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.

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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.

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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.