There exist numerous advocacy campaigns promoting gender equality and fairness to allow women to have equal opportunities in getting wage and salaried jobs. Following the recently celebrated International Women’s Day, we reflect on where the East African region stands with regard to the proportion of women in wage and salaried work, and the opportunities to explore in order to bridge the gap.

Also Read: In East Africa, Women Still Lag Behind in Labor Force Participation

Wage and salaried jobs provide a stable and reliable source of income hence, in most instances, they are dependable for the economic development of individuals and households. In this section, we compare the proportion of women in wage and salaried jobs, compared to women. Similar to the Labor Force Participation Rate, women make up the minority of wage and salaried workers in the region. It is notable that almost across all the countries in East Africa, the % of males in paid employment jobs almost doubles that of females. This is illustrated in the chart below.

Data Source: World Bank/World Development Indicators

Data released by LinkedIn reveals the fact that, globally, while women stand a higher chance of being employed by up to 16% compared to men, they are 16% less likely to apply for a job they are qualified for, despite them viewing the same number of jobs as men.[1] They are also less likely to ask for a referral for a job compared to men. This one of the factors that help explain the low percentage of women in salaried work. Instability in some countries, weak economies, retrogressive cultures that are pro-patriarchy and general lack of effective and progressive policies that ensure equal representation of women in the workplace are other underlying factors that discourage or hinder women from joining the wage and salaried workforce.

Also Read: More needs to be done to empower women!

To address these disparities, there is a need for further empowerment of females to ensure that they gain access to quality education, which puts them at a better place to compete for opportunities of employment. Additionally, there is a need for corporations and the government to establish policies that ensure women receive equal working opportunities, fair pay and opportunity for career growth, as men.


Every 8th of March, the world marks International Women’s Day. This is a day when women’s remarkable achievements are applauded. It is also an opportunity for women to champion for equality across all sectors of life.

This piece reflects on the role women play in economic, cultural and societal advancements, the challenges they still face in pursuit of economic justice and progress made so far.

History has chronicled women making significant progress across various spheres, including politics, science, and academia. For instance, Rwanda became the first country in the world to have a women-dominated parliament– 61.3% composition in the lower house.

A big shoutout to women such as Dr. Purity Ngina, who aged only 28 years, attained a Ph.D. in Bioinformatics from Strathmore University. There is also Dr. Chao Mbogo’s contribution to the technology world that has earned her global recognition, including being among the five African women who received the OSED-Elsevier Foundation 2020 Award in Engineering, Innovation, and Technology; Dr. Stella Nyanzi from Uganda is yet another great example of women from the region who are a motif of pride and inspiration for younger generations.

With women making up approximately half the population, they play a significant role in Africa’s development. They hold great potential in income-generating activities.

However, more than two decades since the women empowerment struggle gathered stream, their effective participation in the continent’s social and economic prosperity remains limited.

Women work and live in a world, culture, and system that is, unfortunately, patriarchal. Across the continent, more women than men are in informal employment compared to formal employment that is dominated by men. A recent analysis in 2015 by the Africa Development Bank of ratios of women in top positions in different African countries found that only approximately 12.7 % of women hold high-rank positions (board directors) in top companies.

Statistics show that women receive relatively lower wages compared to their male counterparts in the same fields. Payscale recorded that, for every dollar a man made in the US in 2019, a woman earned just 79 cents.
Women are unsung heroes of the African home. They are more likely to be engaged in unpaid care work or activities that yield lesser economic benefits than men. This is above responsibilities in households that are prescribed to them by African culture. The value of this work each year to the global economy is estimated to be at least $10.8 trillion – more than three times the size of the global tech industry.

Globally, a woman today will work the equivalent of four extra years in her lifetime compared to her male counterparts. This is, however, detrimental to their health as it increases physical and mental stress and reduces their productivity at work. The burden compared to the economic rewards point to disparities and unfairness against women.

In education, there continues to exist disparities between men and women that later translate to the economic sector. Women face challenges like the risk of adolescent births, early marriages and retrogressive cultural traditions (like FGM) that may affect their efforts to academic advancement. In Kenya for example, 16% of women lack basic literacy skills compared to only 9% of men according to a recent study by UNESCO. However, it is worth noting that efforts to close the gender gap in education has over the years borne many fruits. A good example is the gender parity index in secondary school enrollment in Kenya which stands at 0.95 (in 2016) up from 0.88 in 2012. This may be attributable to the government’s efforts to provide sanitary towels to girls in school to ensure that they are comfortable and can concentrate in class, as well as banishing harmful traditions like FGM and early marriages.

Another significant challenge to economic justice to women is poverty, which has always had a woman’s face attached to it. According to the 2015-16 Kenya Integrated Household and Budget Survey report, households headed by females in Kenya were more likely to be poorer than those headed by men. About 30.2% of female-headed households were poor compared to 26% of their male counterparts. Women’s economic empowerment could reduce poverty for everyone and ensure gender equality, which is one of the SDG goals.

Outside the workplace, progress towards equality and empowerment of women means viewing women as equals when it comes to ownership of property. African women have limited accessibility, ownership and control of land and natural resources. Most women are kept from inheriting property from their deceased kin, even in today’s digitally-woke generation. Implementation of these laws remains a challenge, denying women access and protection of their property. However, Rwanda and Tanzania are among the few African countries that are currently working towards securing at least 30% on land rights to their women by 2025. Additionally, women’s views and opinions should be incorporated when making decisions such as the purchase of property and other assets. Women also need to be consulted by their partners during the sale and purchase of land, and their names added to title deeds to assure their security of family assets.

Also Read: Reshaping the Health Narrative in Africa

Sexual and gender-based violence against women workers’, exploitation and abuse (in particular sex workers) remains rampant, despite efforts towards eradicating this vice. Violence against women is endemic, and most of them lack access to justice to address violations. According to the Uganda Demographic Household Survey of 2016, 13% of Ugandan women reported having experienced sexual violence. There have been positive efforts to reduce cases of Gender-Based Violence (GBV) in the region, as courts have actively taken up indicting the accused. However, women can use social media and the legal system to fight and advocate for justice and an end to GBV for their economic advancement.

For efforts to empower women to work, radical and progressive steps have to be taken by the entire society. This begins by acknowledging the patriarchal structure of society and eliminating existing structures that limit women from realizing their full potential and optimal participation in progressing society. Beyond granting women equal opportunities to men, according to their qualifications, there is a need to restructure workspaces and environments to accommodate the unique needs of women. Such things as extended paid maternity leave as those adopted by Safaricom and East African Breweries Limited, granting men adequate paternal leave to allow them to contribute to the parenting of their newly born baby by helping their partners, and period breaks or leaves, are great starting points.

Even as we mark International Women’s Day, it is important to acknowledge that there is still a lot to be done for women to fully realize their potential. Moving forward, society should work towards eliminating structures that are detrimental to the social and economic progress of women, and developing a new culture that enables them to thrive. It is only then that, on such a day, every woman in the world will have a reason to celebrate.

This article was co-authored by Clotilda Nalonja. Read Clotilda’s full bio on the ‘Meet Our Team’ Page.

Countries need healthy populations to develop. But for a long time, the African tale has been one of expectant mothers dying because they reside miles away from the nearest health facility. Stories of children dying even after they get to health facilities due to the unavailability of drugs or few medical professionals to attend to so many of them. Even those residing in urban centers – especially those living in informal settlements – still have it rough. Public health facilities are often overcrowded and poorly equipped with resources to cater to the growing demands for health services.

PHOTO | Association for Free Research and International Cooperation

Reaching these populations with health services by the year 2030 is one of the targets of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Among the goals is one that aims to eradicate malaria, tuberculosis, and AIDS, among other diseases. Another one targets ending child mortality. The magnitude of these ambitions calls for serious interventions and commitment from both political and industry leaders globally.

Of all the regions of the world, it is perhaps Sub-Saharan Africa where the pursuit of these ambitions should be most fervent. Alongside the mega infrastructure projects, health should be among top priorities considering the poor performance in many global health indicators.

Africa, home to 16% of the global population, bears 23% of the global disease burden according to the Global Health Data Exchange. A staggering 68% of HIV/AIDs victims being from Africa. These grim statistics depict the urgency and seriousness with which African governments and players in the health sector need to address the growing health gaps.

An Underfunded health sector in Africa

Yet the region continues to invest dismally in its health. In 2015, Africa’s expenditure on health accounted for just 1% of the total global expenditure (Compared to 10% for the rest of the world) in per capita terms. This means that, for African countries to at least measure up to the rest of the world, investment in the health sector has to increase tenfold. Targets will go even higher, considering that the world needs an excess of $370 billion to attain the health SDG targets.

Realization of the prevailing health crisis and the need to achieve Universal Health Care in Africa happened years ago resulting in the Abuja Declaration (2001). African governments committed to spending at least 15% of their annual national budgets on improving the health sector. Close to two decades later, only a handful of countries have achieved this target – Rwanda, Burkina Faso, Niger, Zambia, Botswana, and Malawi. To be more vivid, in more than 60% of the countries in Africa, the proportion of the health budget to the national budget falls below 10%. Kenya’s health budget, for instance, has averaged only about 8.5% of the national budget over the last five financial years.

This points to under prioritization of the health sector in Sub-Sahara African counties and an indictment on the focus and priorities of African leaders.

Out of Pocket Expenditures and Donor Funding

While the growth in GDP of most African countries has resulted in increased health budgets over the years, out-of-pocket expenditures and donor funding continue to account for the bigger portion of health expenditure in Sub Saharan Africa. Governments contribute only 44% of health expenditures in the region. Out-of-pocket expenditure account for 37% with donors covering the remaining 19%.

This spending weighs heavily on the pockets of Africans, considering Africa’s high poverty index (41%). A significant proportion of the African population – up to 38% - either delay or forgo getting health care services due to their unaffordability. The under-equipment of health facilities in the region makes things worse. Donor funding also remains limited, intermittent and increasingly delivered based on economic development priorities of donor countries rather than established needs in recipient countries.

Reshaping the narrative

To achieve universal healthcare coverage, Africa needs to significantly increase spending on health care service delivery beyond the 15% commitment made during the Abuja declaration. Beyond that, all the stakeholders in Africa’s health sector need to find localized solutions to address the unique needs of particular regions.

The beautiful thing is that the process has already started. Rwanda, for instance, has been implementing the use of drones for the delivery of medical supplies. Since its inception in 2016, the project has undergone changes and improvements for increased efficiency. Ghana is also replicating this technology.

PHOTO | Daily Maverick

In Kenya, Camel Clinics are used to make medical care accessible to Samburu – a significantly underdeveloped area. In Turkana, motorbike ambulances have brought hope for residents. They make it possible for health personnel to access people in the remotest corners of this underdeveloped county. The same concept is being implemented in Tana River County and rural areas in western Uganda.

In Malawi, e-innovation healthcare service delivery has proved effective in ensuring people in rural areas access medical services. They only need a mobile phone that can send and receive messages. Through it, they get reminders when to take their medication or connect to health care providers.

Also Read: Out of school, out of jobs: The puzzle of youth unemployment!

These localized solutions help address the dynamic and unique healthcare needs of the African population. If scaled up, they will help improve accessibility and efficiency in Africa’s health care system.

Africa governments must now rise to the occasion and be at the forefront in enhancing these solutions by putting the money where it is needed most. That translates to re-evaluating the region’s health financing strategy and increasing health sector funding. Beyond prioritizing health care and having an effective health financing strategy, stringent measures should be put in place to ensure the effective utilization of resources channeled to the health sector.

The continent’s health sector lags far compared to the standards set by the rest of the world. Moving forward, beyond measuring up to other continents, Africa needs to be bold and committed to attaining the best possible health standards. It is only through that path that it will be able to reshape its health narrative and be better prepared to handle the ever-growing demand for quality health services in the region.