Introduction

Since its establishment in 1988, the African Women’s Development and Communication Network (FEMNET) has played a leading role in building the women’s movement and amplifying the voices of African women to influence decisions made at national, regional and global levels, that impact on their lives. As a pan-African membership-based organization working to advance women’s rights, FEMNET continues to mobilize African women to hold governments accountable to women’s rights and gender equality commitments including: the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action, the AU Protocol on the Rights of Women in Africa (Maputo Protocol) and the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development among others.

FEMNET’s vision is an African society where gender equality is achieved and women and girls enjoy all their rights and live in dignity. Our mantra is women’s rights are human rights, and we exist to mobilize African women for the achievement of gender equality and the realization of women’s and girls’ rights at all levels.

The Context

African economies have grown progressively over the last decades and now rank among the fastest growing economies of the world[1]. However, not all segments of the African population have benefited from this growth as inequality seems to grow in tandem with economic growth[2]. Gender inequality alongside income inequality remain highest on the list of outcomes of Africa’s economic growth.

With regard to women’s economic empowerment, there has been a trend to relegate the issue to micro level economic analysis and intervention. With regard to macroeconomic policies, they have been insufficiently focused on employment issues and enhancing existing livelihoods which is proving to be not enough[3] . FEMNET believes that instead, women’s economic empowerment must be understood as far more than women’s ability to compete equally in existing markets, or as the beneficial outputs of their contribution to growth. It must include women’s access to and control over economic resources, access to decent work, control over their own time and meaningful participation in economic decision-making at all levels from the household to international institutions and policy spaces. The approach to mainstream economics remains excessively narrow and continues to reinforce gender inequality rather than try to address the challenges at hand – with examples of “production” definitions and analysis not including care work and instead systematically undervaluing and most times erasing it from contributions to national GDP. Macroeconomic policies have distinctive consequences that affect women and men differently and can either reinforce the extent of women’s socio-economic disadvantage or potentially, promote a redistribution of resources towards women.

In 2017, FEMNET hosted the first African Feminist Macroeconomic Academy (AFMA). AFMA was informed by a series of consultations[4] with women’s rights groups as well as African feminist economists who pointed to the need to increase capacity to influence macroeconomic policies on the continent and globally as a strategy. The academy is an intensive capacity development initiative targeting gender advocates, activists, movement leaders, journalists and networks working towards achieving women’s rights and gender equality. The aim of AFMA is to deepen their understanding of how macroeconomic policies shape the lived realities of the women whose lives they are working to transform. This in turn will translate to their ability to influence mainstream macroeconomic policy processes and outcomes all the way from local to global levels. To ensure transformative impact on global, regional and national macroeconomic policies is sustained, there needs to be a deliberate investment in a critical mass of advocates that are articulate and have the tools to push for inclusive and gender transformative economies.

AFMA highlighted the urgent need to ensure the following:

  • The need to build a body of knowledge on the intersection of women’s rights and macroeconomic policies and processes.
  • The need to develop a comprehensive and coherent programme to build the capacity of women’s rights organizations to understand and meaningfully influence macroeconomic policies and processes. One of the key outputs of AFMA was an open letter to UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Development which demonstrated the link between new knowledge and immediate advocacy.
  • The necessity to build an African cohort between mainstream women’s rights advocates and feminist & mainstream economists.

Our Theory of Change

Macroeconomic policies continue to shape everyday realities of women and girls across the world – from inadequate access to healthcare to the burden of unpaid care work that women continue to do that subsidies economies without being reflected in national accounts.

By “macroeconomic policies” we mean: fiscal and monetary policy, the international financial architecture (including tax regimes and illicit financial flows), industrial policy, regulation of decent work and the care economy.  These are government decisions, heavily influenced and constrained by international institutions particularly the World Bank and International Monetary Fund – with almost no inclusion of women’s voices and priorities.

FEMNET would like to contribute to macro level economic spaces and processes that are transformative, responsive and inclusive towards ensuring a just, equitable and fair world for all.

To achieve change, at least two things are required.  First, the dominant consensus that shapes macro level economic policy needs to be challenged, with intentional transformative and inclusive alternatives that reflect the priorities of women, especially from the global south and specific to us is Africa.

Second, sustainable and transformative change in this area requires the active participation of women’s rights movements from local to national to regional and global arenas.  The participation of these movement helps ensure that the changes advocated for reflect women’s diverse needs and priorities, but also to ensure that political pressure is maintained into the future through the continued activism of these movements.

The major barrier however is that women’s rights organisations and movements are constrained in capacity, lack the kind of evidence needed to inform their advocacy (whether it be research, data or other information), and are short of funding across the board. These constraints are particularly in the area of macro-level economic policy.  This has in part contributed to limited prioritisation of macroeconomic advocacy within the women’s rights movements.

FEMNET strongly asserts that women’s rights organization are key to changing the prevailing situation and that with the requisite knowledge, networks, and advocacy capacity, women’s rights organizations and the women’s movements as a whole, can contribute to shaping macroeconomic spaces that are transformative, responsive and inclusive in Africa. The participation of these organisations at every level of economic decision making is key to transformative change.

FEMNET aims to achieve this through a 4 pronged approach: Capacity Building, Knowledge Generation, Advocacy, and Cross Sectional Movement Building with a focus on strengthening linkages between women’s rights organisations and individual activists on the one hand, and feminist economists on the other, to tackle development issues through macroeconomic policy shifts.

[1] UNECA Background paper on the sub-theme: “Promoting gender equality and the empowerment of women and girls”, 3rd session 17-19 May 2017

[2] ibid

[3] Discussion paper : Macroeconomic Policy and Women’s Economic Empowerment <https://static1.squarespace.com/static/536c4ee8e4b0b60bc6ca7c74/t/59a7e96f15d5db4b826ac8ce/1504176498496/MacroEconomic-DiscusssionPaper-WEB-single.pdf>

[4] Macroeconomic consultations were held in various fora between 2015 and 2016 and most notably was a regional technical experts workshop on gender and macroeconomic policies in Africa convened by FEMNET and UN Women in December 2015