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More and more women in Sub-Saharan Africa (SSA) are joining non-agricultural wage employment in spite of the fact that the majority of them remain in vulnerable employment. According to the International Labour Organization, the percentage share of women employed by agriculture decreased by 4.8 percent between 2000 and 2013.

However, it increased by 4.2 percent and 0.5 percent for services and manufacturing respectively. This trend is vivid in countries such as Uganda. According to the Uganda Bureau of Statistics (2006, 2013), the percentage share of women employed by agriculture declined by 6.7 percent but it improved by 4.6 percent and 2.1 percent in the services and manufacturing respectively, between 2006 and 2010.This means that women are moving from agriculture related employment to non-agricultural wage employment.

Additionally, the movement out of agricultural employment implies that an increasing share of women in SSA can attain higher incomes. It also implies that more and more women can contribute to their households, economic growth, and development.

Low women participation in decision making
In spite these gains, advancement of women in decision making in private business of Africa remains low. According to the International Labour Organisation, the share of women in top management within Sub Saharan Africa is 26 percent. In Uganda, it is at 15.3 percent, according to analyses from the World Bank Surveys. Yet including women in decision-making is critical to economic development. Studies have shown that greater participation in managerial positions contributes to firm performance.

For instance in North America, Europe, and Australia, companies with more women on boards have greater financial performance. According to Mckinsey and Company (2007), such companies outperform those with few women in managerial positions in terms of equity and a return on sales. There is even evidence in Sub Saharan Africa suggesting that female managed firms of the service sector positively influence growth in employment than male-led firms, as seen in Malawi. This suggests that in spite of the benefits women bring to development, their involvement in decision-making spheres of the private sector remains a neglected issue.

This issue remains neglected despite the fact that it is a globally embraced development agenda. Many in the development practitioners including policy makers have come to recognize that men and women have different talents which when pooled together have various impacts on economic development. As such, the issue is a priority in many global, regional, and national policy documents. The Sustainable Development goal five, target 5 commits to ensuring women’s equal and full participation at all levels of decision-making.

The African Gender Policy of 2007 is introducing and hastening gender in institutions, legal spheres and decision-making at all levels. Uganda’s second national development plan (2015/15-2016/20) is committed to ensuring that women attain full and effective participation for leadership in the private sector. Despite all this, there is very little to ground in terms of programs geared to increased female participation in private sector decision making to convince us that this issue is of paramount importance.

While there is a myriad of evidence pointing to the barriers and enhancers to women’s advancement into decision-making spheres of the privates sector in the developed world, evidence suggesting so for Sub Saharan Africa remains deficient.

Limited evidence on impediments to women’s participation in decision making in SSA
In developed countries, the main obstacles include gender stereotypes, corporate cultures, and organizational characteristics, difficulties in balancing work and family as well as subtle forms of gender biases, which exist in education and the work place. While all these obstacles could explain the situation in SSA, there is very little evidence to suggest so. Besides each of the 47 sub Saharan African countries may have unique obstacles and enhancers to women’s advancement into decision-making spheres of the private sector.

For instance in Uganda, a study by the Economic Policy Research Center (2016) suggests that the firm age and the presence of a female mentor such as a female director or female CEO encourages women to advance into managerial positions. Similarly, industrial sectors of garments, textiles, retail, machinery and equipment and chemicals inspire firms to hire a female manager. On the other hand, business environment obstacles of corruption and challenges related to tax administration, trade and custom procedures discourage women from ascending to managerial positions. The findings suggest for various policy implications

First, the findings present an opportunity to expand the sectors that appeal to women managers. However, this requires addressing challenges faced especially as they affect female managerial representation therein. Second, supporting firms owned by women whether in form of startups or expansion of the existing is likely to promote more women in the decision-making arena of the private sector. Third, government ought to strengthen efforts in curbing corruption and to educate women about the various customs controls and tax administration procedures.

While this study may improve policy actions towards increasing women’s decision-making representation in the private sector of Uganda, it presents the need for similar studies for the rest of Africa. Such studies will help build a case for all women aspiring to be managers, as they draw out determinants unique to SSA. In addition, if these investigate pathways through which women in managerial positions impact on development, better policy actions for SSA can be attained to simulate more women in private sector decision-making spheres.

By Miriam Katunze, Research Analyst, Trade and Regional Integration Department at Economic Policy Research Centre.

The blog was first published on March 2, 2016 by News 24 Africa: