Unleashing Africa’s Girl Power

MAPUTO – Sub-Saharan Africa’s economies have boomed in recent years. But the headline figures often mask longer-term problems – not least, an over-reliance on natural resources and chronic inequalities. Inclusive, sustainable growth is achievable, but only by tapping the continent’s greatest reserve of energy and creativity: African women and girls.

Health and development experts, economists, non-governmental organizations, United Nations agencies, and banks agree that the key to unlocking Africa’s potential lies in expanding women’s education, freedom, and job opportunities. Today, many African women are not only expected to fulfill traditional roles, such as raising children and caring for the elderly; they also face legal and social discrimination regarding land and property ownership, inheritance, education, and access to credit and technology – in addition to oppressive sexual mores and violence.

Yet gender equality is necessary for the continent’s well-being. Consider the pressing issue of food security. Women comprise half of the agriculture sector’s workforce, growing, selling, buying, and preparing food for their families. Studies suggest that equal access to resources would increase farm yields by 20-30%, offsetting the effects of drought and climate change. Access to education, capital, markets, and technologies would allow women to process, package, and market their products, especially for Africa’s growing middle class, bolstering both earnings and food supplies.

Agriculture is but one example. Greater female participation in male-dominated occupations across the board would increase overall labor productivity by up to 25%. The same is true of politics, where more female participation and leadership would improve governance and public services, as promising experiences in some parts of Africa and elsewhere have shown.