The Economic Cost of Gender Imbalance

The economic cost of gender imbalance in Zambia is huge, only better designed programmes and investment in education can turn it around, says Dennis Mtonga.

Africa is facing significant losses in productivity and economic growth due to gender inequality. Sub-Saharan Africa alone is losing (US)$95 billion a year to gender inequality and women being “under-involved” in the economic spheres of their nations. 

In most countries, females are engaged in low production and low paying jobs, and lack access to financial assets and to means of production. This is costing the continent in economic growth and human development.

In Zambia, a 2014 Labour Force Survey (LFS) shows that 52% of economically active females are mainly employed as ‘contributing family workers’ (CFWs) compared to 17% of males. The 2009 women’s work and employment in Zambia study indicated that 78% of the economically active women worked in agriculture while only 28% were in wage employment in the non-agricultural sector. In this situation everyone loses. On the one hand, the situation has contributed to inequalities, low wages for women, poor working conditions for women and limited meaningful work opportunities. At the same time, this has led to reduced productivity as we are losing out on the abilities, talents and potential of women. Many with the potential to be making huge contributions to information industries are confined to the fields.  

Zambia’s development plan, the 7th National Development Plan (7NDP), highlights reduced developmental inequalities and enhanced human development as its basis for creating an inclusive economy. Despite its lofty aims, it has been largely unsuccessful. “Women’s empowerment handouts” of up to K5,000 ($288) have been given to groups of 15 women as startup capital. In most cases, these groups have failed to be sustained beyond the initial cycle when the capital was injected. 

The failure of this project has two causes. Firstly the ill-preparation of the participants in terms of basic financial education, and inadequate skills building. Secondly the politicised nature of the initiative. Heavy procedural requirements, and lack of education investments mean that few women are eligible for the programme. Most female-intensive sub-sectors (such as the commerce sector) are also the least skill-intensive, reflecting the low education completion rates among women. 

For this reason we have failed to bring about economic empowerment despite Zambia having policies that appear inclusive. There will be a need for a “turn around” in how men and women relate to one another, supported by policies and practices, investments in women’s economic initiatives, skills development and education as well as improvements in employment opportunities for all.  


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The Economic Cost of Gender Imbalance

by Mtonga Dennis Reading time: 2 min