Gender inequality costs sub-Saharan Africa an average of $95 billion each year, primarily because of setbacks that make it much harder for women to contribute to the workforce, according to an annual United Nations Development Programme report published Sunday.
Released at the Sixth Tokyo International Conference on African Development, which took place in Nairobi, Kenya, this weekend, the report placed a focus on both legislation and social conventions that reinforce the gender gap and prevent economic growth.
“A key message of this report is that giving more concerted attention to gender equality will be an important and long overdue stimulus to faster and more inclusive human development and economic growth for the entire continent,” Helen Clark, the administrator of the programme, wrote in a statement.
Decreased access to economic resources and health care limit women’s success and their production potential, according to UN Communications Specialist Adam Cathro. Between 1990 and 2008, over 540 million premature deaths for females under 60 occurred, according to the report.
Noting the disconnect between legal standards and actual implementation, the report said “legal instruments are necessary but not sufficient in the face of parallel systems of customary law. Negative social institutions and norms create a stumbling block for advancing gender equality and women’s empowerment.”
Central Africa had the lowest level of primary education parity, while East Africa had the highest. As in other measures, the gender gap for primary education enrollment has decreased.
There’s also a significant wage gap. In sub-Saharan Africa women make 70 cents for every dollar earned by men in manufacturing, services and trade. Despite a shrinking gender gap in employment, and economic growth driven by increased numbers of women working, many remain underpaid.
The report also highlighted a disparity in women’s representation in government. While four countries — Rwanda, Seychelles, Senegal and South Africa — rank among global leaders for female representation, others, such as Nigeria and Comoros are among the world’s worst.
According to the Inter-Parliamentary Union, Rwanda places as the world’s nation with the highest proportion of women in parliament, while only five countries with available information rank worse than Comoros, which has one woman in 33 total parliamentary seats.
The 2015 Gender Gap Index lists Rwanda as the sixth most gender-equal nation global out of the 145 measured.
Clark said improving gender equality would also help mitigate other crises the continent faces.
“If gender gaps can be closed in labor markets, education, health and other areas, then poverty and hunger eradication can be achieved,” she said.