31 March 2014

Africa: Women Remain Unequal in Work, Politics, Education

Johannesburg — On paper, Africa's women have more rights than ever before, in the form of laws against gender violence, and a reserved number of seats for women in many countries' parliaments.

But a new study finds that the women of this vast continent share an across-the-board disadvantage in three key areas of society: education, jobs and political participation.

The report from the research group Afrobarometer was based on a survey of more than 50,000 people in 34 countries. It found women across Africa are less likely than men to register to vote, and are significantly less likely to participate politically, such as protesting, contacting leaders or attending community meetings.

Women also reported greater fear than men of being targeted by political intimidation and violence.

"Women seem to still be facing discrimination, not only in the workplace, but also in the courts and in their communities," said Samantha Richmond, one of the report's authors, who is based in Cape Town.

But in a way, this is a story not about women, but about girls. The study found that 26 percent of the women surveyed said they had never had any formal education, compared to 19 percent of men.

Richmond says education has the potential to balance the inequality between adults. "Definitely, I think in terms of the education gap, a lot is being done but we really need to intensify efforts to keep girls in school so that they can actually complete their education and have options to further their economic and social prospects as a result."

What's really important about this study, Richmond says, is that its findings span socioeconomic groups.

"I think it's very important for us to realize that a lot of these issues are not only affecting the stereotypical woman we have in our head, who is the poor woman in the rural areas," she said. "This affects every single woman, be it a woman sitting with her masters' degree at a university to a woman who has no education and lives in the rural areas."

The study also found that 40 percent of respondents say they are "often" or "always" treated unfairly by their employers because they are women. One in three said police and courts don't treat men and women as equals.

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