Gender Inequality in Sub-Saharan Africa
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Gender Inequality in Sub-Saharan Africa

By Ibrahim Rashid Hassan
Tigrai Online, April 17, 2017

African women working with baby on their back
In many parts of the world especially in Africa women are the breadwinners of the family

Gender equality is a fundamental development objective, and is essential to enabling women and men to participate equally in society and in the economy. Addressing gender inequality requires an all-of-government and all-of-society approach, taking into account established linkages between women’s social wellbeing and economic opportunities for more productive lives.


Social norms are a clear obstacle to African women’s progress, limiting the time women can spend in education and paid work, and access to economic and financial assets. For instance, African women still carry out 71 percent of water collecting translating to 40 billion hours a year, and are less likely to have bank accounts and to access credit.

African women’s health is also severely affected by harmful practices such as under-age marriage and sexual and physical violence, and high maternal mortality - the most at-risk women being those of childbearing age.

Significant progress has been made in closing gender gaps in Sub-Saharan Africa: by 2008, there were 91 girls for every 100 boys in primary school, up from 85 girls in 1999. And at 61 percent, women in Sub-Saharan Africa have one of the highest labor force participation rates in the world. Despite these gains, African women continue to face some grim facts. Girls are still much less likely than boys to benefit from a secondary education. An African woman faces a 1 in 31 chance of dying from complications due to pregnancy or childbirth, compared to a 1 in 4,300 chance in the developed world. And women and girls often have little influence over resources and norms, restricting what jobs and crops are considered appropriate for women and thus limiting their earning potential in agriculture, enterprise or the labor market. Women’s voice and agency remain limited, with rates of gender-based violence reaching alarming levels. Poor access to legal rights, sexual and reproductive health services, freedom of movement, and political voice pose additional constraints for women. Attitudes and customs perpetuate many of these inequalities across generations.

Girls continue to face the greatest challenges in accessing primary school. Of the 18 countries with fewer than 90 girls for every 100 boys enrolled, 13 are in sub-Saharan Africa. There are 16.7 million girls out of school in sub-Saharan Africa, 9.3 million of which will never set foot in a classroom. On current trends in sub-Saharan Africa the poorest girls will achieve universal primary completion twenty years after the poorest boys.

Gender disparities in secondary education have barely changed in sub-Saharan Africa since 1999, with still only around 8 girls for every 10 boys enrolling. In 2012, at least 19 countries around the world had fewer than 90 girls for every 100 boys in school, 15 of which were in sub-Saharan Africa. In the Central African Republic and Chad in 2012, half as many girls as boys were in secondary school. In Angola, the situation has actually worsened, from 76 girls per 100 boys in 1999 to 65 in 2012. In a few poor countries, such as Rwanda, new gender gaps at the expense of boys have emerged. In Lesotho, only 71 boys were enrolled for every 100 girls in 2012, a ratio unchanged since 1999.

If gender gaps can be closed in labour markets, education, health, and other areas, then poverty and hunger eradication can be accelerated", said UNDP Administrator Helen Clark at the launch of Tokyo International Conference on African Development (TICAD). Achieving gender equality and women’s empowerment is the right thing to do, and is a development imperative", Helen Clark said.

Gender inequality is costing sub-Saharan Africa on average $US95 billion a year, peaking at US$105 billion in 2014– or six percent of the region’s GDP – jeopardizing the continent’s efforts for inclusive human development and economic growth, according to the Africa Human Development Report 2016: Advancing Gender Equality and Women’s Empowerment in Africa, published by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP).

Deeply-rooted structural obstacles such as unequal distribution of resources, power and wealth, combined with social institutions and norms that sustain inequality are holding African women, and the rest of the continent, back. The report estimates that a 1 percent increase in gender inequality reduces a country’s human development index by 0.75 percent.

With existing gender disparities, achieving the Sustainable Development Goals and Africa’s Agenda 2063 would remain an aspiration, and not a reality”, said UNDP Africa Director Abdoulaye Mar Dieye. “Closing the gender gap would not only set Africa on a double-digit economic growth track, but would also significantly contribute to meeting its development goals.”


The report is clear that countries that invest more in gender equality and women’s empowerment are doing better on human development. To ensure Africa’s inclusive growth it is critical that half the continent’s population – girls and women - play transformative roles.

Irina Bokova, the Director-General of UNESCO said “Educating a girl educates a nation. It unleashes a ripple effect that changes the world unmistakably for the better. We have recently set ourselves a new ambitious agenda to achieve a sustainable future. Success in this endeavor is simply not possible without educated, empowered girls, young women and mothers. “

Ibrahim Rashid Hassan is a freelance writer Ibrahim Rashid Hassan is a freelance writer and works for the United Nations World Food Program and is based in Jijiga Ethiopia. Ibrahim is a Young African Leadership Initiative (YALI) Cohort 16 alumni. He writes on Social issues and can be reached on or  

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