Akina Mama wa Afrika (AMwA) joins African women and the rest of the world to commemorate International Women’s Day (IWD) 2019 marked every 8th March. We celebrate the countless courageous African women who creatively challenged the traditional ways of doing things; birthing solutions to the challenges African women have faced since time immemorial. Funmilayo Ransome-Kuti, the first woman to drive in Nigeria who paved the way for many more women to sit behind the steering wheel; Winnie Madikizela Mandela, fearless leader who was at the forefront of the anti-apartheid campaign in South Africa; Queen Hangbe and her Amazons, a group of female warriors in Benin who fearlessly fought French colonial rule; to mention but a few. We are stirred by the 2019 global theme Think Equal, Build Smart, Innovate for Change which is a timely call for innovative ways to advance gender equality and women’s human rights especially in the areas of social protection systems, access to public services and sustainable infrastructure for women and girls in Africa.
According to the UN Women Progress of the World’s Women 2015-2016 Report, 89% of women’s jobs in Africa are in the informal sector and are consequently not covered by labor relation laws. Most countries are yet to put in place provisions for a minimum or living wage and therefore attract neither social protection nor maternity and pension benefits. Our work with women in the horticultural sector in East Africa under the Women@Work Campaign in partnership with Hivos East Africa and which seeks to propel decent working conditions for women who earn their living in global production chains such as coffee, flowers and garments has revealed that women on flower farms are not sufficiently protected and that the cost of maternity leave actually encourages discrimination against women of reproductive age leading to dehumanizing practices leveled against them. When exploring the conditions of women in the cut flower sector in Kenya, the Kenya Human Rights Commission found that women are forced to undergo pregnancy tests before getting their contracts renewed. Further, employers use short term contracting processes to get around paying maternity benefits as short-term employees do not qualify for them. Embarrassingly, even Fair Trade companies compel workers to use their annual leave as maternity leave. Here, women are required to take a month of annual leave before delivery thereby limiting the post-delivery period to less than two months.
In Uganda, a minimum wage of UGX130,000 was recently put in place, a step towards promoting an enabling environment especially for women in the informal sector albeit a revision of this figure is required for women’s dignity to be restored as equal citizens deserving of an adequate wage. Progress has also been registered in the horticultural sector where flower farms have committedly created work environments that adhere to labour laws and put in place gender sensitive policies and practices. For women in the horticultural sector to fully exploit their potential, gender responsive institutional structures and processes which propel decent working conditions must be actuated. Recognizing that oppressive systems cannot be wished away, now, more than ever, is the time to consider our individual roles in the new approaches to advancing social protections for women in Africa in various spaces including the sixty-third session of the Commission on the Status of Women (CSW) whose priority theme is Social protection systems, access to public services and sustainable infrastructure for gender equality and the empowerment of women and girls.
This year’s theme emphasizes the need for stronger gender-responsive, human rights-based and integrated approaches to the design and implementation of social protection systems, public services and sustainable infrastructure that recognize unpaid care and domestic work, enable the mobility of women and girls, support the realization of their sexual and reproductive health and rights, enhance their access to economic opportunities and strengthen their resilience to shocks. On this International Day, we add our voice to the millions of African women and demand that African governments address the gender gaps in social protection systems, access to public services and sustainable infrastructure to curb the persistent inequalities in the following ways:
- Ensuring the meaningful voice, agency, leadership and participation of women in the horticulture sector in the development and implementation of policies of social protection systems through promoting the full and equal participation and leadership of women and women’s organizations in policy dialogues and decision-making relating to social protection systems.
- Extending comprehensive social protection systems to all women, especially women in informal employment, and progressively improve the adequacy of benefits and ensure that women have equal access to decent work in public services and infrastructure and take measures to reduce gender pay gaps, strengthen collective bargaining and enable women’s career advancement.
- Ensuring access to maternity protection in accordance with the Maternity Protection Convention, 2000 (No. 183) of the International Labour Organization for all workers in the horticulture sector and promote the equal sharing of responsibilities by expanding parental leave that incentivizes fathers’ participation in child-rearing.