Plight of women in Africa


IN Africa, Women-headed households are

frequently faced with shortages of adult

labour which often results in declining

food productivity, especially when coupled

with the low level of agricultural inputs

received by women farmers.

In Morocco, the rural households headed

by women are generally small, with 69

percent having less than four persons.

Data from the Owambo region in Namibia

suggested that, although the size of

landholdings between male and femaleheaded

households is comparable, the

amount cultivated is often lower for the

latter due to labour shortages.

Labour shortages may also lead women

to turn to alternative crops that require

less labour inputs, even though they may

be less nutritious.

Women-headed households tend to

earn lower incomes than male-headed


Only in Mauritania do women-headed

households appear to be better-off.

This could be explained by the existence

of a certain number of transfers and subsidies

towards these households, especially

in rural areas.

In Benin, male-headed rural households

have an average revenue of US$96 per

consumption unit and save 21 percent.

Those headed by women have an average

revenue of only US$85 and save 16


In the Congo, 75 percent of the women

interviewed in three districts received less

than US$390 per year, which is insufficient

to cover subsistence expenses.

In Tanzania, surveys indicate that rural

women-headed households have the lowest

cash income.

In 1985, female-headed households

earned 10 percent of female urban household

earnings and 25 percent of maleheaded

households in communal areas.

In 1990, significant improvements were

noted, with female-headed households

earning 61 percent of male-headed households.

In Zimbabwe, statistical indicators

showed that in terms of household income,

rural women-headed households

were 40 percent poorer than male-headed

households and 90 percent poorer than

women-headed households in urban


Women-headed households tended to

have access to smaller and less fertile plots

of land, with more limited access to the

means of production than male-headed


In Zimbabwe, in the communal sector,

female-headed households were likely to

be allocated smaller parcels of land than

male-headed households.

Findings from surveys suggested that

de jure female-headed households had the

smallest farm sizes, varying from 40 to 80

percent of the land parcels belonging to

male-headed households.

When women are involved as agricultural

labourers, they appear to be remunerated

less than men, which has negative

implications for women-headed households

in particular.

According to data collected by IFAD in

the late 1980s, women tend to receive only

50 percent of men’s wages in Mauritania,

Sudan and Zimbabwe, while they receive

90 percent of men’s wages in the Congo.

In Morocco, there are large variations

in agricultural wages, depending on the

season, the region, the nature of the work

and gender.

Women and girls are generally paid less

than men and boys, despite a minimum

wage guaranteed by the Government.

In Sudan, wages are lower for women

than for men, which is also due to the fact

that they are assigned work in the lowerpaying

traditional sector.

In Namibia, to meet basic food needs,

households are obliged to augment production

from subsistence agriculture with

cash or in-kind from other sources.

The main contributor to subsistence

across households is direct cash income

from formal employment.

Female-headed households have fewer

members employed formally or informally

than male-headed households.

In addition, rising unemployment

and social breakdown of the family have

shrunk the amount and frequency of


There has been a general recognition

that women and women’s concerns have

often been marginal or invisible to largescale

development planning and debates.

Some well-documented limitations of

women’s machineries throughout the

world include; restricted financial and human

resources and the lack of communication

channels with technical ministries

and departments and other bodies dealing

with gender issues.

Since the early 1980s, several countries

reported a growth in women’s participation

in rural organisations and in the

number of women-only pre-co-operatives

and co-operatives.

In Benin, women’s membership in

pre-co-operatives grew from practically no

women in 1980 to 4,6 percent in 1985 and

to 12 percent in 1992.

While women’s membership is most

often limited by their lack of formal land

ownership, many rural organisations

emphasise the interests of male members

and do not sufficiently concern themselves

with the needs of rural women.

For instance, the Namibia National

Farmers Union was established in 1992 to

provide a voice and organisational base for

communal farmers, and women comprise

30-60 percent of affiliate associations.

However, its activities stress marketing

and surplus production for the commercial

farming sector rather than subsistence

production and food processing.

In Africa, women’s representation is

also negligible in the local power structures

and traditional bodies, where

decisions concerning land allocation and

resource development have important

implications for rural women.

In Tanzania, as of 1989, out of 4 850 village

committee members in seven regions,

only 10,3 percent were women.

A positive development was made in

1992 with local Government legislative

reform which called for 25 percent of the

members of the village assembly to be


However, in many locations, women

still constituted less than one percent of

the candidates in the 1993 local Government


In Namibia, only three of the 95 elected

to the regional councils, which represent

rural constituencies outside of small

towns, were women; and in Tanzania, at

the provincial and district levels, women’s

participation remains low with the highest

number of women (20 percent) serving as

regional administration officers.

There were no female land officers nor

regional agricultural or livestock officers

and only one regional community development


In both Namibia and Zimbabwe,

women’s representation in traditional

authorities has been minimal until more


In Namibia, traditional authorities still

held responsibility for allocating land and

adjudicating disputes.

While it appears that decision-making

in Africa rests with the male household

head when present, the sharing of

decision-making between genders varies

substantially from country to country, as

well as among different cultural and ethnic

groups within the same country.

In some countries, such as the Sudan,

women are responsible for a wide range of

decision-making in farming activities even

when the husband is present.

In Tanzania, decision-making in farming

activities appears to be shared, with

men slightly dominating in those cases

when it is not.

Several FAO studies have indicated

that the improvement of household food

security and nutritional levels is associated

with women’s roles in household decisions

on expenditures.

Women’s reactions to economic incentives

are different, depending on their

ability to make decisions regarding income

allocation. Furthermore, women’s access

to credit is lower than men’s in many African

countries; receiving from a low of five

percent of agricultural loans in Burkina

Faso to a high of 32 percent in Zimbabwe.

In Benin, less than five percent of the

rural female-headed households have access

to credit.

Over the years, a substantial increase

in the number of women clients was registered

in Zimbabwe, increasing from 11

percent in 1982 to 32 percent at present.

Dr Michelina Andreucci is a

Zimbabwean-Italian researcher,

industrial design consultant,

lecturer and specialist hospitality

interior decorator. She is a published

author in her field. For views

and comments, e-mail: HYPERLINK



July 19 – 25 2019 FEATURE THE PATRIOT 13

Plight of women in Africa

African women mainly work for household subsistence.


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