17 simply astonishing facts about Africa's gender gap: Here are the nations women should move to...and avoid

Where tiny Burundi is the real global star, and Kenya, Malawi and Burkina Faso put up a good showing.

A NEW gender equality report shows African countries have made significant gains in reducing the gap between men and women, highlighting some unexpected stars such as Burundi and Burkina Faso, as the continent’s giants Nigeria, South Africa and Kenya reported a mixed bag; all suggesting that small can be big.

Now in its ninth year, the Global Gender Report by the World Economic Forum says it is both smart economics and justice to reduce this gap, with countries that do so able to fully access their talent and become more competitive globally. 

The report, which looked at four key areas (economic participation, education, health and political empowerment) notes that such countries have healthier and educated populations, while lifting women politically means more inclusion for them in decision making. Companies that recruited and retained more women also largely outperformed those that did not, the organisation said.

However, the report notes that at  the present trajectory, it will take 81 years for the world to close the gender gap; slow progress for half of the world’s population.

In the survey of 142 countries, Nordic countries remained the most gender-equal societies, with Iceland, Finland, Norway, Sweden and Denmark making the top five.  Sub-Saharan Africa has also made stunning gains—and some reversals—some of which we highlight:

1: Rwanda was included in the rankings for the first time this year, and made quite the splash, coming in seventh overall, and the highest of any African country. It performed particularly well in political empowerment-—it has 64 women in its 100-seat lower house and is the only country in the world with more women than men in parliament. South Africa and Senegal also feature in the top 10. Globally, only 21.8% of national parliamentarians are female.

2: Three African countries were ranked in the top 20 overall in reducing the gender gap: Rwanda (7th), Burundi (17th) and South Africa (18th). The Rainbow Nation is the highest ranked of the BRICS countries, an economic grouping that also counts Russia, India, Brazil and China. The next best performer in this group was Brazil at the 71st position, while India rounds out the table at 114th position. 

3: Burundi was a real star performer, climbing five places from last year’s ranking, outperforming the United States, a country with 9,175 times its Gross Domestic Product (GDP), and other similarly rich countries such as Canada, Australia and the United Kingdom, on key indicators such as economic participation and health and survival, in both of which it came in first.  

4: The tiny east Africa country was also the best in the world in recruiting women to its labour force, and in reducing the pay gap. In the latter category, it had a score of 0.83, meaning its women earn at least 83% of what men earn. In comparison, the US had a score of 0.66—its women earn just 66% of what their male colleagues make.

5: Burkina Faso made among the biggest improvements (more than 10%) in reducing the gender education gap to come in 133rd, from 128th last year. The west African nation, which however ranks in the bottom quartile in literacy rate and primary and tertiary school enrolment,  will take heart in the jump, even if it fell seven places overall to 110th.

6: Oil-rich Angola, which continues its post-conflict recovery, has also made significant gains in the health and survival indicator, ranking 61st overall. It however places in the bottom five in educational attainment, but scores better than former colonial power Portugal in the number of women it has in parliament. 

7: Nigeria, the region’s largest economy, ranked 118th overall, a drop from 106th last year, but made the biggest gains in recruiting women to its labour force. It however ranks in the bottom 10 in educational attainment, and in the bottom 15 in the number of women in parliament.

8: The island nation of Madagascar made the largest gains in having women in senior roles—defined as in the legislature, officials and managers—and ranked 62nd. It also climbed 15 places overall in what has been steady improvement from 2006, when in was 84th.  According to the Inter-Parliamentary Union, as at January 1, 2014 Cape Verde had the highest number of women in ministerial positions —8 of 17, or 48%, while Madagascar was 27th on this measure.

9: Botswana, one of the continent’s most democratic nations and which has just come off a peaceful election, ironically ranked poorly in empowering women politically. Observers SADC urged the country to empower more women following the vote dominated by male candidates. 

10:  Since 2006, some 105 of the 111 countries continuously covered have narrowed the gender gap. But of the six that have deteriorated by the biggest margin, Africa is represented by Mali, which ranked 138th this year, from 128th in 2013. The country also has the highest fertility rate—6.9 children per woman—and the highest adolescent fertility rate.   

11: Consistently over the last nine years, the lowest ranked African nation is Chad, at position 140. Last year the Central African nation placed 134th of 136 countries. It was bottom in educational attainment, and in the bottom half in health and political empowerment, but rose to the top half in economic participation. Due to its low starting base, it also was among the five most improved on this indicator, but a lot remains on its plate.

12: Only four countries in the world have a higher proportion of women at work than men. All are in Africa: Malawi, Mozambique, Rwanda and Burundi. In Malawi 85% of its women work, compared to 81% of men.

13: South Africa, which has been in the news this week due to the deaths of two prominent sportsmen, ranks first in health and survival, including in healthy life expectancy—its women can expect to live as long as its men. Overall, the country has however fallen over the years, in 2009 it ranked at a high of 6th.

14: Namibia also shows up as a star perfomer, as the only African country to have fully closed its gaps in educational attainment and health and survival. Two other countries, Botswana and Lesotho, have met the education goal, while South Africa and Zimbabwe have fully closed the health gap. 

15: In three countries—Lesotho, Namibia and Botswana, women have a higher literacy rate than men. However, eight of the ten lowest-ranked countries under this indicator are from sub-Saharan Africa. Lesotho also is the best African performer in having more women in senior roles, and tops the global literacy rate.

16: Kenya is ranked among the best climbers on the overall, changing 7% since 2013 to place at 37th. It is among the top 5 countries on the economic participation and opportunity index, and on the estimated income measure. Since 2006 its placing has changed 11.9%, among the best overall performers over that peril, together with Madagascar and Malawi.

17: Ethiopia, Guinea, Cote d’Ivoire, Mali and Chad are ranked lowest in the region on wage equality for similar work, and ability of women to rise to positions of enterprise leadership. They are all also among the bottom countries for literacy rate, and school enrollment at all levels—primary, secondary and tertiary.

18: Liberia, in its first year of ranking, is the African country that has the most years of a female as head of state—at nine. Mozambique (6) and Senegal (3) are the next closest. India is first overall with 21.       


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