children and cook for the family.’ Then he sat down amid cheering from the crowd.”

Janepher Wanyonyi, who ran for a parliamentary seat in western Kenya in 2017, is describing just one of the interactions she faced every day during her eight-month campaign; none of them attracted the condemnation of the authorities. In Wanyonyi’s view, the old man’s statement is typical of a view of women that is common in Kenyan society. Women should be seen and not heard, she says; they are not expected to lead. Their place is on the periphery – mainly in the kitchen and on the farm.

“Women are not only discriminated against, they are beaten by their husbands, while some are denied education,” says Wanyonyi, who has since started the process of registering a non-governmental organisation, Sauti Ya Mama (The Voice of Women) to help tackle violence against women.

The organisation aims to champion the rights of Kenyan women, particularly in remote areas where violence against them is prevalent. The plan is to train women to know their rights, and the organisation will also act as an SOS centre that offers women help, including counselling in cases of sexual violence, while also seeking to empower them economically. Sauti Ya Mama plans to have regional offices in all 47 of Kenya’s counties, making it easy for women to access its services.

Entrepreneur and politician Esther Passaris, who won the women’s representative seat for Nairobi county in 2017, says political campaign periods appear to offer men the opportunity to display overt misogyny. The 2013 general election in Kenya, in which she unsuccessfully contested for the same seat, provided her with first-hand knowledge of this. She was faced with physical attacks and attempts at sexual assault, as well as attacks against her on social media, which, Passaris says, women in politics constantly have to endure.

“There were thousands of fake Twitter and Facebook accounts assigned to attack me,” she told Africa in Fact. “The accounts would carry feminine names so as to give the public the impression that it was a women-women affair. Despite the attacks, I did not give up. Neither did I respond to their abuse. You fight your enemy with love. That is how I won the seat last year.”

A December 2017 Human Rights Watch (HRW) report observed that widespread sexual violence against women and girls was a feature of the 2017 elections and the post-election violence that followed. According to the report, the violence involved rape (including vaginal and anal rape), gang rape involving two or more perpetrators, mass rape, attempted rape, rape with an object, putting dirt into a woman’s private parts, unwanted sexual touching, forced nudity and beatings on genitals.

Many of the affected women, HRW said, reported that their rapists were policemen or members of Kenya’s security forces and militia groups. About half of the assaults, HRW said, involved gang rapes, with the majority of the victims contracting sexually transmitted diseases as well. “Many women and girls said they suffered incapacitating physical injury or experienced other health consequences that left some unable to work or care for their families,” according to the HRW report. “Most had not received post-rape medical or psychological care, including medication to prevent HIV and other sexually transmitted infections and unwanted pregnancy.”

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), about 35% of women globally have experienced either physical and/or sexual intimate partner violence. Violence against women is a major public health problem and a violation of women’s human rights, it argues. In Kenya, meanwhile, cases of physical violence such as wife battering have declined, but intimate partner violence and sexual violence are on the rise.

The causes of violence against women are many and complex, according to WHO. But its research shows that men are more likely to perpetrate violence if they have low literacy levels, a history of maltreatment and neglect as children, were exposed to domestic violence against their mothers, are subject to alcoholism and exposed to gender norms that tolerate violence and a sense of entitlement over women.

“Dress nicely and just walk around the streets of Nairobi or any other major town – men will give you funny looks,” says Dr Joyce Laboso, the governor of Bomet county. “They will attack your modesty. Sometimes they will ask, not politely, for sex. To them, there should never be a ‘no’ from a woman.” Whereas domestic violence against women mainly involved physical beatings, more recently it had increasingly involved intimate and sexual violence, she says.

This is something that Suzie Kimeu, a mother of five in Nanyuki, central Kenya, experienced for herself in 2013. “(That day), I had just come from a farm, where I worked as a casual labourer, when my husband asked for food,” Kimeu told Africa in Fact. “I said I had not prepared anything because there had been no food at home. He slapped and kicked me while my children wailed, and then he ordered me to go the kitchen and prepare the food that I had brought from the farm.”

Later that evening, Kimeu says, her husband, who was drunk by then, asked for sex. “I told him I was tired, having been in the fields for more than eight hours, but he did not listen. He forced me to have sex. I remember bleeding a lot. He threatened to chase me from our matrimonial home and said that he would marry another woman if I did not sleep with him.” After a series of similar attacks, Kimeu says she divorced her husband three years ago and is now “happily single”.

Women governors, MPs and senators are now partnering with non-governmental organisations to deal with the increase in cases of intimate partner sexual violence, says Laboso. “From past experience, we know that sexual assault in a relationship does not occur in a vacuum,” she says. “It often occurs alongside other abusive behaviours. For instance, the majority of women who are physically assaulted by an intimate partner have also been sexually assaulted by that partner.”

One of the non-governmental organisations addressing sexual assault and other abuses against women in Kenya is the Coalition on Violence Against Women (COVAW), which was founded in 1995 to respond to “the silence of Kenyan society” regarding violence against women and girls. COVAW chair Carolyne Odula-Obonyo says the organisation supports research on gender-progressive policies and legal and institutional frameworks, as well as their implementation, besides providing input on critical social themes relating to gender.

“We generate and share new knowledge relating to the development and well-being of girls and women, as well as solutions to the problems they face,” says Odula-Obonyo, a gynaecologist and obstetrician by profession, who works at the University of Nairobi’s College of Health Sciences. She notes that the biggest challenge in the fight against men’s violence are deeply ingrained cultural practices, which forbid women from revealing what they go through (such as being beaten by their husbands) in public.

Kenya’s global scores on gender-related violence paint a gloomy picture. Some 43% of married women have experienced sexual violence, while 32% of young women aged between 18 and 24 have experienced sexual violence and an estimated 23% of girls are married before their 18th birthday. Violence against women and girls, UN Women says, can be arrested by expanding women’s access to services that deal with their sexual and reproductive health needs – including post-rape care and counselling if needed – and facilitating their access to the justice system and safe-house networks.

The UN Women’s Safe Cities Initiative is an example of how this can be achieved. The project, which the global body conducts in partnership with other UN agencies, local and national governments and community groups, works to create safe public spaces for women and girls. It has been established in 21 cities across the globe so far, including Cairo, Cape Town, Kigali, Maputo, Marrakech and Rabat, and that number is growing. These include environments that are sexual harassment-free and safe public spaces.

But Odula-Obonyo says there is still much more to be done. As the late UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan observed in a speech to the Inter-Agency Video conference for a World Free of Violence against Women in New York on 8 March, 1999: “Violence against women … knows no boundaries of geography, culture, or wealth. As long as it continues, we cannot claim to be making real progress towards equality, development and peace.” 

CHARITY CHELIMO is a current affairs analyst based in Nakuru, Kenya. She holds a masters degree in finance for the University of Nairobi and has more than six years’ writing experience.

Mbizana ECD update

We are excited to begin this term in collaboration with Kantolo pre-school, an ECD centre in Mbizana, Eastern Cape. This year, 2019, marks the second year of implementation of GGA’s Child Development and Youth Formation programme in this community.

This year, we welcome 72 learners full of hope and Ubuntu. The challenges we are facing this year are related to birth certificates and overcrowding, which has been a constant in this community.

GGA is working hard to promote inter-institutional dialogue between the Department of Home Affairs and the Department of Social Development to enable our learners to achieve normality in this early stage of their academic life.

For this term, we have planned a series of workshops involving parents and extended families. GGA continues with excitement the implementation of the Montessori methodology at the ECD centre, which has already proven to be having a positive impact on the learners. We are energised to be part of the process of planting the seeds of peace, ethics and abundance thinking among these wonderful children.

We are hiring: MultiMedia Producer

Good Governance Africa (GGA) is an independent and registered non-profit organisation with the aim of promoting better governance in Africa and thereby helping to improve the lives of all citizens.

GGA also seeks to build a bridge between government and the private sector in all African countries, while strengthening civil society and promoting grassroots democracy.

GGA’s media strategy includes the production of text, images, video and audio for our website and social media platforms.

To this end we require the services of a creative mid/heavyweight Multimedia Producer with at least 5 – 7 years’ experience to drive our digital expansion programme.

This position requires multimedia production skills, to turn concepts into reality, generate great visionary ideas and take them through to quality final products. The candidate must be creative, visionary, organised, well-connected in the industry and understand all aspects of production from development through to final edit.

A degree from an accredited university in the film, communications or related subject is required, as well as editing and art direction experience, plus the necessary technical skills.  Key focus areas of this role include conceptualisation, shooting and editing videos, the production of podcasts, as well as some graphic design skills.



  • Mid/Heavyweight with a minimum of 5 – 7 years of video and digital media production
  • Proficiency in graphic design
  • Proficient in Adobe Creative Cloud
  • Proficient in the use of Content-Management Systems
  • A background in news/media producing multimedia content
  • Previous experience working with non-profit organisations and academia a plus


  • Preparation of storyboard concepts and scripts for multimedia pieces, including podcasts and videos
  • Research and development of story ideas
  • Development of production plans and scheduling for assigned projects
  • Monitoring and management of multimedia productions from start to finish
  • Post final edits across online and social media platforms
  • Creation of graphical material for marketing and editorial purposes
  • Remaining updated with latest techniques, web trends and production technologies


  • Adobe Creative Cloud Certification
  • Proficient in WordPress
  • Proficient in Adobe Creative Cloud, particularly Audacity, Premiere Pro and Photoshop, InDesign as well as Microsoft Word, Excel etc.
  • Knowledge of videography, editing, pre- and post-production techniques and equipment
  • Bachelor’s degree or certification in Video Production, Broadcast Journalism, Film, Communications, or related field
  • Five to nine years minimum of video producing/production and digital media experience, particularly social media, web master and proven storytelling and brand journalism skills


  • Commencement ASAP
  • Based in Rosebank, Johannesburg
  • Successful applicants must have a valid South African work permit and necessary residency or citizenship requirements
  • Salary packages will be negotiated with suitable candidates

To apply, applicants must submit the following documentation to

  • A covering letter;
  • Curriculum Vitae with 3 referees and evidence of work/portfolio;
  • Proof of identity – valid ID document or passport;
  • Copy of qualifications

We are hiring: Social Media Coordinator

Good Governance Africa (GGA) is an independent and registered non-profit organisation with the aim of promoting better governance in Africa and thereby helping to improve the lives of all citizens.

GGA also seeks to build a bridge between government and the private sector in all African countries, while strengthening civil society and promoting grassroots democracy.

GGA’s social media strategy includes creating engaging content, ensuring that our social media channels are continually updated and focused, as well as seeking out new social media avenues and ways of connecting with our members, academics and decision-makers.

To this end we require the services of an enthusiastic social media coordinator, who will work with our Multi Media All-Rounder across our Publications, Programmes and Development Departments to create and manage GGA’s social media presence.



  • Proficient in WordPress and Wordmaster or related affiliate programmes
  • Proficient in the management and analysis of SEO (Search Engine Optimisation) and Google Analytics
  • Knowledge of social media opportunities and trends
  • Self-motivated
  • Strong communication skills
  • Detail orientated


  • Manage company social media channels, including Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, and other relevant platforms
  • Engage in social media presence creation on new and emerging social media platforms
  • Optimize content following search engine optimization (SEO) and Google Analytics
  • Create content that promotes audience interaction, increases audience presence on company sites, and encourages audience participation
  • Community management and monitoring across various social media platforms
  • Analyse and report audience information and demographics, and success of existing social media projects
  • Propose new ideas and concepts for social media content
  • Manage social media communications
  • Use timelines and scheduled content to create a consistent stream of new content for audience interaction while analysing, managing, and altering schedules where necessary to optimize visits
  • Uploading of content onto GGA website utilising WordPress
  • Monitoring and analysis of web traffic
  • Propose options and ideas to promote web traffic


  • Position is available immediately
  • Based in Rosebank, Johannesburg
  • Package negotiable
  • Successful applicants must have a valid South African work permit and necessary residency or citizenship requirements
  • Only short-listed candidates will be contacted

To apply, applicants must submit the following documentation to

  • A covering letter
  • Curriculum Vitae with 3 referees and evidence of work/portfolio
  • Proof of identity – valid ID document or passport
  • Copy of qualifications

We are hiring: Lead Researcher

Good Governance Africa (GGA) is an independent nonprofit organisation that works to improve government performance in Africa through research and advocacy. GGA produces two main publications, a bi-monthly journal called Africa in Fact and an annual statistical compendium on all African countries called the Africa Survey, as well as other project outputs.

GGA seeks to appoint Researchers based in Johannesburg.

The successful candidates will work on the production of both of GGA’s main publications as well as on one or more research projects relating to natural resources, land reform, policy analysis, quantitative and qualitative data management and statistical analysis.

Start Date: As soon as possible


  • Research about mineral resources in Africa
  • Write research reports, concept documents and articles for publication
    • Participate in field research design and implementation
    • Project management of research output
    • Engage various stakeholders in mineral resources and land reform
  • Quantitative and Qualitative data management and statistical analysis
    • Focus on data analysis for different projects and publications
    • Contribute to broader organisational strategy and promotion of the GGA
    • Contribute to the dissemination of knowledge-based products and outputs
    • Occasionally travel to other African countries from time to time


  • Degree in research or related field
  • Excellent analytical and writing skills
  • Very strong critical thinking and research capabilities
  • Extensive experience with MS Office, especially Microsoft Excel
  • Experience and track-record of research in mineral resources, land policy, legal framework of mining etc.
  • Acquaintance with quantitative and qualitative data and statistics
    • experience in data management and statistical analysis as demonstrated by documented research outputs
  • Fluency in English (mother-tongue or equivalent)
  • Knowledge of an African language spoken extensively on the continent

To apply, applicants are kindly requested to submit the following documentation to

  • A covering letter
  • Curriculum Vitae with 3 referees and evidence of work/portfolio
  • Proof of identity – valid ID document or passport
  • Copy of qualifications
  • Salary packages will be negotiated with suitable candidates.

Women farmers join agricultural value chains

Women are the backbone of agricultural and rural economies in Africa, yet are often deprived of the means to become self-sufficient

If Africa is to feed itself, and if land rights are to be applied universally, the advancement of African women farmers is a fundamental necessity, and the ability of women to access microfinance is key.

Over the past few years, international banks, financing institutions and micro-funders have increased their focus on the most stubborn obstacle facing female farmers in Africa – the inability to expand beyond subsistence farming due to patriarchal systems that prevent them from owning land and enjoying a degree of control over the means of production, which in turn stifles their ability to leverage finance.

Disrupters of traditional banking practices, and micro-finance funders, are essential in transforming this scenario. Among these one stands out: Echo Network Africa (ENA), formerly Kenya Women Holding (KWH), the brainchild of micro-finance banker and entrepreneur Dr Jennifer Riria.

Over more than three decades, KWH’s subsidiary, Kenya Women Finance Trust (KWFT), has distinguished itself as the largest micro-finance bank in Africa, having disbursed $1.3bn in loans to more than five million women, some 80% of them living in Kenya’s rural areas. Each loan averages less than $600 – a small amount but it can enable a woman to generate enough profit to feed and educate her children, and often, to scale up to a profitable farming business.

“Our landmark achievement at KWFT and ENA has been to open the banking sector to women,” Riria told Fanaka TV, Kenya’s premier business channel, in August 2018. “If women in Africa are to be empowered, they need to be financially independent. And that means access to resources – to land, to houses, and to businesses.”

The case for women joining agricultural value chains is clear. Women contribute an average of 40% of crop production labour across six sub-Saharan African countries, according to the World Bank’s LSMS-Integrated Surveys on Agriculture, and more than 50% in Malawi, Tanzania, and Uganda. Yet they produce significantly less than men per hectare, ranging from 23% less in Tanzania to 66% less in Niger, according to the Cost of the Gender Gap report by the World Bank and UN Women, published in 2015.

Male-female differences in farm labour, non-labour inputs (for example, volume and quality of fertiliser and pesticides), childcare responsibilities and crop choice are identified by the World Bank as the chief drivers of Africa’s gender productivity gap. In addition, gender differences in the access, control and use of land also play a role, since having land available is a precondition for entry into agriculture, and determines access to finance. “Credit may be linked to many of these factors, as it can be a pivotal source of liquidity to help women farmers access inputs, including labour, and even to switch into higher-value crops,” says Flore de Préneuf, Communications Lead, Food and Agriculture Global Practice for the World Bank.

According to the World Bank’s statistics, the annual costs of these gaps range from $67 million in Uganda to $105 million in Tanzania. “In other words,” says de Préneuf, “these are the annual gains that could be achieved through parity in agricultural yields. These costly gaps can also drag down welfare: our estimates show that closing farm gaps could lift many individuals out of poverty in Malawi (238,000), Tanzania (80,000), and Uganda (119,000).”

In Kenya, it was the enduring poverty of the female smallholder farmers she grew up with that seeded Riria’s desire to extend them lines of credit. “I left my job at the UN and joined KWH. We began with small loans of two or three dollars, and the women would pay this back and graduate to larger loans. One of our women farmers began with $200 and is now running a manufacturing business, and borrowing over $10,000. Banks, once closed to women, are now finding that women are bankable and creditworthy,” she says.

Microfinance in Africa, a village savings and loans association in Malawi.

One of these farmers is fish farmer Betty Nyongesa, who with loans from KWFT has paid for her children to go to school, built a house, acquired a herd of cattle, and bought a plot of land where she has built a small shop, from where she runs her business. “My community used to believe that a woman was meant to stay at home and take care of the kids. They never thought that we could be the backbone of our community,” Nyongesa told her interviewer in an ENA documentary. “Kenya Women has empowered us, and our men now respect us.”

KWFT today has a network of 245 offices spread out across 45 of Kenya’s 47 counties, and as at December 2017, it had a loan book of $192 million, assets valued at $286 million and deposits of $162 million. ENA, meanwhile, is the development arm that bolsters KWFT’s micro-financing activities, collaborating with broad community-based organisations (CBOs) and alliances to innovate viable initiatives and provide mentorship to women in the agricultural and entrepreneurship sectors.

“The KWFT clients (801,317) are all members of ENA, because women need more than finance, they need knowledge of business and accounting practices, and access to the markets and digital support systems,” says Riria. Digital technology is proving revolutionary for women farmers across the continent, giving them access to both finance and knowledge. “Our banking services can now be taken to the women in their villages, where they can do their own banking online,” Riria says.

There is a proliferation of other initiatives in this space. In May 2018, the World Bank approved a $70m e-agriculture project in Côte d’Ivoire, which will help women farmers and other beneficiaries harness new technologies to learn about farm practices, find linkages to buyers, and access digital financial services. “This project will ensure that farmers have timely information on key aspects of the agriculture value chain such as the seed market,” says Pierre Laporte, World Bank country director for Côte d’Ivoire.

A feasibility study is also being done on integrating information communication technology (ICTs) into two large World Bank investment programmes: the Irrigation Development and Support Project (IDSP) in Zambia and the Kenya Agricultural Productivity and Agribusiness Project (KAPAP), with the specific aim of strengthening women’s participation in commodity value chains.

Meanwhile, one of the recommendations of a 2017 World Bank report, Mobile Technologies and Digitized Data to Promote Access to Finance for Women in Agriculture, is to leverage, through digitisation, the strong role that collective savings groups play in rural women’s lives. The aim is to increase their efficiency and transparency and enable women to ultimately build their own digital financial profiles.

Third-party credit scoring companies that use smartphone data for analysis, such as Lenddo, which provides credit scoring to banks and MFIs, as well as direct lenders such as Tala, are also being encouraged to expand their services to women in the agricultural sector. According to the report, investment is called for to design gender-responsive bundled and customised service offerings that meet the financial priorities and life-cycle needs of women farmers. Currently, products are designed around cycles most relevant to men.

Finally, the report recommends: “Drive the collection and use of digitised data to expand bank offerings and financing to women in agriculture. The trend in alternative credit scoring holds promise for women, who, research corroborates, frequently lack fixed collateral and financial histories they can present to a lender.”

As these interventions transform the agricultural sector in Africa, its female farmers will begin to make far more significant contributions to their agricultural economies. In Kenya, Riria and her organisations, KWFT and ENA, have set Kenya’s 2022 general election as their deadline to make a marked difference in women’s political and financial power overall.

“Women can now benefit from a ‘democracy fund’ that we have set up to train and facilitate women to become more competitive and to take up political leadership positions, ahead of the 2022 general election,” Riria told Kenya’s Daily Nation news channel in March 2018.

HELEN GRANGE is a freelance journalist writing for newspapers and magazines in South Africa and abroad. Her work appears primarily in The Star, Argus, Daily News and Pretoria News. She also writes for Noseweek, Business Day and Financial Mail and edits magazines for various publishers.

Challenges and gaps, but many gains

Lucy Asuagbor, Member of the United Nations Commission of Inquiry on Burundi during press conference at the 38th Regular Session of the Human Rights Council. 27 June 2018. UN Photo / Jean-Marc Ferré

The African Union’ s Maputo Protocol provides member states with a comprehensive policy framework for ensuring women’ s rights across the continent

In 2003, the African Union adopted the Protocol to the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights on the Rights of Women in Africa, now known as the Maputo Protocol.

According to the United Nations, this key document has since been integrated into several constitutions and into national laws and policies across the continent.

In her 2017 report on Women’ s  Rights   in   Africa, Lucy Asuagbor – commissioner and special rapporteur on the Rights of Women  in  Africa  for the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights, acknowledged the  strides  made in pushing women’s rights and the gender agenda on the continent.

Some of the progresses recorded in the report included the adoption by a number of member states of legislative, policy, institutional and other measures for addressing violence against women, access to land and inheritance rights, gender equality and economic empowerment of women and women’s political participation, as well as harmful cultural practices, including female genital mutilation (FMG) and child marriage.

The report also highlighted some of the  gender  equality  initiatives  on the continent, which included increased access to education for girls, an increase in the number of female professionals and women in leadership positions, and the observation that women were now taking on roles, which were traditionally reserved for men.

However, among the challenges, she singled out the urgent need to reduce the high maternal mortality rate, the high rate of sexual violence and human trafficking, the high rate of unsafe abortions, and the high rate of HIV infections among women.

Asuagbor reported that there were now provisions on sexual and gender- based violence, economic, social and cultural rights and the principle of equality and right to non-discrimination in constitutions, policies and in legislations across the continent.

Female participation in African legislatures outpaced many in developed countries. Rwanda (at 63.8%) was ranked number one in the world, with Senegal and South Africa in the top 10. Fifteen African countries rank ahead of France and the United Kingdom, 24 rank ahead of the United States, and 42 rank ahead of Japan. However, the remaining challenges and gaps that needed to be overcome for the full realisation of women’s rights was daunting.

In every African country, as was the case globally, women continued to be denied full enjoyment of their rights.

“In Africa, one in three women have experienced either physical and/or sexual intimate partner violence or sexual violence by a non-partner at some point in their lifetime,” Asuagbor said. “In six countries, there is no legal protection for women against domestic violence. In 2013, African women  and girls accounted for 62% (179,000) of all global deaths from preventable causes related to pregnancy and childbirth, while in sub-Saharan Africa women comprise the highest percentage of new HIV infections.

Globally, an estimated 130 million girls and women alive today have undergone FGM, mainly in Africa, and 125 million African women and girls alive today were married before the age of 18. Protection gaps in the areas of health, marriage, and family relations are particularly striking as is the non-recognition of intersectional forms of discrimination. In many countries, these gaps are also compounded by political instability and conflict.”

Article two of the protocol requires states to take positive action to address inequalities between women and men, and to ensure women are able to exercise and enjoy their rights. Other articles define  states’ obligations to be,  among others: the right to  dignity;  the right  to life, integrity and security of the person; protection from harmful practices; rights in marriage, which include entitlement  to  property  and  the  custody  and  guardianship  of  children; protection from child, early and forced marriages; the right of access to justice and equal protection of the law; the right to participate in political and decision-making processes; the right to peace; the rights to adequate housing, food security, education, and equality in access to employment; reproductive and health rights, including   control   of  one’s   fertility;  and the right to be protected against HIV infection.

Thirty-seven countries have ratified the protocol. To date, however, while 46 African countries have reported to the United Nations Committee  on  the Elimination of Discrimination against Women, only four countries have submitted reports to the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights under the Maputo Protocol.

In her recommendations, Asuagbor called for states to ratify the protocol and adopt a comprehensive national human rights action plan to “domesticate” the Maputo Protocol. She recommended the lifting of reservations to the protocol, in particular those that reinforce the notions of inequality of women in the home or deny women autonomy in decision-making about their own bodies.

Asuagbor said states should make use of existing analysis and reports to the international human rights mechanisms (including the UN human rights treaty monitoring bodies, the UPR and special procedures) for reporting under Article 26 of the Maputo Protocol. They should establish a multi-sectoral mechanism with a mandate to track progress on domestication and to call   on different ministries to account in line with the Maputo Protocol or, at the minimum, include tracking and monitoring in the mandate of the existing National Mechanism for Reporting and Follow-Up.

States were also called upon to:

Strengthen support for institutions in relation to gender equality and the empowerment of women, including the systematic integration of a gender perspective in all ministries, as well as national human rights institutions.

  • Adopt and enforce targets to end all forms of discrimination and violence against all women and girls, including domestic and sexual violence as well as harmful practices such as child and forced marriage and FGM.
  • Repeal any law which discriminates against women and hinders gender equality in all spheres of life: in the family, in economic and social life, in public and political life, and in the area of health.
  • Repeal or eliminate laws, policies and practices that criminalise, obstruct or undermine access by individuals or a particular group to sexual and reproductive health facilities, services, goods and information. At the very least, they should bring laws into compliance with the protocol.
  • Adopt targets to ensure women full and productive employment, recognise and value unpaid care and domestic work, and give women equal rights to economic resources, as well as access to ownership and control over land and other forms of property, financial services, inheritance and natural resources.
  • Expand sex disaggregated data collection to capture, among other things, multiple and intersecting forms of discrimination for advocacy and gender- responsive programming.
  • Strengthen domestic criminal accountability, responsiveness to victims and judicial capacity.
  • Affirm the primacy of international and regional human rights law and constitutional laws over religious, customary and indigenous laws as a means of ensuring women’s emancipation and autonomy.
  • Establish legal protection of the rights of women on an equal basis with men and raise public awareness on all forms of discrimination against women, including violence against women and girls, and ensure that awareness- raising campaigns address the needs of women with albinism.
  • Work with all partners and women’s groups to create a dialogue between different stakeholders and engagement with human rights mechanisms.
  • Create a space for community-based organisations, including women human rights defenders, to concretely contribute to the promotion of human rights on the continent, and encourage and strengthen networks among these groups to support the process of implementation of the Agenda 2063 and its related document, as well as the outcome document of the African Year of Human Rights.
  • Ground all efforts for the promotion and protection of women’s rights, including the context of Agenda 2030 and Agenda  2063,  in  human  rights norms and standards – particularly the Maputo Protocol and the Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination against  Women,  as  well as the work of Special Procedures, in particular of the working group on discrimination against women in law and in practice and the special rapporteur on violence against women, its causes and consequences.

West African boardrooms and the gender gap

Women make up almost exactly half the population of the region, but you’d never say so based on how few there are in senior management

It is rather surprising that African women, who raise and support future national leaders – and who therefore count among the founders of nations – are seldom allowed to participate fully in the economic and political lives of their nations. Despite the fact that they constitute around half of the population, women are marginalised and disadvantaged in all sectors of the economy, as well as in relation to the development agenda.

All around Africa, governance practices still give little credence to the views of women. In Anglophone West Africa, things are no different. In Ghana, the proportion of female to total board members generally ranged from 7% to 25%, according to a 2016 study by the International Finance Corporation, Gender Diversity in Ghanaian Boardrooms, while the highest number of women on any particular board amounted to a quarter of the total board membership. Some 24.05 % of the sampled boards consisted only of males. In other words, one out of every four boards had no female representation at all.

This skewed situation is not peculiar to Ghana; it is prevalent across West Africa. In Sierra Leone, for example, only 7.9% of firms have a woman among the principal owners, according to a 2015 International Labor Organization (ILO) study, Promoting Jobs, Protecting People. In Gambia, for example, some 16.8% of firms have female participation in ownership, while 12.3% of firms have female majority ownership and 9.6% have a female top manager, according to a 2018 World Bank study.

Why are there so few women in decision-making positions in companies, businesses and institutions in West Africa? Well, for one thing, women’s cultural roles are often defined by outdated ideas that exclude them from decision-making roles in society. These cultural roles are enforced by gendered socialisation, the process by which social expectations and attitudes associated with one’s sex are learned. Gendered socialisation begins at birth, and gendered socialisation continues during adolescence and into adulthood, according to a 2017 discussion paper by UNICEF on adolescent gender socialisation in low- and middle-income countries.

In West Africa, women are seen as homemakers and nurturers who have no place in the world of paid work. Though this view is slowly changing, women working in the formal economy – the public or private sector – are usually relegated to the lower levels of employment, where influential decision-making is non-existent. Thus, women are affected by the decisions of a majority male leadership, while their lack of representation in top-level hierarchies prevents them from having agency and shaping their societies in formal spaces.

At an International Woman’s Day event held in Gambia in 2015, Saiba Suso, a programme officer with Activista Gambia and a lecturer at the development studies unit of the University of Gambia, said African women continue to experience discrimination in many areas such as education, the labour market, religion, job opportunities and decision-making. Her remark was borne out, three years later, by a UN Women 2018 report on the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). “There can be no sustainable development without gender equality,” the report says. Yet in sub-Saharan Africa, women still suffer more poverty than their global counterparts, and more hunger. Women in the region also face higher rates of maternal mortality than the global average, while 48.1% of girls are less likely to learn to read and write at primary school as compared to 43.6% of boys in the same region.

In Ghana, some 61.4% of females interviewed had no formal education compared to 39% of males, according to a 2016 report by the Institute of Economic Affairs in Ghana. After primary school, the proportion of males far exceeded the proportion of females at all levels of educational attainment. Lack of access to education means that women are less employable in formal sectors and they often have to resort to informal jobs, which help to pay the bills but do not contribute to their financial independence.

In Liberia, more females (4.5%) are unemployed than males (3%), according to a recent (undated) World Bank Institute report, Striving for Business Success: Voices of Liberian Women Entrepreneurs. Most women are self-employed and operate in the informal sector. Some 13.4% of males are employed in the formal sector as compared to 4.5% of females. Female entrepreneurs in Liberia work mainly in the small retail and trade sector, and 60% of women own informal enterprises, as compared to 45% of men, according to a 2012 World Bank report.

In West Africa, as elsewhere on the continent, women also make significant contributions to crop production, animal husbandry and marketing. But this work is unstable, poorly paid and usually invisible, resulting in a high incidence of unemployment among women as compared to men. Globally, the unemployment rate of women for 2018, at 6% – is approximately 0.8 percentage points higher than the rate for men. Altogether, this means that for every 10 men in a job, only six women are in employment. For Africa as a whole, the male employment-to-population ratio was estimated at about 69.2% compared to the female employment-to-population ratio of only 39.2% (Gender Equality in Employment in Africa: Empirical Analysis and Policy Implications, 2014). Women’s lack of access to education means that companies have a smaller pool of developed talent to select from when recruiting for high-level positions in public and private companies and governmental organisations. In West Africa, women face a “glass ceiling”: the higher up the corporate ladder, the fewer women are to be found in senior positions. In her 2013 M Phil thesis on the glass ceiling phenomenon among managerial women in Ghana, Dorcas Gyekye argued that men’s promotion into leadership positions was based on their perceived potential as leaders, while women’s promotion was adjudged on the basis of their perceived performance.

Members of the “old boys’ club” – an informal system through which men use their positions of influence to provide favours and information to other men – will see potential in people they deem to be more like them. So it is that more men are promoted than women. Women who succeed in getting to the top may be there as a form of tokenism – which, in my view, goes some way to accounting for women’s rivalry in such contexts, since surviving can depend on factors other than professional performance. According to the Gender Diversity in Ghanaian Boardrooms report (2018), some 49.37% of the women on company boards were non-executive directors, while only 6.49% of organisations had women as the chair of the board.

Away from the world of employment, whether formal or informal, African women face additional burdens. According to a 2017 report by the UN, women do at least two and a half times more unpaid household and care work than men. Since household work is unpaid, this leaves women with fewer resources and even less time or opportunity than men to focus on career advancement. According to a 2016 report by the IEA in Ghana, women spend most of their time on household activities such as cleaning (94%), cooking (90.2%), water collection (73.8%) and childcare (68.5%), while a significant proportion of men (65.0%) control the household finances.

Worldwide, women are also often paid less than men for the same work, and West Africa is no exception. According to the ILO Global Wage Report 2014/15, women’s average wages were between 4% to 36% less than men’s; and astonishingly, this gap widens in absolute terms for higher-earning women. Similarly, women in 32 African countries were paid less than men for comparable roles. In West Africa, Ghana heads the list: women earn $3,484 per annum as compared to men’s $6,485, according to a 2016 report by the World Economic Forum on the global gender gap. Unequal rates of pay further reduce women’s ability to make investments, support their families, and establish their own financial independence.

It is unsurprising, therefore, that women take less-demanding jobs – to be able to do their unpaid labour. Employers often cite this as a reason to exclude women from decision-making positions, whether public or private, saying that they will have to attend to household tasks and decisions while at work. Contemporary changes at the workplace that are now quite common in the developed world – such as working from home and longer or parental leave – would help to alleviate the strenuous conditions many African women experience. Other social changes, such as sharing household labour, would also help.

The inclusion of women in high-level positions makes economic and social sense. Research has shown that when there is an equitable representation of male and female voices at the higher levels of corporations the results are improved performance, more innovation, an enhanced quality of decision-making, better use of the talent pool, deeper customer intelligence (customers are, after all, both male and female) and an improved quality of corporate governance and ethics in decision-making, according to a 2014 document on achieving gender equality in the workplace by the Australian government’s Gender Equality Agency.

It will be obvious that boards on which there is an under-representation of women will make decisions skewed towards a male point of view. If both sexes are fairly represented, by contrast, there is a much higher likelihood that decisions will be balanced around the views of both men and women. Companies with a more equal distribution of the sexes in the boardroom financially outperform companies with a less representative gender mix, according to a McKinsey and Company’s report, Diversity Matters (2015). In short, globally, women are good for the bottom line. The same will be true of every region in Africa, including our own.

Tina S Asante-Apeatu is the executive director of GGA-West Africa Centre. She holds a BA in psychology and politics and eMBA in project management. She manages various projects, including research and advocacy in the areas of land governance, property rights and early childhood education. She is also currently the president of the Police Wives’ Association of Ghana. Tina is married with two children and loves travelling to new places.