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Race & Gender Journalist of the Year: Winner

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The economic plight of women in Africa post Imperial rule

Ruvimbo Joy Chauruka, Peterhouse School

Winner, Race & Gender Journalist of the Year

In this essay I will be discussing the unabated effects of colonialism and traditional socio economic structures on women in modern day Africa and how these systems continue to  contribute to wealth inequality and economic stagnancy. It’s no secret that the colonial era  already debilitated Africa’s ability to contend on the global economic stage despite its  abundance of resources.  

Throughout history, women have been treated as second-class citizens to their male counterparts  due to prevailing societal narratives. Not only has this affected social relations but it has also  seeped into structures, policies and institutions leaving women economically disadvantaged. Thus, African women are not only affected by these narratives but also the pervading effects of  colonialism that have ravaged their local economies. 

In contrast to the misconception that Africa was a backward region isolated from the rest of the  world, not only was trade flourishing internally but also with the Mediterranean world, western  Asia, and the Indian Ocean region. However, after the criminalisation of slavery, Western  powers had to find another way to maintain their grip on African economies as these heavily  contributed to their own development which was done through colonization. In a futile attempt  to ‘right their wrongs’ the West has ploughed vast amounts of money into Africa in the form of  aid. This has been heavily criticized by Zambian Economist, Dambisa Moyo in her book ‘Dead  Aid’ as being ‘a perfect way to keep an inefficient or simply bad government in power’ which  has proved to be true. 

Not only does economic empowerment of women help African economies but also battles  persisting issues like gender equality and women’s rights. According to research, women  perform 66% of the world’s work, produce 50 percent of our food, but make only 10% of the  income whilst own 1-2% of the property. From an economical perspective, women’s unpaid  work makes up between 10% and 39% of GDP, as stated by the UN Research Institute for  Social Development. Research by The International Labour Organisation states that ‘women are  disproportionately laden with the responsibility for unpaid care and domestic work’.  Contrastingly, sub-Saharan African economies have lost about $95 billion yearly because of the  gender gap in the labour market since 2010. 

Whilst some African nations have started taking steps towards addressing these disparities, a lot  is still lacking. While women’s participation in the labour force (mostly in the informal sector)  is high in many sub-Saharan Africa countries, only in eight countries (Gabon, Ghana, Kenya,  Libya, Namibia, South Africa, Uganda and Zimbabwe) do more than 50% of women own bank  accounts, according to the Global Financial Inclusion Database. As cited by the Global Fund for  Women, research shows that increasing female employment rates in OECD countries to match  that of Sweden, could boost GDP by over USD 6 trillion.  In conclusion, it’s no secret that the world has failed Africa. However, the continent has failed  its people, especially its women. We should focus on “Investing in women’s economic  empowerment sets a direct path towards gender equality, poverty eradication and inclusive  economic growth’’ says Ahunna Eziakonwa, Director of UNDP’s Regional Bureau for Africa.  African women are expected to be homemakers in a dilapidated economy where they sacrifice  and provide in an environment with no provision.

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