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Women of Africa: Africa’s women: harnessing their full potential - EY - South Africa

Women of Africa: a powerful untapped economic force

Africa’s women: harnessing their full potential

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"Under current definitions of labor, this daily work of women has been underestimated or excluded from national accounts." Jacinta Muteshi, Chair of Kenya's Commission on Gender and Development

In the seven largest economies in Africa, the average participation of women in the labor force is 32.7%.18 Just over a third of women are actively involved in the production of goods and services, leaving a significant group of untapped potential outside the economy.

Women of Africa highlights the reality that the under-representation of women is contrasted with the benefits that broader female participation can bring:

  • The creation of a multiplier effect. Women invest 90% of their income back into their families and communities - more than double what men contribute - supporting education, increasing survival rates of children and creating a positive impact on development.
  • Increasing GDP growth rates. It is estimated that closing the gap between male and female employment rates will have huge implications for the global economy, boosting US GDP by 9% and Eurozone GDP by 13%. Eliminating gender discrimination in relation to occupation and pay could increase women's wages by about 50% and national output by 5%.

In Groundbreakers, our study on the positive effect of women's economic empowerment and leadership on the global economy, a number of positive correlations between leadership, improved financial performance and women's participation were found. But the benefits of women in the workplace extend beyond that of an organization to the wider economic environment.

The impact on GDP growth, when women participated more fully in the economy, provides an economic argument that silences all detractors.


Almost 70% of the world's poor are women.

Two-thirds of the world's illiterate adults are women.

Violence against women is the biggest cause of death and disability among women aged 15 to 44.

Women earn just over half what men earn and, even in the UK, women are still paid nearly 20% less than men for the same or equivalent work.

Worldwide, women make up less than 17% of members of legislative assemblies (parliaments).

Source: Small guide to big issues – women's rights, Oxfam/Pluto Press, 2007



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