OPINIONPeople Daily

Close gender gap in industries to spur economy

Flora Mutahi

Presently, there are 145,000 millionaires in Africa, with a combined wealth of $800 billion, according to the Africa Wealth Report released this month. The report also indicates that there will be 36 per cent more millionaires by the year 2020.

Africa’s Pulse, a biannual report by the World Bank has indicated that the sub-Saharan Africa’s economy is rebounding well. Several other reports have talked about Africa’s seemingly upward trajectory in economic growth, citing various sectors that need quick reforms to secure the said growth.

Yet the trickle-down effects of this positivity cannot be felt by a majority of the people. In fact, the number of people living in extreme poverty has significantly increased over the years.

One proven way to develop strong economies and reduce poverty throughout history has been through industrialisation. In Africa, the manufacturing sector in many countries has at best grown only marginally compared to other sectors and the share of contribution to the gross domestic product is unimpressive.

It is through labour-intensive industries, however, that we can be assured of providing sustainable jobs that bring about equity and equality. Without such, the disparities will continue to lurk behind every leap we make.

As we make our cities attractive for more investments, we must ensure the economic models we develop, henceforth, will be sufficient to tag everyone along for the sake of sustainability. Such models cannot be developed using the business-as-usual school of thought that has brought us to where we are. We need to re-strategise, rethink and reposition.

The Human Development Index has stated that every African country has dipped in equality since 2010. Ironically, the said years have seen proclamations of inclusivity and equity embedded into political manifestos and corporate visions. The intent to be inclusive is one thing, but we need to mine existing research, data, and trends to make inclusivity more impactful.

For instance, I believe that a lot of the methods employed for inclusivity so far, have subconsciously pigeon-holed women’s contribution and labour into roles, sectors and employment levels that have always been thought to be feminine.

Hence, you will find that workplaces, for example, will try to be inclusive by hiring more women who are kitchen staff, front desk attendants and assistants, among other low-cadre positions.

The representation of women thin as you go towards the top.  While this provides jobs for many, is it yielding the trickle-down effect that we would like to see? Absolutely not.

Similarly, for start-ups, small companies or cottage industries there exists an implicit bias in the sectors, business ideas, expansion plans backed by most financial institutions, business advisors and investment partners. Ultimately, driving women participation in some sectors and yet exceedingly denying them opportunities in other sectors that could use their contribution even more.

A quick look at the manufacturing sector, for example, will reveal that between now and 2030, approximately 85 million jobs will migrate out of China, and African countries can position themselves to absorb them according to the Brookings Institution.

Add to this the fact that human capital and talent development has been cited among three  critical factors that will shape the future of competition in industry between countries. The irony is in many African countries, industry is currently facing a skills gap, compromising productivity.

All the while women are ushered and cramped into “familiar” and “feminine” sectors which have undoubtedly become incapable of tapping into their productivity towards economic growth. Isn’t this the opportune time to bring women into manufacturing to take advantage of the global tidings coming our way? – Writer is Kenya Association of Manufacturers chairperson— [email protected]

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