African women: The architects of our economic futures
On September 13-15, 2018 in Accra, Ghana, AWDF convened a select group of activists, scholars, researchers and policy shapers to help build and think through a thoughtful, progressive and transformative vision for the future of women in African economies.
The African Women’s Development Fund knows the potential of the power that women wield in our shared economic future and seeks to harness to shape this future. The “African Women: Economic Futures” convening examined what needs to be done to see that potential grow into tangible results.
Participants also investigated feminist interventions within the economy and how we can further support progressive changes that help ensure that the possibilities of our economic future becomes a reality.
The convening is part of a larger movement-building process and ongoing conversation and activism around African women’s economic transformation. Some of the questions that anchored the conversations and creative construction included:
What is already being done to build just and secure economic presents and futures?
How are African women actively, politically and intentionally creating subversive work/labour practices, and what can we learn from these?
What economic models exist that can be engaged in thinking about where to go?
Futures Africa: Trends for Women by 2030
The African Women’s Development Fund (AWDF) is a grant making foundation that supports local, national, and regional women’s organisations, working towards the empowerment of African women and the promotion and realisation of their rights. Since 2001, the AWDF has been working for, by, and with African women to promote, support, and amplify African women’s organising through funding, capacity building, knowledge production, and advocacy; to change the narrative around African women.
As part of its commitment to investing in African women’s rights, AWDF felt it important to consider what lies ahead for African women – to look to the future – and begin to shape an organisational Strategic Framework as well as thematic strategies that work towards shaping a future with full rights, equality, and justice. As a first step, it is crucial to understand how various trends around gender dynamics have been evolving in the past and the present, and what those patterns portend for the future. AWDF would also like to know what new trends are emerging and how they will impact women and their rights in the future. This work therefore seeks to explore the future for Africa over the next 10-15 years and to question what that exploration implies for women and for women’s rights.
There are focuses on variables around the following: social parameters such as demographics, health, education; economic parameters such as labour trends and earnings, economic opportunities, poverty and inequality; political parameters such as political representation, access to justice and violence against women; and technological issues such as mobile technology use and social media impact.
Futures Africa: Trends for Women by 2030 is a baseline document collating these trends to establish the issues that will pose the greatest challenge to women’s rights in Africa in the future, and to determine what other emerging areas will impact women’s rights and impede their empowerment. Through this work, AWDF will also have a basis for extrapolating future prospects that are helpful in framing the future possible outcomes and options for women’s rights concerns.
This document offers a trends analysis around what the data says about Africa’s future and the place of women and girls in the arenas identified as key drivers affecting our futures: the economy, governance, demographics, health, education, and technology. It draws on existing data produced by governmental agencies and research institutions.
What is evident in reading it is that the focus and language of the data itself reveals assumptions, priorities, and sometimes even biases around what is important to track for policy and planning. In the field of health, for example, data assesses family planning access but does not necessarily provide the same quality or consistency of information around informed consent or degree of women’s access to user-controlled contraception, which are critical reproductive rights concerns. With economic data, there is a common assumption that GDP growth in itself will lead to better development and rights outcomes at population level.
From our vantage point as an African women’s fund, we see across the continent that the lever of change for the majority is not just growth in the overall economy but how that growth is distributed and what mechanisms exist for its redistribution to support the most marginalised. Indeed, a number of recent reports have pointed to economic growth in some countries as a factor that fuels inequality and economic disparity. We are also aware that most national economic data does not make visible the tremendous contribution that African women make to national economies, given that this labour is often in the informal sector and/or in the private sphere.
Data based on only a partial acceptance and analysis of the true nature of contributions to an economy not only distorts understandings of how economic growth happens, it distorts perceptions of the roles and value of women in the economic and social spheres.
There is an underlying heteronormativity around the makeup of families in particular, as well as the assumption that there are only two genders – which, as both historical reflection on the diversity of gender in Africa as well as contemporary transgender activism have shown, is not in fact the case. Lastly, the data also tends to separate sub-Saharan Africa from North Africa (with North Africa more commonly grouped with the Middle East), making statistical analyses of the continent as a whole more difficult.
All of these issues point to the political nature of how data is collected and framed, and also to the need for African women’s rights analysts and activists to be more involved in the process of defining and generating the data that we need for our work and planning.
The data that does exist, however, should force us to rethink. By 2030, people on the African continent will represent a fifth of humanity. Almost half of these people will reside in urban areas, with the slum population doubling. The continent is both growing older as people live longer, but also increasingly youthful as our demographics change. By 2030, just over a third of all Africans will be under the age of 15.
African economies are expected to increase with overall growth, yet persistent questions about equity remain. The reach of mobile technology will continue to expand, increasing possibilities for access to information and to financial and other mobile services. We know that all of these trends are gendered – even if the existing data does not always reflect this.