Time for women to shine as economy opens up

There  is   no   doubt that women have directly or indirectly proven to be the cornerstone of socio-economic transformation at all levels especially  the household, though most of them mostly engage in agriculture for livelihood  compared to other development sectors. SOLOMON MWIJE writes

According to the 2014 Uganda Population and Housing Census, females make up 51 percent of the population. The statistics on the working population aged 14-64 years show that 70.2 percent of females are engaged in subsistence agriculture as workers but fewer are in  market-oriented  agriculture.

This is one of the most labour-market predicaments in which  women are caught. If the economies of  developing countries’  depend on agriculture, this indirectly  means that the economy depends highly on women.                   

The Census Report also affirms that 80 percent of Uganda’s households are engaged in agriculture and 69 percent of the households depend on subsistence farming as their main source of livelihood. In its 2014 Employment Report, the Ministry of Finance Planning and Economic Development stated that agriculture is an important source of income for 42 percent of households and 26 percent rely on it exclusively.

For centuries, women have been employed in the informal sector of the economy. Although this has gradually changed in the developed countries, there are still challenging hurdles limiting  the integration of women into the formal Employment Sector.

The African Development Bank (ADB) in its 2015 African Gender Equality Index stipulates that African women hold 4 of every 10 jobs and earn on average only two-thirds the salary of their male counterparts. The number of single females working as household heads is also on the rise as a  result of women empowerment and human rights advocacy.

  This comes with disadvantages to women in the labour market.

According to the Uganda Labour Market Profile 2014, females as heads of households earn 28 percent lower than men. Women also still face cultural barriers associated with discriminatory divisions of labour in the patriarchal setting where men prefer women to stay home and perform community and reproductive roles. Women have limited ownership, control and access to resources for economic production. They have limited access to financial support because microfinance intuitions require collateral which women can sometimes access but have no control over.

Did you  know that some legislations and policies in some developing countries are gender insensitive? What about women who lack equal opportunities to be empowered?

All these barriers limit women from having equal opportunities in employment and business compared to men.

On the brighter side, with increased capacity building and empowerment, increased information access, and improved literacy levels in the recent decades, women are now highly grabbing the business and employment opportunities at their disposal.

The African Development Bank (ADB) contends that compared to the rest of the world, women in Africa are more actively engaged in economic affairs, own a third of all firms and, in some countries, make up 70 percent of employees. Most women are now highly engaged in almost all categories of employment whether self or non-self. In Uganda, they mainly engage in small-scale micro-enterprises because of their good entrepreneurship and financial management capacities. Hair dressing, catering services, hawking clothes are trending.

You might have noticed that one of the biggest entrepreneurship in Uganda today is mobile money services, of which the majority of operators are women. Food vending in markets and  road side businesses are another catchy option for them because these  require small amounts of venture capital.

Women’s engagement in small-scale entrepreneurship is not because it is their best choice but there are limited options. Their small businesses are hard to expand because of limited investment capital. What they have resorted to, in addition to civil society support, are their small grassroots movements (also known as Niginas) as self-financing models.

The businesses that were thought to be masculine in nature are now partly occupied by women too. Women are also into transport businesses such as taxi operations and badaboda cycling.

I am not acclaiming females as saviours of the economy but rather to recognise and appreciate the fact that the developing economies are dependent on them even when they are discriminated  against in the labour market.

The beauty with women compared to men is that they are better at exploiting resources they can own and access. They are good at financial management and are good multitaskers.

They are indeed better workers in any sector just as their male counterparts.

I encourage females to utilise opportunities they can possibly access.

The writer is a lecturer at the Faculty of Social Sciences

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