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Gender Equality in the World of Work: Legal Frameworks and Laws in Africa

Are We There Yet?

This article attempts to answer the question raised in the Bending the Curve report[1], specifically looking at laws/legal frameworks and regulations on workplace equality in 37 out of 55 African countries. Whether countries are stagnating, moving faster or slowly towards greater gender equality or in the wrong direction. And the prospects for countries bending the curve to reach the desired gender equality promises laid out in the SDGs by 2030.

The focus is on indicator 8d in the 2019 SDG Gender Index Report – Equal Measures 2030[2]  for SDG 8 whose data coverage is from 2009 to 2020 and the data source is World Bank’s Women, Business, and the Law (WBL) research. Analysis is based on the composite indicator that captures the extent to which countries have laws mandating gender equality in the workplace, it comprises seven laws (including anti-discrimination, equal pay for equal value of work, paid leave, treatment of pregnant workers, and laws that put restrictions on the types of jobs women can or cannot do.

Specifically, the normative standards/ composite indicator characteristic below were selected for measuring workplace gender equality.  Thus, the seven workplace equality laws included in the composite indicator are as follows:

  1. Does the law prohibit discrimination in employment based on gender?
  2. Does the law mandate equal remuneration for work of equal value?
  3. Can women work the same night hours as men?
  4. Can women work in jobs deemed dangerous in the same way as men?
  5. Are women able to work in the same industries as men?
  6. Is paid maternity leave of at least 14 weeks available to women?
  7. Is dismissal of pregnant workers prohibited? 

Key findings on progress:

According to the 2020 Bending the Curve report, based on the past trends and projections, it is clear that: over the last 10 years, the pace of legal reform has picked up in North Africa with slow progress in Sub Saharan Africa. Economies are reforming laws in the right direction in alignment with the Protocol to the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights on the Rights of Women (Maputo Protocol) adopted by the African Union in 2004 and the African Union Decade for Women in 2010. This decade of action led to many reforms increasing gender equality, with economies in better standing being among the first to ratify the protocol and align to the provisions of the United Nations Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW).

In 2020, only five countries out of 37 reviewed in Africa; namely Mauritius, Liberia, South Africa, Togo, and Zambia have all the seven workplace equality laws in place and thus score 100 on this indicator. Another seven countries (Botswana, Egypt, Congo, Nigeria, Rwanda, Senegal and Sierra Leone) have a score of 40 or less meaning they lack 3-5 of the legal protections included in the indicator. It is notable that the remaining twenty-five countries are missing between 1 to 5 of the above mentioned 7 workplace laws or normative standards.

In 2021, with the commemorations of the 40th Anniversary of the adoption of the African Charter on Human and People’s Rights (the Banjul Charter),  all AU member states ought to be moving towards implementation of the Maputo Protocol and laws guaranteeing gender equality.

Why Gender Equality in the world of work?

The promotion of rights at work is one of the four pillars of the ILO Decent Work Agenda[3]. Decent work sums up the aspirations of people in their working lives. It involves opportunities for work that is productive and delivers a fair income, security in the workplace and social protection for families, better prospects for personal development and social integration, freedom for people to express their concerns, organize and participate in the decisions that affect their lives and equality of opportunity and treatment for all women and men.

While virtually all ILO Conventions touch on issues of gender equality to some degree, two of the ILO‟s „fundamental‟ conventions are of relevance: the Equal Remuneration Convention, 1951 (No. 100); and the Discrimination (Employment and Occupation) Convention, 1958 (No. 111). Both have been ratified by all ten target countries. Other instruments of particular relevance are the Workers with Family Responsibilities Convention, 1981 (No. 156), and the Maternity Protection Convention, 2000 (No. 183). These four are commonly referred to as the ILO gender equality Conventions. However, the issues of maternity protection and work-family balance are of relevance to evolving jurisprudence on gender equality in the workplace. Recommendation No. 200 concerning HIV and AIDS and the world of work, adopted by the ILC in 2010 has a strong gender component and given the female face of the pandemic, forms part of the treaty framework that underpins this proposal.

However, despite progress made by some countries, adoption, and domestication of international labour standards for combating gender-based discrimination in the workplace in Africa still remains an ongoing challenge (to greater and lesser degrees) in all ILO Member States.

What opportunities exist for gender advocates to hold member states accountable?

One of the opportunities advocates should build on is the ILO convention 190,[4] (C190) also known as the Violence and Harassment Convention, 2019 (No. 190). Countries should ratify and domesticate the commitments which oblige countries or states to adopt laws, regulations and policies ensuring the right to equality and non-discrimination in employment and occupation, including for women workers, as well as for workers and other persons belonging to one or more vulnerable groups or groups in situations of vulnerability that are disproportionately affected by violence and harassment in the world of work.

Countries should take appropriate measures to monitor and enforce national laws and regulations regarding violence and harassment in the world of work.

This can be achieved through strengthened capacity of member States to ratify and apply international labour standards and to fulfil their reporting obligations including gender equality principles. Moreover, commitments to the improved implementation of ILO standards is demonstrated by establishment of a solid national legal frameworks and laws to combat gender-based discrimination. This is the foundation stone of all efforts to promote gender equality in the workplace, as it is from such laws that all anti-discrimination programmes and strategies are derived.

Another opportunity to hold African governments accountable is the Decent work and the Sustainable Development Goals: Decent work and the four pillars of the Decent Work Agenda: employment creation, social protection, rights at work, and social dialogue  became integral elements  of the new 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. Goal 8 of the 2030 Agenda for sustainable development  calls for the promotion of sustained, inclusive and sustainable economic growth, full and productive employment and decent work, and will be a key area of engagement for the ILO and its constituents. Furthermore, key aspects of decent work are widely embedded in the targets of many of the other 16 goals of the UN’s new development vision.

Another opportunity to tap into is the African Union’s Strategy on Gender Equality and Women’s Empowerment (GEWE)[5] emphasises on the need for economic empowerment of women for Africa to achieve its goals for inclusive and sustainable development as envisioned in Agenda 2063. The African Union the Assembly of Heads of State and Government convened in February 2020 that took up the mantle and declared the years 2020 to 2030 as the Decade on Financial and Economic Inclusion for African Women. In their declaration, African leaders recommitted to scale up actions for progressive gender inclusion towards sustainable development at the national, regional and continental levels. The overall goal of the Decade on Financial and Economic Inclusion for African Women is that every woman must be able to work, be paid and participate in the economy of her country. This involves examining the regulatory, legislative, and policy context to determine the changes needed. “In addition to access to financial products, technologies and services, achieving financial inclusion for women would require overcoming socio-cultural norms and gender barriers.” For these goals to be realised, African States must put in place policies and targeted complementary measures and programs. The AU advocates for the participation and involvement of civil societies and the women advocacy groups and organisations to drive these initiatives and ensure adoption at national levels.

Conclusion: While legal provisions for gender equality is the first step toward generating tangible outcomes, including: increasing women’s equality of opportunity for greater economic participation for women in the labor force, more successful economies, and better development; reforms must also be fully implemented through strong justice sector institutions. For women to thrive in the world of work, the laws must help women reach their full potential. It is the legal frameworks by which governments can identify barriers to women’s success and, by removing them, boost their labor force participation. Governments also must enforce “nondiscrimination legislation and gender-sensitive labour laws through well-resourced labour inspectorates and courts that do not discriminate on the basis of gender[6]

Written by

Hellen Malinga Apila

Regional EM2030 Coordinator, Africa

[1] 2020 Bending the Curve Report – Equal Measures 2030

[2] EM2030 SDG Gender Index, tracking gender equality progress

[3] Decent work (ilo.org)

[4] Convention C190 – Violence and Harassment Convention, 2019 (No. 190) (ilo.org)

[5] African Women’s Decade on Financial & Economic Inclusion | African Union (au.int)

[6] Resolution concerning Gender Equality at the Heart of Decent Work para. 52(e)

Download the Fact Sheet Laws on Workplace Equality in Equality HERE

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