Discrimination against women is “economically inefficient,” according to the executive director of the Consortium for Economic and Social Research (CRES) in Senegal.
In West African societies, household tasks are traditionally assigned to women. They perform “unpaid domestic work,” even though their empowerment is an “effective” means of combating the poverty that is rife in this region. Aware of these “challenges,” CRES invited several experts to an international symposium on the economic empowerment of women in West Africa on Wednesday 26 October in Dakar.
Demographically speaking in this region, women “constitute the majority,” CRES Executive Director, Abdoulaye Diagne explained. Despite this statistical ascendancy, they "face many constraints" related to "gender discrimination", the "disproportionate distribution of resources in households" and professional integration. On top of all this, they have responsibilities at home for 'water collection', a task that often has negative consequences for their health.
While these habits are ingrained in African societies, “discrimination against women is economically inefficient,” said Professor Diagne, citing “solid evidence.” “Working with women makes good business sense. It is an effective path to a sustainable economy,” he insisted, arguing that women in turn take care of their families and households when they are “economically autonomous.”
Reducing the domestic burden
The International Development Research Centre (IDRC) of Canada, CRES’ main partner in the organisation of this conference, is heavily involved in women's empowerment on the continent. In West Africa, it has focused its "attention on six projects that promote" the economic independence of women, according to its president Jean Lebel. The aim of these different actions is to "reduce the unpaid domestic burden" of this vulnerable group.
However, the inequalities mentioned above represent “the tip of the iceberg,” pointed out Ngoné Diop, director of the West African office of the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa (UNECA), referring to “gender inequalities” which are often little mentioned. Women are "omnipresent" in several sectors of activity, but they suffer from a lack of recognition and a lack of remuneration "at their fair value". As a result, "435 million poor people" in the world today are women, and a good part of them are in West Africa, she lamented.
In these circumstances, the “imperative” of their economic empowerment is “a human rights issue” because it would contribute even “to economic growth of two to three percent,” Diop said. She therefore called on the governments of West African countries to "implement effective policies" so that women can seize economic "opportunities", such as the Continental African Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) project.
In addition to economic inequalities, the Covid-19 pandemic has "shown that women are more affected by the impact of the crises than men" but also "the need for care that is so lacking on the continent," said Florence Raes, acting director of UN Women's regional office for West and Central Africa. During the health crisis, many women were "making difficult choices" between their jobs and household responsibilities.
For women’s participation in AfCFTA
After watching a documentary film on women's empowerment in a northern Senegalese community, Ms Raes noted that the "green economy" can now enable women to "flourish and create wealth", although she argued that they should not be confined to "microeconomic" mechanisms.
Similarly, the Commissioner for Human Development and Social Affairs of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), Prof. Fatou Sow Sarr, believes that "economic autonomy allows us to move towards political autonomy". To achieve this, "public policies must change paradigms and perspectives".
In response to this Senegalese women's activist, the Secretary General of the Senegalese Ministry for Women, the Family and Child Protection, Mame Ngor Diouf, noted that her country "remains committed" to human rights and the fight against "social injustices" that can affect women. Senegal "now has a protective framework for women at the legal and political levels". They are taken into account in "all the strategic axes" of public policies expressed through President Macky Sall's Plan Sénégal Emergent (PSE), he said.