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.

Finland took over global news towards the end of 2019 with the election of its youngest-ever prime minister. Not only is Sanna Marin, the PM-elect, a young woman, she is also backed by a cabinet that majorly comprises young women – most under 40 years of age! A breath of fresh air, don’t you agree?

This is just one of the many examples of women globally, who have risen to highest echelons of leadership in both political and corporate spaces. The Finnish cabinet is a perfect depiction of the power and leadership capabilities that women have. A lot has been done over the past decade towards women empowerment – from equity in distribution of resources to equality in access to opportunities. This has greatly contributed to the rising number of women in leadership. A lot more remains to be done, with gender equality designated as one of the Sustainable Development Goals that the world is gunning for by the year 2030.

Left to right: Finland's Minister of Education Li Andersson, 32; Minister of Finance Katri Kulmuni, 32; Prime Minister Sanna Marin, 34; and Interior Minister Maria Ohisal, 34 Source: VESA MOILANEN/LEHTIKUVA/AFP/GETTY IMAGES

Left to right: Finland's Minister of Education Li Andersson, 32; Minister of Finance Katri Kulmuni, 32; Prime Minister Sanna Marin, 34; and Interior Minister Maria Ohisal, 34

In Africa, women have risen through ladders of political leadership to become heads of states. These women have defied cultural biases in Africa’s majorly patriarchal culture to lead their countries. Liberia’s Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, the first female head of state in Africa and who received a Nobel Peace Prize in 2011 for her efforts in furthering women’s rights is yet another great example of a female African leader. She served for two consecutive terms, battling crises of youth unemployment, ballooning national debt, Ebola scourge, security threats and promoting rights of women. Other great examples include Joyce Banda of Malawi, Ameenah Gurib of Mauritius and Sahle-Work Zewde - who was unanimously appointed President by Ethiopia’s parliament just recently. Saara Amadhila, the current Prime Minister of Namibia served as the minister of finance and is best remembered for minimizing government spending and leading the country in first budget surplus case.

Women’s participation in political leadership is not just at the helm, though. At the moment, half of Ethiopia’s cabinet is comprised of women. In Rwanda’s parliament, women take up 61.1% of the seats.

These are just but a few examples of phenomenal women that have led Africa in different capacities. However, will it be fair to talk about current women in leadership without mentioning those who went before them? There is the late Nobel Peace Prize laureate, Prof. Wangari Mathai who stood up for peace and sustainable development, even when it meant risking her life. The late Winnie Mandela who stood in place for her incarcerated husband and led the anti-apartheid movement in South Africa. Graca Machel Mandela, who was among freedom fighters in Mozambique and a benevolent humanitarian, has continued to gracefully serve Mozambique, South Africa, Africa and the rest of the world especially in advocating for rights of women and children. It is clear that whether in power or in supporting roles, women have contributed immensely towards the leadership of Africa.

But does Africa trust women to lead?

In Kenya, for example, affirmative action to promote women representation in public offices is yet to be fully operationalized, with institutions such as the National Assembly failing to implement the two-thirds gender rule in the Constitution. There have been cases of public institutions appointing an all-men board, which begs the question of whether there is a shortage of qualified women to take up some of these positions. Currently, Kenya has six female cabinet secretaries (who, by the way, are excelling at their roles) out of the 21 slots. This goes a long way to show just how deep patriarchy is entrenched in Kenya. Whilst there are programs aimed at empowering women to take on leadership and become financially and socially independent, women are still marginalized. Of what benefit are these programs if the empowered women do not get equal opportunities to exercise their leadership skills?

Perhaps it is worth also reviewing the performance of some of the Africa women that have assumed significant leadership positions and how this has impacted attitudes of Africans towards women leadership.

Left to right: Joyce Banda and Ellen Johnson Sirleaf

Left to right: Joyce Banda and Ellen Johnson Sirleaf
Source: UN Photo/Paulo Filgueiras and DON EMMERT/AFP

It is interesting to note that just like their male counterparts, some of the African women who have risen to leadership positions have been subject to a fair share of criticism. For example, while her Excellency Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, did a tremendous job in peacefully leading Liberia after years of horrific civil war, many women have expressed their disappointment in her lack of effort to actively promote women's participation in politics. Consequently, many bills touching on the welfare of women in her country did not receive the much attention and seriousness they ought to have. Mrs. Sirleaf also continues to face allegations of nepotism which include the appointment of her three sons to top government posts as well as corruption scandals that tainted her legacy. On the other hand, Joyce Banda who served both as the first female vice-president and later president of Malawi faced serious corruption allegations including the infamous ‘Cashgate Scandal’ as well as misuse of money she acquired from selling the presidential jet during her tenure.

Nonetheless, the verdict of UN Women is that no single country can claim to have attained gender equality. This calls for a paradigm shift. There is a need to embrace women as equal leaders. As we start a new decade, we need to change tact. Just as we have focused on empowering women, let us learn from Finland and Rwanda and Ethiopia, and other countries that are making progress on this front. Let us ensure that women have equal space on the decision-making table!

‘As Africa’s first woman president, I believe our future leaders must be female’ – Ellen Johnson Sirleaf (First female president of Liberia 2006-2018)