Five ways to be bold for change this International Women's Day

In 2015, my family and I made the decision to leave Geneva and relocate to Johannesburg so I could pursue a new professional challenge. My wife quit her job and, with our young children, came with me to Johannesburg, and then, a year later, they went with me to Accra, where we are currently based.  Since these decisions, I have been questioning my own commitment to women’s economic empowerment. A qualified Chartered Accountant, CA (SA), my wife put her professional life on hold to allow me to pursue my dream to contribute to Africa’s transformation while maintaining a balanced family life with two toddlers. We think we made the right decision for the family for the time being. However, as a women she is losing out on opportunities for her long-term career and her contribution to Africa’s economic transformation as she is out of the workforce.

Data shows that societies who reap the benefits of more than half of their workforce have steamed away from the rest. Thus, women’s economic empowerment is critical to the transformation of the African continent. It’s not that most African women aren’t working — they hold 66 percent of all jobs in the non-agricultural informal sector. But in order to attain the level that is required to claim their share of Africa’s transformation and to have a big impact on the continent, they cannot continue to only make 70 cents for each dollar made by men. Nor can they be missing from leadership positions; in private companies, for instance, only between 7 and 30 percent of all private firms have a female manager. They also cannot disproportionately bear the responsibility of family and home care, especially when they also work outside the home. 

This year on International Women’s Day, we are asked to #BeBoldForChange. These are five ways that African countries can Be Bold when it comes to women’s economic empowerment and the transformation of the African continent. 

First, we need to collect data systematically from birth and through our lifecycle to help us understand who we are, how many we are and what we do. Better data informs better policies to resolve the inequity and inequality equation. A fundamental pillar to implement changes ensuring that women and men contribute their fair share in all spheres of society. 

Second, men must be empowered as equal family caretakers and in doing household chores, otherwise women will always be doing a double shift of work. Employers must help make this possible. Employees of the Gates Foundation enjoy one year parental leave in the first year of the child’s life, for instance. Even though policies outline this possibility in a number of countries, the financial and societal affordability has not been priced correctly.  We have an individual and collective responsibility to engage our employers on the impact of existing policies that do not favor the slogan that calls for a bold change. 

Third, we need policies that ensure equal pay for equal work and allow methods for women to advance into higher positions of leadership within companies and organizations. The current African Union Commission has gender parity with 4 out 8 Commissioners being women. It is a laudable example for other entities to follow. 

Fourth, we need to work with governments across Africa on the issue related to spousal employment with respect to job mobility. In many countries across the continent, I have seen personally and heard from friends that qualified spouses often face the challenge of laws that restrict their capabilities, justifiably, in the context of high unemployment. We need a real African conversation on this topic to be sure we can take full advantage of African skills across the continent. 

Finally, we also need to look at our situation at an individual level — which in some ways may be the most challenging — and think about how to empower women in our own homes. For my part, my family has settled into life in Ghana, but my wife is not able to make the professional contributions she wishes yet. I hope that in the future, there will be an opportunity for me to support her in her career the way she has supported me in mine. But for now I do worry about what can I tell my daughter and my son about the professional choices that we made which are limiting their mother’s contribution to her own career. While I search to find the answer, I realize how far we have to go toward women’s equality in Africa, and the world, and will commit to doing what I can to #BeBoldForChange.

Carl Manlan is an economist and the COO of the Ecobank Foundation. He is a 2016 Aspen New Voices Fellow and writes in his personal capacity.

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