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.


With the world rallying behind the #EachforEqual campaign during the International Women’s Day, 2020, we reflect on the contribution of women in East Africa to the region’s labor market, and how to address the existing challenges that limit their participation in the region’s labor force.

Also Read: The Gender Imbalance in East Africa’s Wage and Salaried Workforce

Female Labor Force participation is crucial for the attainment of the economic development objectives of the East African region. However, it is notable that despite the population of males and females being relatively equal in the region, female participation in the labor force compared to males is relatively low as illustrated in the figure below. This points to the existence of various underlying factors that limit the accessibility and contribution of women in the region's labor force.

Data Source: World Bank/World Development Indicators

While there are many other factors that limit female participation in the region’s economy, their level of education, fertility rate and social norms and traditions are the main contextual issues that limit their participation in economic development. These factors, notwithstanding, women spend more hours in a day – up to 6 hours – on unpaid care work. If taken into account, women work up to 2.6 extra hours compared to men if the paid and unpaid work are summed.

This points to a need for the establishment of laws and policies that protect the interests of women and levels the playing field for women to get more opportunities in the labor force and for the overall pursuit of economic justice. These structural and policy reforms should aim to address the challenges females face and to maximize their economic potential. Given the importance of unpaid care, it is important for men to take up an active role in supporting women with care work.

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

Such works are closely related to the wellbeing and economic output of those in the active labor force. Additionally, there is a need to factor in unpaid care work in calculating economic output measures such as GDP, given it affects other market factors like the health of the workforce, security, and stability. The private sector and the public should, also, be sensitized to recognize the importance of unpaid care work. Corporates should acknowledge the role women play in unpaid care work and adopt responsive policies and labor and time-saving technologies to improve women’s participation in the region’s labor force.

12.01.2020: A 24-year old walks out of one of the departmental offices at Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture Technology.

A smile is on her face and a brown envelope in her hand - her life’s work. She has toiled for about 20 years for this. Education is the key to success, her teachers said, and her parents echoed. Finally, she is holding the key - a Bachelor’s degree in Biostatistics. The only thing left now is to open the door to success; get a good job with good pay. Well, she has got the key, how hard can it be?

Unfortunately, she is not the only one. About 800,000 young people enter the Kenyan labor market each year. Therefore, the answer to her question is: “It is hard.”

It is not hard because job hunting is a daunting task – though it actually is, in real life. It is hard because of rampant unemployment in Kenya, which means many people in need of jobs cannot find them.


According to the United Nation’s Common Country Assessment Report, the rate of unemployment in Kenya stood at around 40% in 2018.  More startling, however, is the proportion of unemployed youths: about 80% of the unemployed population are youths. For every 10 jobless Kenyans, 8 of them are youths, aged between 15-34 years of age. They are not unemployed because they are lazy, an argument put forth so many times, but due to the scarcity of jobs.

The World Bank estimates that the Kenyan economy registered substantive growth between 2003 and 2014 with average GDP growth rates of 2.5 percent every year. Besides, employment rates also increased by 4.5 percent each year between the years 2006 and 2013. However, a report by SAMUEL HALL and the British Council on Youth Unemployment in Kenya, 2017, shows that the rate of youth unemployment has been increasing at a rate of 42 percent since the year 2000. This is a clear indication that the economy has not been creating enough jobs to absorb young people joining the labor market every year. Despite increased rates of unemployment, over 7,000 workers had been sacked in a wave of massive layoffs by the end of 2019.


More petrifying being the misery that comes with unemployment. Do you remember the story of Rebecca - the 20-year-old woman who had lost her job, got kicked out of her home, had no money and ended up giving birth unassisted in Uhuru Park?

What about Alfred Kibet Kirui? The university graduate who posted on Facebook, threatening to commit suicide owing to his job-hunting efforts not bearing any fruits. There is also the story of the young man, tired of unsuccessful job hunting, decided to hold a placard near State House, begging the President to help him join the Kenya Defense Forces. These anecdotes of agony caused by unemployment are unending, to say the least. We have had numerous cases of suicide attempts, increased criminal activity, and prostitution - all because of unemployment.

Youth unemployment in Kenya is, to put it simply, a disaster. It has been for years now. It is so bad, Antony Aluoch, a Kenyan legislator, wanted it declared a national disaster! Well, isn’t it about time?

Even some of those with jobs find themselves in professions they have not been trained in. A nation's economy flourishes when individuals work in a market that matches their skills. This phenomenon of job mismatch results in massive underemployment, hence wastage of abilities considering the investment towards education.

Also read: Is Africa Really Ready for Women Leadership?

In the wake of this massive job crisis, the Kenyan government set out to address the issue through a number of initiatives. One of them was the Ajira Digital Programme that sought to equip youth, especially university students, with online work skills from which they can earn a living. There is also the National Youth Service that recruits and trains youth in various fields, including paramilitary, engineering, fashion, and design, to name but a few. The government has also launched a myriad of programs to curb unemployment by encouraging youth to embrace online self-employment.

However, the effectiveness of these initiatives is a point of concern to many people seeing that unemployment remains an issue. The other unanswered question is: whether the government is doing enough to create jobs for youth. Training the youth in various fields, equipping them with the necessary skills and encouraging them to embrace self-employment is important and necessary, but what happens after that?