Women in Africa

Women in Africa are really the pillar of the society, are the most productive segment of society, actually.” Mo Ibrahim

July 25, 2022

Africa is the continent with arguably the greatest potential on earth.  By 2100, it will be home to almost one-half of the world’s population.  While much has been written about Africa’s young and fast-growing population, less has been reported on the role of women in shaping Africa’s future. While women represent more than half of Africa’s population, women generated only a third of the GDP in 2018.  Per McKinsey, women can boost African economies by the equivalent of 10% of their collective GDP by 2025.  Gender inequality continues to plague the continent; however, rays of change are increasingly infusing the continent with hope.

The Positives: Women Leading in Africa

Women in Africa, working as farmers, workers, and entrepreneurs, are the most economically active of any region in the developing world, where their responsibility to provide food, water, nutrition, education, and health for their families is greater than in any other region. African mothers, especially in many poor African communities, provide an income while also being a present source of support and guidance within the family. African women drive the welfare of their families and have an important voice in the governance of their communities and nations.

Agriculture: Women’s role in Africa’s agriculture is unmatched.  Agriculture is the backbone of Africa’s economy, employing approximately 70% of the population.  Women comprise two-thirds of the agricultural labor force,  producing the majority of Africa’s food.

Public Service: Women play a significant and growing role in African government. Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, the former president of the Republic of Liberia, indicated that five African countries are in the top 20 nations for women’s parliamentary representation. Rwanda, at 60%, leads the world in terms of women in parliament. Women occupy approximately 24% of parliamentary seats in Africa, similar to the 25.7% global average.

Corporate Boards: While still below targeted levels, women in Africa are gaining representation on corporate boards across the continent. With 25% of corporate boards having female representation (against a global average of 17%), Africa is one of the world’s leading regions in female board representation.  Per Deloitte, the top industries with the highest percentage of women on boards in Sub-Saharan Africa are energy/resources, financial services, and consumer business with 25.2%, 24.5%, and 24.3%, respectively.

Many Emerging Leaders: The continent has a long history of female leaders and more are emerging at a heightened pace.  Standing on the shoulders of the likes of Wangari Muta Maathai (the 2004 Nobel Peace Prize laureate who created an environmental movement around women planting trees for improved quality of life), young and dynamic women entrepreneurs in technology, academics, investment, and politics, among other industries, are driving innovation across the continent.  Per the World Economic Forum, in countries like Nigeria, Jordan, Burkina Faso and C’oite de Voire, women are more likely than men to lead in managerial positions.

The Challenges: Gender Inequality Continues

African women face many socio-cultural challenges as well as legal and political roadblocks. The World Economic Forum indicates that African women currently comprise the majority of workers in the informal economy yet only about a third of women participate in formal economic activity. Though women are more economically active than men and contribute two-thirds of Africa’s agricultural labor force, most women remain relegated to the informal economy.  Amanda Panella of The Borgen Project indicates that while over 60% of women living in developing countries make a living from working in agriculture, of these women only 10% (in Africa) own livestock and only approximately 1% own their own land. The United Nations University states that women often work twice as long as men, 15 to 18 hours a day, only to earn only one tenth what men earn. McKinsey reports that at the current rate of progress, it would take Africa more than 140 years to reach gender parity.  Below are a few of the root causes regarding the challenges women in Africa face. 

Absentee Fathers: Many of the challenges women face begin with men—in particular, absentee fathers.  Not only does absentee fatherhood have significant emotional, social, and physical implications for children but it poses profound financial responsibility on the mother. A single mother who relies on only her income to support her family is at greater risk of poverty—particularly in a continent where gender wage gaps continue. 

The South African Institute of Race Relations shared that as of 2022, only 33% of children live with both parents. For single parent homes, 39% live with their mother, while only 4% live with their father. Children become completely reliant on single parents until they marry or obtain employment. In turn, children are incentivized to marry early to decrease the burden placed on their mother.

The Africa Gender Equality Index 2015 describes the logistical challenges posed on African women as a result of paternal absence. The index indicates how African women become time-poor as a result, especially in places with poor infrastructure (particularly power and water). Across poorer parts of Sub-Saharan Africa, few households have access to modern fuels for cooking—in 11 countries, less than 1% of households. Thus, women and girls spend significant time and energy collecting firewood and other biomass. Without electricity, other household tasks, like food processing, become more difficult. Collecting water is also a heavy burden for women across Africa.  In Mozambique, rural Senegal and eastern Uganda, women spend on average 15 to 17 hours per week collecting water. In the dry season, it is common for women to walk over 10 kilometers to find clean water. Annually, this time represents up to two full months of labor.

Education: The challenges continue in education. Education forms the foundation of family health, nutrition, agricultural productivity, and fertility.  Yet women comprise more than two-thirds of Africa’s illiterate population.  The Council on Foreign Relations shares that only 8% of girls finish secondary school out of the 75% enrolled in primary education.  A UNICEF report indicates that if women had access to (and pursued) secondary education, the child marriage rate would drop by 64%.  The United Nations University indicates that in Tanzania, half of the school dropouts each year are girls aged 12 to 14 years who drop out because of pregnancies. Per the International Labour Organization, 76% of inactive out-of-school youth were female as of 2018 and nearly 40% of girls in Sub-Saharan Africa were married before they reached the age of 18.

Technology, Resources and Credit: African women face greater difficulty in gaining access to information technology, resources, and credit than African men.  Africa has the second largest gender gap in mobile phone ownership at 15%; only one woman out of three can access mobile internet compared with one man in two.  Women face discrimination in gaining access to resources and credit to launch and grow their own businesses.  As a result, many are not able to capitalize on higher-income opportunities.

Health:  Africa’s average maternal mortality rate is four times the global average.  This makes it the highest of any region. Burundi, Liberia, and Nigeria have a maternal mortality rate of seven times the global average. Africa’s record on violence against women is worse than the global average.

SMEs: Small and medium sized enterprises (SMEs) are Africa’s primary engine of job creation, estimated to account for over 90% of all firms outside of the agricultural sector in the continent (World Economic Forum, 2018). Women’s formal ownership of SMEs currently stands at around a third of all registered SMEs in Africa.  Women-owned SMEs are more likely to have lower sales and annual turnover, fewer employees, and smaller sizes than those enterprises owned by men.

The Opportunity

Not only does Africa hold the promise of a “demographic dividend” through the youngest and fastest growing population on earth, but it also holds a “growth dividend” by advancing women’s equality.  As noted, McKinsey estimates that this potential “growth dividend” can add $316 billion, or 10%, to Africa’s GDP by 2025.

To unlock this “growth dividend” and address the continent’s gender inequality, investors should consider three strategies: first, invest in African technology; second, invest in African education; and third, advocate for  the Rule of Law.

1 – Invest in African Technology: Expanding access to technology will empower women with access to information, job opportunities, and services that will enhance their lives. Technology drives economic opportunity for women.  It scales rapidly.  Technology improves financial inclusion and empowers female entrepreneurs.  Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, the Nigerian-American economist who has been serving as Director-General of the World Trade Organization since March 2021 (and is the first woman and first African to lead the World Trade Organization as Director-General), said it best: “Mobile phone technology can help to bring financial services to the 80 percent of African women who do not have a bank account and bolster the growth of the world’s poorest continent. It’s not just about empowering women, it’s about economic growth. Unless we can make access to finance easier for women in their businesses, we will be missing out on a significant portion of growth within our economies.

At 1K Africa, we have made multiple technology investments.  1K Africa portfolio company Pay@ is a leading South African payment aggregator. Pay@ improves the standard of living of its customers by facilitating access to a range of financial products and services such as insurance, education, healthcare, and housing, which may otherwise remain unavailable due to the lack of payment facilities. Pay@ is improving access for women to secure financial services and payment facilities, especially for women in underbanked and rural populations in under-developed communities.

PayMeNow, another 1K Africa portfolio company, has built a financial wellness and inclusion platform that assists employees to get early access to already earned wages. PayMeNow facilitates affordable, real-time access to cash which allows employees to reach their financial goals and afford daily life expenses. Thousands of women have benefited from PayMeNow’s financial inclusion platform.

Our Sybrin portfolio company supports the GirlCode initiative, an online coding academy that enables young girls and women to take courses on the cloud, web development, and app development.

2 – Invest in Education:  As Mandela famously said, “Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.”  Education is required for sustained economic growth and heightened productivity; it is also imperative to address gender parity.  Greater investments in education for women would not only address gender bias but also accelerate the contribution of women to Africa’s GDP.

1K Africa holds an investment in Higher Education Partners South Africa (HEPSA), a leading online program management company bringing affordable and high-quality online education to thousands in Africa.  This, in turn, increases the potential for female graduates to access skilled employment, thereby addressing the growing levels of gender inequality.

3 – Advocate for the Rule of Law:  Fundamental to addressing gender bias and violence against women is enshrining women’s rights in law.  Legal codes, however, are not enough. Authorities must enforce legal rights and adopt policies that allow women to flourish.  Advocating for these initiatives will accelerate their acquisition.


Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, the first female Liberian president and a Nobel Peace Prize recipient, said: “If your dreams do not scare you, they are not big enough.”  What are your dreams to improve the role of women in Africa?  Another remarkable woman, Margaret Mead, an anthropologist and recipient of the Planetary Citizen of the Year Award in 1978, said: “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world: indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.”

At 1K Africa, we believe families, leveraging the tool of free enterprise, can effect transformative positive change.  As of Q1 2022, 27% of our portfolio workforce was female—a 9% increase between Q4 2021 and Q1 2022. Though small on a relative basis, our investments have created or sustained thousands of jobs for women, improved education for women, and contributed to financial well-being across the continent.    

by Hendrik F. Jordaan

President, CEO and Co-Founder, 1K Africa

Co-Founder & Chairman, Family Legacy Capital Credit Management, LLC (FLC Credit) & Family Legacy Capital Management, LLC (FLC)


DISCLAIMER: The opinions and views expressed herein are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent the view(s) of any affiliated institution or organization including without limitation 1K Africa, Family Legacy Capital Credit Management, LLC, Family Legacy Capital Management, LLC, and any investment fund, entity or vehicle managed by or affiliated or associated with any of them.

Women in Africa
Women in Africa by Hendrik Jordaan

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