In­vest­ing in women’s em­ploy­ment es­sen­tial for eco­nomic growth

Africa Renewal - - Africa Watch - By Jo­ce­lyne Sam­bira

Magette Wade was in her San Fran­cisco apart­ment get­ting ready for the day when she had her “light bulb” mo­ment. Although her beauty cabi­net was full of or­ganic and nat­u­ral prod­ucts, Ms. Wade says she still reached for the plant­based creams made by herbal­ists in her na­tive Sene­gal. In that mo­ment, Tios­sano, a luxury skin care com­pany, was born.

It wasn’t Ms. Wade’s first at­tempt at in­tro­duc­ing in­dige­nous prod­ucts to the US mar­ket. Be­fore switch­ing hats, she was the chief ex­ec­u­tive of­fi­cer of Ad­ina World Beat Bev­er­ages, a multi-mil­lion dollar com­pany that makes drinks from tra­di­tional recipes. The idea for the start-up came from the popular red juice called “bis­sap”, squeezed from the hibis­cus plant.

The two com­pa­nies, although based in the US, have pro­vided work for African women and have shown that prod­ucts “made in Africa” could also break into global mar­kets. Presently, Ms. Wade is mak­ing plans to move pro­duc­tion of her skin care mer­chan­dise to Sene­gal.

Bil­lion­aire and oil ty­coon Folorun­sho Alak­ija is an­other woman who has bro­ken sev­eral glass ceil­ings in Nige­ria and abroad and made it to the 2015 Forbes’ list of world bil­lion­aires. She is the manager of Famfa Oil Ltd, a com­pany she founded in 1991 that has the rights to ex­plore oil and gas on the lu­cra­tive Abgami oil­field in Nige­ria.

Like Ms. Wade, Ms. Alak­ija’s first big break came when she won over the fash­ion in­dus­try with her cou­ture la­bel, Supreme Stiches, us­ing lo­cal Nige­rian fab­rics. In her rise to the top, Ms. Alak­ija in­spired and men­tored a new gen­er­a­tion of de­sign­ers from her home­land.

But de­spite ev­i­dence that women’s em­ploy­ment is vi­tal to driv­ing eco­nomic growth and devel­op­ment, gaps still ex­ist with nearly half of women’s pro­duc­tive po­ten­tial glob­ally un­der-uti­lized or unuti­lized, says the World Bank. In the words of Bank Pres­i­dent Jim Yong Kim, “In­vest­ing in women’s em­ploy­ment is not only the right thing to do – it’s es­sen­tial for busi­ness.”

A UN-spon­sored study called the Mil­len­nium Project es­ti­mates that twothirds of self-em­ployed en­trepreneurs in sub-Sa­ha­ran Africa and Asia are women. Ac­cord­ing to the World Bank, the pri­vate sec­tor, which ac­counts for 9 out of 10 jobs in de­vel­op­ing coun­tries, plays a crit­i­cal role in cre­at­ing bet­ter em­ploy­ment op­por­tu­ni­ties for women.

Oc­c­i­tane en Provence, a global, nat­u­ral and or­ganic in­gre­di­ent-based cos­metic firm, has been hir­ing fe­male shea but­ter nut pick­ers and pro­ces­sors in Burk­ina Faso for over 30 years. The UN Devel­op­ment Pro­gramme hails the com­pany as an “ex­em­plary busi­ness” for its in­clu­sive busi­ness model. The agency states that the eco­nomic im­pact in the West African coun­try has been sig­nif­i­cant, gen­er­at­ing rev­enue for 15,000 ru­ral women and their co­op­er­a­tives.

The In­ter­na­tional Fi­nance Cor­po­ra­tion (IFC), a mem­ber of the World Bank Group, also runs pro­grammes across Africa to help women gain a foothold in the pri­vate sec­tor. For ex­am­ple, the IFC has helped place women in jobs tra­di­tion­ally held by men such as the min­ing sec­tor in South Africa and Ghana. It is also spear­head­ing the ‘She works’ ini­tia­tive to cre­ate job op­por­tu­ni­ties for more than 300,000 women.

Ten par­tic­i­pat­ing com­pa­nies have pledged to im­ple­ment mea­sures such as men­tor­ing, flex­i­ble work ar­range­ments and lead­er­ship train­ing to in­crease di­ver­sity in man­age­ment.

The pri­vate sec­tor can also de­velop work­place gen­der-sen­si­tive poli­cies, and cre­ate safe and in­clu­sive en­vi­ron­ments, ar­gues the UN Global Com­pact, which has de­vel­oped a frame­work for busi­nesses to­gether with UN Women on how to em­power women in the work­place, mar­ket­place and in the com­mu­nity.

Ac­cord­ing to the direc­tor-gen­eral of the In­ter­na­tional Labour Or­ga­ni­za­tion, Juan So­mavia, in­creas­ing ev­i­dence shows that gen­der in­equal­ity is bad eco­nomics. Mean­while, the In­ter­na­tional Mon­e­tary Fund es­ti­mates that hav­ing as many women in the labour force as men could boost eco­nomic growth by as much as 5% in the US and up to 34% in coun­tries like Egypt.

In ad­di­tion, bet­ter jobs for women leads to bet­ter devel­op­ment out­comes, says IFC, be­cause women will spend what they earn on chil­dren’s health, ed­u­ca­tion and nu­tri­tion.

Panos/Nyani Quarmyne

Awurabena Okrah, CEO and founder of Win­glow, a tex­tile and fash­ion busi­ness in Ac­cra, Ghana. Many women are ven­tur­ing into busi­ness.

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