What financial contribution do African Women make to the development of the continent?

Woman, African: These are two words that equal an ominous social and economic heritage in relation to cultural representations, sociological realities and discriminatory practices that we see in the work and capital market. However, a growing number of studies reveal that gender equality is one of the pillars of economic development in Africa. [1]

In the study, Women in Africa published in 2013, the OECD estimated that women constituted 70% of the agricultural work force in Africa and are involved in the production of 90% of foodstuffs. In addition, it was found that African women produce 61.9% of the economic goods. This number exceeded the average percentage reported in all the regions that make up the OECD. This activity, mainly independent, informal and agricultural has given rise to segmentation in the African labour market and a high under-representation of women in the workforce and the agricultural sector (8.5% across the continent). This revelation is even more important than the expansion of the tertiary sector of the African economy (the rise of the digital/ICT, telecoms and financial sectors), as the latter can lead to a biased technical progress to the detriment of women who are not part of the human capital. [2]  .


The market barriers that women experience are in different forms and have been analyzed through the morality, cultural and fundamental rights lens. However, it is important to recognize that beyond these unquestionable and legitimate factors, Africa has no economic interest in using the skills of this group that occupies more than half of its population in the secondary and tertiary sectors. The failure of the market and institutions can help to explain the displacement of women in the secondary and tertiary sectors.


This article aims to give an overview of the institutional context of economic activities of women in Africa. We will take a look at the measures taken to improve these activities and then the limits of these public policies. Then we will analyze the prospects for development.


Firstly, qualified or not, African women contribute to the growth of the continent despite many structural impediments

Many studies have shown that international trade has a negative but low impact on employment. This negative impact is usually found in activities with a less qualified workforce. In Africa, the latter is made up of mainly women. For example, according to l’INSEE, in 2011, industrial trade between France and developing countries led to a deficit of 330 000 jobs. Without urgent investment in the low-skilled female work force, African nations will run the risk of increasing the rate of unemployment, while the volume of investments in high growth sectors increases. The displacement of low-skilled women from the formal market does not however translate into total inactivity but results in the strengthening of the informal market which is accompanied sometimes by long-tem success. For example « Nana Benz », a group of Togolese women, who made a fortune from the sale of wax prints on the informal market during the colonial times up until the 2000s.[3]

On the other hand, the barriers for skilled female workers are mainly institutional and legal. The Family Code that is being implemented in many African nations generates harmful distortions in the market, in that, it limits the equitable transfer of inheritance between female and male descendants during the sharing of estates and restricts women’s access to bank credit. Also, the unfairness of land ownership rights constitutes an obstacle to women entrepreneurship. It drives a lot of them out of the different markets. The imperfection of the labour market and the low access to capital creates an asymmetry between women and structures which demand the use of a workforce in order to fix meager nominal wages. To combat this, microfinance enterprises started to provide credit to vulnerable populations and those far from the banking sector. This is shown in the study carried out by the researcher, Annelise Sery in Micro-credit: Empowering Ivoirian Women


Secondly, we must restructure the institutional framework of the economic activities of African women

Conscious of the dangers that the displacement of women constitute, many African states have opened the grounds for a debate on gender equality. On the 14th of May, 2010, the Senegalese National Assembly adopted a law on the equality of men and women. This was done in a country where women make up 52% of the population. This new law should lead to an amendment of the Family Code. Also, in Morocco, where the 2011 constitution opposes any discrimination on the grounds of gender, one its towns, Marrakech, hosted the Global Entrepreneurship Summit in November 2014. The aim of this program was to promote the regional and local economic activities of women. 

However, even though this country is a key growth driver in Africa, women participation in the economy fell from 30% in 1999 to 25% in 2012[4. Article 19 of the 2011 Moroccan constitution did not particularly address the economic inequalities but brought the debate on gender equality to the limelight. This was institutionalized by the creation of the High Authority on gender equality.

Ultimately, micro financing should be properly developed, so that a proto-industrialization can occur, which can allow mothers to work from home. This will lead to an inclusion of the African banking system in a virtuous cycle, which will profit shareholders and vulnerable populations such as women. International banking and financial organizations also have a role to play in the increased participation of women in the African economy as they are transnational and are not subject to religious or local factors that limit the rights of women in different African countries


As such, initiatives such as that of the African Development Bank’s ‘‘Prize for Women Innovators’’ created in October 2010 should not just be a slogan but must give way to proactive and specific action to encourage female entrepreneurship. For now, low-skilled women are the pillars of agricultural production in Africa. Nevertheless, growth prospects and the expansion of the tertiary sector of individual African economies is giving rise to an urgent need to remove the entry barriers into the secondary and tertiary labour market for women to gain access. On the other hand, a proactive policy should be implemented to restructure the Family Code all around the continent.


Finally, initiatives by international organizations that aim to promote women entrepreneurship will allow Africa to groom its women leaders and increase gender equality in government circles.

Translated by Onyinyechi Ananaba

[1] Cf Women in Africa publié par le Centre du Developpement de l’OCDE.

[2] Katz et Murphy, 1992 Changes in relative wadges, 1963 -1987 : supply and demand factors

[3]  Amselle, 2001.

[4]Word Bank Poverty, adjustment and growth, Royaume du Maroc 2013. 


Auteur: Daphnée Sétondji

Daphnée est la directrice de la rubrique économie de l'Afrique des Idées. D’origine camerounaise et béninoise, Daphnée est normalienne et ancienne élève du département de sciences économiques et sociales de l’Ecole Normale Supérieure Paris-Saclay. Titulaire d'un Master 2 en droit, gestion et gouvernance des systèmes financiers publics obtenu à la Sorbonne, elle est actuellement élève en Master of Laws à UC Berkeley School of Law. En rejoignant l'ADI, elle souhaite participer au débat sur les finances publiques africaines.

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