Speech at the UN Science and Peace Week Inaugural Conference
Pretoria, 12 November 2019
One of the 2019 Nobel prize winners in economics, Prof Esther Duflo, wrote one of her most famous papers – or maybe just one of MY favourite ones in 2012 in the Journal of Economic literature explaining the bidirectional linkage between women empowerment and economic development.
She defined “women empowerment” as improving the ability of women to access the constituents of development—in particular health, education, earning opportunities, rights, and political participation. In one direction, development alone can play a major role in driving down inequality between men and women; in the other direction, continuing discrimination against women can, as Sen has forcefully argued, hinder development. Empowerment can, in other words, accelerate development.
Policymakers and social scientists have tended to focus on one or the other of these two relationships. Those focusing on the first have argued that gender equality improves when poverty declines. Policymakers should, therefore, focus on creating the conditions for economic growth and prosperity, while seeking, of course, to maintain a level playing field for both genders, but without adopting specific strategies targeted at improving the condition of women. In contrast, many emphasize the second relationship, from empowerment to development.
The “missing women” concept is widely discussed in the literature. It indicates a shortfall in the number of women relative to the expected number of women in a region or country. It is most often measured through male-to-female sex ratios, and is theorized to be caused by sex-selective abortions, female infanticide, and inadequate healthcare and nutrition for female children.
There is however one more way of looking at this concept. How many women were born relative to how many women were educated and how many enter the labour force.
Statistics from the World Bank’s World Development Indicators.
Population, female (% total) (2018)
Sub-Saharan Africa: 50.1%
South Africa: 50.7%
Primary education % female (2017)
Sub-Saharan Africa: 48.373%
South Africa: 48.65%
Labor force, female % total labour force (2019)
Sub-saharan Africa: 46.37%
South Africa: 45%
"Economic logic says to invest in and economize on the limiting factor. Many decades ago capital was the limiting factor due to technological constraints. Economic logic has not changed; what has changed is the limiting factor. Nowadays I am advocating that the limiting factor is skilled women that are actively working towards sustainable economic development". (Daly, 2012)
Policies such as the Sustainable development goals recognise the value of gender equity and equality…they recognise that women participation is important.
Why then especially in developing countries but not only there changes are slow?
Through my work as a mentor and supervisor of young African ladies, through my engagement with colleagues at the African Science Leadership Programme, the South African Young Academy of Science (SAYAS) and as a co-leader of the working group of women in science of the Global Young Academy of science, one of the main reasons is cultural…. And no, I am not going to touch on traditions…
I am talking more of mindset and perceptions that is supportive of the role of women in science and technology. I am worried that the full potential of women is locked behind historical misperceptions and norms.
- When more than one PhD candidates have told me through the years that their families worry that they wont get married because they will be sooo educated.
- When undergraduate female students worry that they will have to pick between having a family or having a career.
- When female scientists feel they are always a step behind their male counterparts because there is a stereotype that women are better in admin and teaching so the responsibility all falls on them.
- When the World Development Report 2012, using data for 35 countries found a clear, unsurprising pattern: at all level of incomes, women do the majority of housework and care and, correspondingly, spend less time in market work. The difference ranges from 30 percent more time spent on housework by women than men in Cambodia to six times more in Guinea, and from 70 percent more time for childcare in Sweden to ten times more in Iraq. These differences have an impact on women’s ability to participate in market work, be fully engaged in their career, etc.
All these show us that society is still skew: it opens the opportunities but raises the level of difficulty for women to take them because institutions do not change from the root.
How much was the Primary education % female (2017) again??
Sub-Saharan Africa: 48.373%
South Africa: 48.65%
Let me tell you now how much is the ratio of female academic staff in tertiary education as a percentage to total in 2016.
In the world 42% BUT in Sub-Saharan Africa???? 24%!!!!
Let me also tell you what the percentage of firms with a female top manager was in 2018.
World 17.9% and in Sub- Saharan Africa 15.8%!!!!!
And at a 2018 study that looked at the c-suite of S&P500 companies, only 5% of CEOS are women.
So programmes that will promote female inclusion are necessary but they need to be accompanied by a change in mindset and way of thinking.
Otherwise, they will be just another tick in the list.
The role of African women can and must play in the continent in science and technology should not be restricted to just an accumulation of knowledge and skills. These skills need to find a way to make an impact and a difference.
As a continent, we need skilled women and women in science but we need much more is women that can and want to lead the changes in the future generations of both men and women in science and technology to create hence positive loops.
Women in the African continent should become decision-makers in the households, in the African soil, in business, in technology, in academia, in policymaking and everywhere else towards a sustainable and peaceful future for all.
Daly, H. (2012) . What is the limiting factor. Available at https://steadystate.org/what-is-the-limiting-factor/
Data from the World Development Indicators of the World Bank.
Duflo, E., Women Empowerment and Economic Development. Journal of Economic Literature 2012, 50(4), 1051–1079 http://dx.doi.org/10.1257/jel.50.4.1051