Remarks by Dr Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma
Minister of Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs,
8th Commonwealth Africa Summit
Panel 6: Commonwealth Women in Leadership During the Covid 19 Recovery:
Moving from an Effective Response to Building Back Better
16 March 2022
- Mme Fatimah Mohammed Habib, Chief Executive Director of Advocacy for Human Value Foundation,
- Mme Funke Felix Adejumo, President for the Funke Felix-Adejumo Foundation,
- Mme Somachi Chris-Asoluka, Head of Policy, External Relations for the Tony Elumelu Foundation.
Representatives from the Commonwealth of Nations, and beyond.
Ladies and gentlemen
Thank you for the opportunity to participate in this panel of women who have contributed in different ways in shaping the development of our continent and in the fight against COVID-19. I am thankful that the panel is intergenerational and regret that I could not be physically present to participate. Thankfully, advances in technology have enabled me to share with you our thoughts and warm regards.
You have asked us to provide a brief commentary on the leadership role played by women during the current COVID-19 pandemic, and how we could use this towards a more effective response to building back better. Throughout the world and at all levels and sectors, including the home, women have been at the forefront of our fight against Covid19.
Women Heads of State and Government in countries such as Ethiopia, Iceland and New Zealand has been recognised for the rapid and compassionate responses they have spearheaded in the efforts to flatten the curve.
Globally an emerging voice of governors, premiers and mayors has become more audible. The combined effect of this compassionate and decisive leadership of women at all levels of collective governance has kept the global death toll to just above 6 million – far short of the 50 – 100 million who were predicted to die.
Additionally, since in Africa women constitute up to 90% of informal traders and 70% of informal cross-border traders, they have also been at the forefront of the importation of food items and other essentials.
According to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation, this type of trade generates about 40 to 60% of the GDP in some African countries. This, therefore, means that women have been at the forefront of averting what could have been a food crisis whilst also saving livelihoods and lives. Additionally, according to UN Women the women operating in the informal economy employ more than one person and their businesses, thus supporting the needs of at least six people. This in turn contributes to community resilience, prosperity, health, education, sustainable development, and cohesion, such that communities can cope and build back better.
At civil society and community levels, women’s organisations continue to be at the centre of reaching the population in terms of information, PPEs, care, and recuperation. These women’s organisations reach the most marginalised people including those in rural areas, with disabilities, refugees, and migrants, amongst others. They also fill the gaps in essential services and are vital in providing important information.
There can be no doubt that at a household level, women play a central role in preventative measures to combat Covid 19. For instance, a study by the Harvard Business Review found that between 70 and 80% of household purchasing decisions are made by women. This means that the decisions to purchase sanitisers, soap, masks, or other PPEs are largely driven by women. No wonder the World Health Organisation concludes that “women are more likely than men to adhere to preventative measures” thus explaining why despite being over half the population only 41% of infection cases are women.
Our health care responses are also reliant on women, who make up 70% of healthcare workers. In countries such as Ethiopia, South Africa, Nigeria, and India women can also be seen as leaders and health experts who are at the forefront of public engagements and press briefings. At a household and community level, women have been the primary caregivers to those infected and affected by the Covid-19 pandemic.
Despite these significant contributions pre-existing and emerging constraints have adversely affected women such that they are the biggest losers, because of Covid-19. For instance, the UN Report entitled “Impact of COVID-19 on Gender Equality and Women’s Empowerment in East and Southern Africa”, found that 60 per cent of women in Ethiopia, Kenya, Malawi, Mozambique, and South Africa experienced a complete loss or decline in personal incomes due to the pandemic. This means, globally, an additional 13 million fewer women were employed in 2021 compared to 2019, in the context were female employment was in any case declining.
This implies a deepening of already high poverty rates whilst entrenching the gender disparity. Nonetheless, the latest World Economic Forum (WEF) Report on the Gender Gap Index acknowledges, that Africa has made the most progress in closing the Gender Gap, despite the negative effects of Covid. However, the Covid-19 pandemic has raised new barriers and existing gender gaps have been amplified. This gap includes the technological gap, which has accentuated exclusion in the context of the new information world.
The combined effect of these has meant that although the global average to close the gender gap is 52 years, for the African continent it will take over a century. The closure of the gap is not a charity case. There is a strong business case for it.
For instance, the McKinsey Global Institute Report on “The Power of Parity” shows that if every country in Africa performed to levels of its highest-performing country across 15 gender indicators, Africa could add $316 billion to its GDP by 2025. Total gender parity could almost triple this figure, and research elsewhere has shown that countries and firms that employ women at their helm outperform men-led organisations.
The Power Parity Report also commends the progress made by Africa, but it has found that whereas Africa has outperformed the global average of 17% by having 25% of female board members, this is far from reaching parity.
The Report has also found that there is a future pipeline blockage when considering that women in middle management have declined by an annual 1% since 2015. They also remain less well represented in the formal sector job market. Whereas women make up 43% of those who receive tertiary education, they only hold 28% of formal sector jobs.
Consequently, in building back better we must reset our economies and address those market failures that have impeded gender equality and our fight against poverty, hunger, and unemployment. Our understanding of building back better is that we must catapult our development to better heights, whilst improving the communities’ physical, social, environmental, and economic conditions to create more resilient communities in the most effective and efficient ways.
Women will also have to be at the heart of the post-pandemic build back better responses at a family, community, national and global levels. These responses must adopt a ‘business unusual’ approach. The responses should also take into cognizance the current geopolitical landscape and possible scenarios of the future.
It should also lay the grounds for responding to the next pandemic, by ensuring technology transfer to low- and middle-income countries to ensure they can manufacture their own vaccines and antivirals, and not rely upon the crumbs from the tables of high-income countries.
This will therefore require that we place an added emphasis on the skills revolution with biases on the education and skilling of women as well as the Science Technology Engineering and Mathematics areas. In these areas, women are grossly underrepresented. This is also the case in jobs for the future where the gender gap ranges from 58% in areas such as Cloud Computing to 19% in areas such as Product Development. The skilling of women must also be complemented by the improvement of their health and nutrition statuses, bearing in mind that only 30% of science professionals in Africa are women.
With the labour force of Africa expected to grow between 12 and 16%, we will need to create at least 20 million new jobs annually. We must focus on the promotion of innovation and the modernising sectors that are largely occupied by youth and women. These sectors include the creative sector and industries as well as agriculture, manufacturing, and the oceans economy.
These human development efforts ought to be complemented by removing the barriers of entry and participation in the mainstream of the economy. These barriers include safety, workplace transformation and access to financing. To address these initiatives that will enable financial, digital, and legal literacy need to be implemented. The public sector and private companies must also set and implement clear goals, targets and budgets for gender diversity and responsiveness.
We must also formalise Informal Cross Border Trade which is the heartbeat to the integration of Africa and has proven to be a lifeline during this pandemic. This will require improving the basic infrastructure which has made cross-border trading unsafe, inefficient, and costly. Thus, we must pay attention to our integrated transport system, which must include maritime, air, roads, and rail. Already through Agenda 2063 several Flagship projects have been agreed to. These have registered varied progress. The African Continental Free Trade Area is well underway and is being implemented. The supporting Protocol to the Treaty on the Establishment of the African Economic Community Relating to the Free Movement of Persons, Right of Residence and Right of Establishment has been signed by 32 Member States.
However, despite signing this important protocol, no AU member state has issued an African passport. However, others such as Rwanda and Kenya, and Ghana have taken progressive and supporting decisions that allow for African passport holders to receive a Visa on arrival. Another exemplary project is the Kazangula Border Project, which is the world’s only “quadripoint” border easing movement between Zambia, Botswana, Namibia, and Zimbabwe.
Programme Director, we must also extend the horizon of participation of women in sectors beyond the micro, informal and care sectors. In Africa, women have also been at the core of our Covid response plans. This means we must urgently build on these capacities and capabilities, whilst offering women the necessary economic, material and psycho/social support.
Thus, our build-back strategies must be customised to address the sectors hardest hit by Covid-19 which are mostly occupied by women. Our strategies also ought to be gender-responsive. As we take resolutions out of this Commonwealth Africa Summit, we must ensure we address the basics and not just politics, polemics, and ideology.
Collectively we must pursue a recovery path that shall integrate Africa and secure communities which are resilient, prosperous, cohesive, connected, free from sexual and racial discrimination and climate-smart. For us, this is the foundation of “an integrated, prosperous and peaceful Africa, driven by its own citizens and representing a dynamic force in the global arena.”
I thank you