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Insights into Gender Equity, Equality and Power Relations in Sub-Saharan Africa

Insights into Gender Equity, Equality and Power Relations in Sub-Saharan Africa

Author: -
Year: 2013
Table Of Contents:
Editors:Mansah Prah

Part One Power and Participation, Governance and Gender Mainstreaming

Chapter 1: Constitutionalising Gender Rights and the Politics of Inclusion in Kenya since 1962 by Peter Wafula Wekesa

Chapter 2: Gender, Governance and Participatory Development in Uganda: Lessons for the Local Government by Esuruku Robert Senath   

Chapter 3: Women's Political Participation in Uganda: A Case Study of Mbarara Municipality by Juliet Ntawubona

Chapter 4: Achievements and Challenges of Gender Mainstreaming in Leadership and Decision-making at Federal Level in Ethiopia by Deribe Assefa, Hibret Nigussie," and Terefe Zeleke

Chapter 5: Re-arranging the Patriarchal Value System through Women's Empowerment: An Experience from Tanzania by Judith Namabira and Adalbertus Kamanzi

Part Two Economic Empowerment, Gender Equality and Climate Change

Chapter 6: Is Money a Magic Bullet for Empowerment? The Impact of Market-Oriented Dairying on the Socio-Economic Position of Women Farmers in Ethiopia by Birhanu Megersa

Chapter 7: Education and Female Labour Market Participation in Uganda: Micro-evidence by Faisal Buyinaza and Hanifa Nakiroya

Chapter 8: Gender Inequality and Climate Change Vulnerability: Evidence from the Choke Mountains, Ethiopia by Tefferi Ghebraye and Yalemzewd Molla

Part Three Gender Differentiation in Various Aspects of Life: Sexuality, Reproductive Health, Education, Access to Technology, and Gender Ideologies

Chapter 9: Gender Dilemmas: Challenges of Sex Socialisation of Adolescents in Akamba Families of Machakos District, Kenya by Felix N. Kioli

Chapter 10: Female Genital Mutilation: An African Custom or a Human Rights Violation? by Karen Anne Hollely

Chapter 11: Gender-Related Violence and the Susceptibility of Young People to HIV/AIDS in Central Malawi: Options for Public Health Policy Interventions by Amon Kabuli, M. Phiri and Grace Nthembi Thadzi

Chapter 12: Gender Inequality in Household Labour: Implications for Demand for Maternal Healthcare in Uganda by Viola Nilah Nyakato

Chapter 13: The Linkage between Rural Women's Status and Child Nutrition: A Case Study of Meskan District in Ethiopia by Mesfin Getaneh

Chapter 14: Women's Responsiveness towards Medical Insurance in Rural Rwanda: The Case of "Mutuelle De Sante" by Dorothy Tukahabwa, Alfred Otara, Robert Sengarama and Ali Kaleeba

Chapter 15: The Use of Communication Technologies by Rural Women Entrepreneurs in the Western Region of Zimbabwe by Sibongile Mpofu

Chapter 16: ICT and Social Context: Exploring How Gender Mediates ICT Uptake and Usage in Ethiopia by Woldekidan Kifle

Chapter 17: The Difficult Pathways of Mothering and Schooling in Rural Kenya by Fibian Kavulani Lukalo

Chapter 18: Stereotypical Conceptions of Gender in Lesotho Schools by Pholoho Morojele




Mansah Prah

Since gender entered the development discourse in the Seventies, African countries have increasingly taken the concept on board in policy and practice. As Anyidoho and Manuh (2010) indicate in their analysis of the discourse of women' s rights and empowerment in selected Ghanaian institutions, the concern with gender may be due to either one or a combination of the following factors: the ideological positioning of African countries, demands by their donors and development partners, and demands by organised local groups and NGOs.

Gender in the development discourse ought to transform power relations between men and women and shift them to social relations that reflect their equal access to productive resources, opportunities, and social and material benefits. The result of such actions should be an achievement of comparable status of women and men. Gender equality must be underscored by actions that seek to even out imbalances based on the principle of fairness (equity). Ideologies and attitudes that perpetuate gender inequality should shift in the process. It has been said that there can be no gender equality without gender equity. Depending on the reasons behind the state's acceptance and its operationalisat ion of the gender discourses in development, as well as the balance of power and the political will to initiate change, gender inequalities might shift or stagnate. Gender equality is enshrined in many African constitutions and countries such as South Africa, Uganda, Rwanda, Ghana, Sierra Leone, Ethiopia, Tanzania, Nigeria and Kenya but the extent to which the constitutional provisions are adhered to varies'. After at least thirty years since the uptake of gender in development and poverty reduction agendas, some progress has been made in sub-Saharan Africa.

In the buildup of media reports leading to the celebration of International Women's Day on 8th March 2012, an article that was published in the UK newspaper The Independent caught my attention2. It was titled "Revealed: The best and worst places to be a woman." Curious to find out whether African countries were featured in the list, I quickly downloaded the article. Sarah Morrison (2012), the writer, began by stating that according to the World Economic Forum, eighty-five percent of countries have improved conditions for women over the past six years, but in economic and political terms there is still a long way to go.

"From London to Lahore," she wrote, citing Oxfam, "inequality between men and women persists." So, which African countries were listed, and for what reasons?
•    The best place to be a politician worldwide (my emphasis) was Rwanda, which is the only nation in which females make up the majority of parliamentarians, with women holding 45 out of 80 seats. For comparative purposes, Morrison cites the UK which comes in at 45th place, behind Pakistan and the United Arab Emirates.
•    The best place for labour force participation was Burundi, which is the only country where the female labour force participation rate (92 percent) is higher than that of men (88 percent), In comparison, the UK is ranked 47th. The worst country is Pakistan, where the labour force is made up of four times as many men as women.
•    The worst place to go to university is Chad, where three times as many men are enrolled as women. Qatar was cited as the best place for women to attend university, with six women enrolled in tertiary education for every man. But Morrison posed the question as to whether the investment in education has led to the integration of women into the economy'.
•    The final African country listed was Lesotho, where female life expectancy is the shortest (48), but it is only two years less than men's. In comparison, women in Japan can expect to live to 87 years, seven years longer than Japanese men. Life expectancy in the UK has reached its highest recorded level for men (78) and women (82). It has the smallest gender gap, four years, of any country in the EU.

Notwithstanding the fact that the tiled figures do not necessarily originate from academic work, the point rernaips that although Af4ican countries have made progress in the area of bridging gender gaps and working towards gender equality, serious imbalances remain in gender equity, equality and power relations between men and women. The expected transformations of a change in gender stereotypes and patriarchal attitudes, power relations, institutional structures and the division of labour in and outside the home have not occurred to make a significant difference in gender issues in almost all sub-Saharan African countries.

The chapters that constitute this volume initiated by OSSREA seek to examine in more depth, issues regarding the gender power imbalance in sub-Saharan African countries, with a specific focus on the Eastern and Southern African regions. They represent research that examines and analyses the effectiveness and efficiency of gender mainstreaming policies, strategies and projects developed and implemented by national and international actors.

Often presented and understood as neutral constructs, policies are created and implemented by actors who hold power and represent a variety of interests (Wedel et al. 2005). They occur within specific social and cultural contexts and, in their function in promoting efficiency or effectiveness are deeply political. Shore and Wright (1997) cited in Wedel et al. 2005, state that a key feature of modern power is the masking of the political under Ilse cloak of neutrality. Although the chapters in this volume do not necessarily deconstruct the policies they examine, it will be useful to approach them bearing in mind the politics of policy with its national, continental and international interconnections.

The themes handled in the chapters in the volume interweave with each other although they address gender issues in specific countries and specific contexts. This can be explained by the shared colonial and post-colonial heritage of African countries. It is useful, therefore, to view the structure of the book as a spiral of interconnected issues that address similar themes, approaching them from different levels.

Purely for ease of reading, the contributions have been organised into three parts, with overarching themes that at first glance may seem not to fit well together. A theme that runs through all the chapters is the persistence of patriarchal values and attitudes in Africa and its constraining effect on the achievement of gender equity and equality.

A closer examination of this theme is desirable since it appears to be directly linked with other issues key to the contents of this book such as poverty, the rural-urban divide in terms of development, and gender inequalities at the macro level, as in governance and decision-making at the top, and at the micro-level in households. All the chapters in Part •I attest to challenges of equality and equity at the macro level of governance.

Tefferi Ghebraye and Yalemzewd Molla in chapter 8 demonstrate that there is a link between gender inequality in households and vulnerability to climate change, as well as the uptake of maternal health services (Nyakato in chapter 13).

An 'old' concept conceived in the 1960s and 70s, well discussed and debated, and now considered as a theory that has fallen into disuse (Kirton 2006), the concept of patriarchy rears its head in research conducted in the 2000s. It appears not in its old form, but is used adjectivally, which according to Kirton (2006) is the manner in which it tends to he used in more current times. Patriarchal values continue to play a role in the perpetuation of gender inequalities, as the research in this volume demonstrates. From the various theoretical discussions (Pollert 1996, Walby 1990, 1997, Kandiyoti 1998) we know that patriarchy is complex, dynamic, hierarchical and not monolithic. It intersects with gender, class, race and ethnicity, can be contradictory, and does not 'denote a simple pattern of power (of men over women). Like gender itself, it is relational, and differing social groupings of women (and men) interrogate and negotiate it constantly. Thus in her work, Kandiyoti points out that in different forms of patriarchal systems women are presented with distinct 'rules of the game' and utilise different strategies in dealing with male dominance, which she called 'bargaining' (Kandiyoti 1988).

The agency of the dominated is an important factor to consider in unpacking gender inequalities. How do women and men negotiate the so-called "cultural consent" –the norms, attitudes and values that are constantly constructed, re-constructed and re-enacted in daily life and politics? Does gender in development endeavours of African countries act as a mere legitimising performance indicator or is there more to it? What is the nature of the pressure on African governments at the international, macro level to conform to now global conventions and ways of constructing politics to appear to be gender-sensitive? How does this pressure play out on the local level, and does the outcome of these dynamics affect political will to effect and actually implement gender-friendly policies? Chapter 4 discusses the challenges of gender mainstreaming at the federal level of administration in Ethiopia, identifying lack of capacity building as one of the problems. How far do the problems link with political will, genuine lack of know-how, or perhaps a difficulty in implementing a technically complicated concept?

Another theme that runs through the volume is the gap between rural and urban areas and the implication that women in rural areas live in more precarious situations than the in urban areas. The works of several scholars suggest that the condition of this disempowered rural woman is largely a consequence of the power imbalances between state and society, and between men and women; and their arguments are theoretically and empirically convincing (Aubrey 1997; Nzomo 1997, Manuh 1993; Tsikata 1989). It is important, however, also to bear in mind the concept of agency as an interacting factor, and rather than taking the viewpoint of 'woman as - a – victim', interrogate the issues by seeking to unpack how women in rural areas survive, and what their own perspectives on development are.

As Afonja (2005) has argued, "research must continue to focus on local women's definition of their realities and what autonomy really means to them". This approach has to some extent been taken up in this volume, with several authors adopting qualitative research methodologies that make the voices of respondents heard.

Part 1 deals with issues regarding governance, institutionalising women's rights in constitutions, and participation of women in decision-making processes as well as the successes and challenges of gender mainstreaming. Peter Wagula Wekesa's chapter, which sets the tone of Part 1, traces the trajectory of constitutional reform and the handling of gender rights in Kenya since 1962. He outlines how from the beginning women were marginalised and excluded from decision-making institutions in the country. Sections of the current constitution which seek to safeguard women's rights could be in danger of being contested, due to patriarchal social attitudes towards women, and he argues for all social groups and stakeholders to work together to institutionalise women's rights in the constitution. Wekesa's concerns about the persistence of patriarchal attitudes and the need for building constructive partnerships among actors in gender are echoed strongly in chapter 2, in which Esuruku Robert Senath addresses the question of gender inequalities in local governance in Uganda. He argues that the achievement of gender equality is not the sole responsibility of marginalised women and their agents and stresses the need for political leaders at both local and central governments to be engaged as defenders of gender equality and women's empowerment. Juliet Ntawubona in the next chapter, which also examines women's political participation in Uganda, finds that women's low participation in political activities is due to a number of factors such as lack of support from other women due to negative attitudes about women leaders, but women do not go into politics due to male dominance and cultures which do not encourage their participation in politics. A novel finding in Ntawubona's chapter is the fact that women actually do not lack an interest in politics per se; they are active voters, for example. She found that women who are government workers fear to enter politics because they may not be able to return to their jobs afterwards, and she argues that lack of control over resources is an important factor that militates against their political participation.

Using the Ethiopian state's attempts at gender mainstreaming as their point of departure, Tefere Zeleke Abebe, Hibret Nigussie, and Deribe Assefa found that while significant achievements had been made, there is a statistically significant disparity in the proportion of male and female civil servants, senior decision makers and judges, in favour of males at the federal level in Ethiopia, and conclude that gender perspectives have not been appropriately incorporated in the development agendas of the government. They identified some challenges of gender mainstreaming such as low capacity building, lack of public awareness, low levels of monitoring and evaluation. This has resulted in the perpetuation of a gender gap which demands special attention and concerted efforts by different stakeholders. The final chapter in Part 1, by Judith Namabira and Adalbert Kamanzi, focusing on the Tanzanian context, differs from a 1 1 others in the section in the sense that it demonstrates that change has taken place with regard to gender empowerment. They argue that their study shows hat the hitherto fixed traditional domestic roles of women and men have now become more fluid, with women moving more easily into male roles and vice versa. Their empowerment indices point to the fact that women have become more empowered than men over the past ten years in Tanzania; thus, what they term a 're-arrangement of patriarchal roles' has taken place. They call for more research that analyses the empowerment of 'women, using an empirical tool they utilised, t he power cube.

Part 2 includes three chapters that focus on economic empowerment, gender inequality and vulnerability to climate change, and gender equality issues in work and production. Birhanu Megersa explores the link between access to money from market-oriented dairying and socio-economic empowerment of women, focusing on women dairy farmers in Salale, in Ethiopia's Oromia Regional State. He finds that access to more money is not a magic bullet for women's empowerment. He argues that while the mean income of households which move to market-oriented dairying increases, women's workloads increase while men share the income which under traditional dairying was controlled by women. Women's technical knowledge also becomes limited to production. Reducing the workload, ensuring access to and control over dairy income and resources and dairy skill development may improve the socio¬economic position of women dairy farmers in the area.

In chapter 7, Faisal Buyinaza and Hanifa Nakiroya working in Uganda, confirm the hypotheses that female education, especially at secondary and post-secondary levels, increase women's likelihood of being engaged in the labour market. According to them, despite the same educational attainment, urban women have a higher participation rate in the labour market than rural women in Uganda. Thus, measures that aim to educate women beyond primary level are needed. The government programme to extend free education at the secondary level is therefore an important measure that may help to empower women and increase their participation in the labour market.

The final chapter in Part 2 deals with gender and vulnerability to climate change. Based on research conducted in the Choke Mountain region in Ethiopia, Tefferi Ghebraye and Yalemzewd Molla make the interesting finding that gender inequality in major household decisions together with lack of participation of women in climate change adaptive and mitigation projects result in a higher vulnerability of households to impacts of climate change. Crucially, they found that development project coordinators did not support the idea that gender inequality significantly affects sustainability of development interventions. To create a climate change resilient economy, they recommend that gender equality be at the centre of all development plans and programmes.

Part 3 has the largest number of contributions and spans across a wider range of themes which for the purposes of this book' are summed up under the rubric gender differentiation' in various aspects of life. The first chapter in this section of the book, by Felix Ngunyokoli, documents how, with social change, the traditional sex socialisation of Akamba adolescents in Kenya's Machakos District has been eroded. Parents do not know how to approach the subject of sex with their children and adolescents are bereft of accurate information on sex and sexuality. Ngunyokoli recommends an open discourse on sex and sexuality within families and the institutionalisation of comprehensive sex education in educational institutions.

The next two chapters deal with various aspects of gender violence. Karen Anne Hollely makes the case for the perception of female genital cutting as a human rights violation and advocates for dialogue between those who defend the tradition and those who campaign for its eradication. Amon Kabuli, M. Phiri and Grace Nthembi Thadzi show that while both adolescent boys and girls are vulnerable to sexual and other forms of gender-based violence, girls were more often victimized by sexual abuse and exploitation because of their gender. Deepening poverty and limited sources of income were major causes of girls' vulnerability to HIV/AIDS.

The next four chapters centre around women's health: chapters 12 and 13 bring to the fore the fact that the implementation of policies do not necessarily bring about the desired outcomes, in this case, improved healthcare. Chapters 14 and 15 show how more attention to detail (and perhaps genuine commitment) – in this case, to women's health needs – is required in policy formulation. In chapter 12, Starting with the argument that maternal health indicators in Uganda are not improving fast enough to meet the Millennium Development Goal target in 2015, Viola Nilah Nyakato outlines the problem of a low demand for maternal health services by women. She makes the important finding that gender inequalities in the division of labour in house and farm work affect the uptake of maternal healthcare by women. Women's work was found to be undervalued by men, who also control access to financial resources. Women's overwhelming burden of work and lack of decision-making authority are likely to lengthen the delays in recognising the need for care and seeking care that are responsible for large number of preventable maternal deaths and disabilities. Nyakato's conclusion is that policy makers need to pay more attention to women's inequitable burden of work at home even as they address the issues regarding their use of maternal healthcare.

In chapter 13, Mesfin Getaneh W/Michael shows how the status of the rural woman is linked with the nutritional condition of her children. He found that factors like the affordability of healthcare cost, women's independent income, access of women to microcredit and ages of mothers in first marriage have a significant impact on children's risk of stunting. Other variables like mother education and sanitation practice had no significant effect on stunting; however, access to family planning also had a significant effect in reducing stunting.

In their analysis of women's responsiveness towards medical insurance in rural Rwanda, Dorothy Tukahabwa, Alfred Otara, Robert Sengarama and Ali Kaleeba point out the disparity in terms of choice of medical insurance coverage. Women's preference of the insurance provided by Mutuelle de Sante was largely attributed to their low income status, since it was inexpensive. To the authors, notwithstanding its relative low cost, Mutuelle did not consider the income levels of poor women and had added costs with regard to medical conditions such as cancer, diabetes, heart disease and asthma. The study points to the need for an increase in the government's budgetary allocation to subsidise medical services for rural women.

Chapters 15 and 16 deal with aspects of the gendered use of information communication technologies. Sibongile Mpofu, in an investigation into the use of communication technologies by rural women entrepreneurs in the western region of Zimbabwe, finds that women who have better access to and utilise ICTs experience business and personal growth, and ultimately this reduces poverty. Woldekidan Kifle Amde in chapter 16 investigates the gender divide in uptake and usage of ICT in Ethiopia. He finds that gender roles and relations, which are considered by many as normal and transmitted through socialisation, also pervade ICT. A range of cultural barriers hinder optimum usage of ICT by women including harassment, work overload, gendered perception in relation to the use of certain ICTs or accessing ICTs in public places. There was also a difference in uptake and usage of ICTs between various groups of women: high and low income women, urban and rural, employed and unemployed, young and older, and educated and uneducated, in all cases the former had greater access to ICTs than the latter groups.

Chapters 17 to 18 deal with various aspects of gender and education. Fibian Kavulani Lukalo in chapter 17 presents an innovative and interesting study situated in a rural area, which focuses on how mothers take decisions about the schooling of their children and actualise them. This is done against the backdrop of the Free Primary Education Policy that was introduced in Kenya in 2003. Despite this policy, some children still do not attend school. Lukalo argues that the role of mothers as the primary care takers of children should not be ignored in analysing schooling in the African context, and that mothers are centrally placed in making decisions for their children's education. The complexities of some families' lives pose challenges for children's schooling. She finds through her research that other-mothering, taken up largely by grandmothers, is an option through which children's schooling challenges are met. She argues that a lack of understanding on the part of educationalists and planners of how mothers formulate their schooling strategies causes many children to miss school.

Chapter 18 considers gender ideologies within the school environment. Pholoho Morojele in his study of conceptions of gender in Lesotho's schools illustrates how teachers' constructions of gender as innate human qualities, which are tied to children's genitalia, had adverse implications on the agenda of gender equality. Teachers' constructions of gender were found to inequitably affect the autonomy and well-being of girls in particular, and forged unequal power relations between girls and boys. He makes reference to the mistaken notion of policy reformers that policy models create their own change and calls for awareness creation among teachers.

It may not be proper to close this introduction without making reference to the methodologies and frameworks employed in the contributions. A broad range of methodologies have been covered, with many authors preferring a mix of quantitative and qualitative methods. Focus group discussions were employed extensively. The use of the power cube to measure empowerment in chapter 5, and the interpretive approach as well as the employment of ethnography in chapter 17 were of interest and could be further explored.

The chapters in this volume clearly demonstrate some of the successes made and the challenges faced in selected African countries in their efforts to factor gender into their development efforts. The answers to the vexed question of the persistence of gender inequalities and power imbalances have not been found, but the recommendations made in the various chapters may point towards a way forward. Possible reasons for the gender gap may lie in the nature of the construction of the development discourse itself, in the way in which patriarchal attitudes are played out, negotiated and reinvented by state and society in the construction and implementation of political ideas, identities and policies that constitute modern power in Africa today. A deeper investigation of these processes and shifting dynamics should form the agenda for future research in gender and power relations in sub-Saharan Africa.


1.    According to a WILDAF report on the actual situation of women in Nigeria, despite the gender equality enshrined in the Nigerian Constitution, some statutes and international instruments, the male-dominated society prefers the application of some of those discriminatory aspects of the customary laws and Sharia laws which adversely affected the status and position of women in the society (http://www.wildaf-ao.org/eng/spip.php?article46. Accessed 22.04.2012). In Sierra Leone, the constitution prohibits gender discrimination and yet approximately 90 percent of women are subject to female genital mutilation, and only 48 percent of female youth are literate (compared to 68 percent male youth). On the other hand, 56 percent of parliamentarians in Rwanda in 2010 were women (http://thinkafricapress.com/gender/ women-africa-entering-fighting-changing-system. Accessed 22.04.2012). It is important to note, however, that there is agency by women and other stakeholders even in those countries that do not have strong records of equity and equality.

2.    The article appeared in The Independent on Sunday. http://www.independent.co.uk/news/ world/politics/revealed-the-best-and-worst-places-to-be-a-woman-7534 794.html. Accessed on March 4, 2012).

3.    This is an important question related to outcomes of investment in gender equality. Definitely there are other factors linked to gender equality and equity which need to be investigated. So, for example, in Rwanda and Burundi, it would be of interest to investigate the impact of the immense progress made.

4.    The themes unavoidably overlap to some extent.

5. Clearly, gender differentiation occurs in all aspects of life; this categorisation is for the purpose of organisation only.


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