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Tackling Gender Inequalities Through Effective Public Service Delivery

The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ASPA as an organization.

By Carmen Apaza
November 14, 2014

Recent government programs addressing gender inequalities in Africa aim at improving education, primary health care and job conditions. However, serious limitations and socio-cultural conditions challenge their implementation. 

Gender Inequalities in Africa 

Apaza novWomen in Africa are seriously disadvantaged. They are vulnerable to human rights violations due to highly patriarchal and backward socio-cultural structures and practices. Families headed by women have a higher incidence of poverty. High rates of poverty among families headed by women are related to low educational levels, widowhood, high rates of dependency and incomes too low to meet family needs.

In an effort to overcome this situation, most African governments have embarked on comprehensive programs promoting growth to enhance education, health care and job conditions. In particular, Ethiopia and Mozambique have addressed gender inequalities through key government programs at the national and local levels. 

Addressing Gender Inequalities in the Education Sector

Women in Africa are seriously disadvantaged regarding educational attainment. However, some countries have been tackling the issue in a positive way. In Ethiopia, after the first year of implementation of the 2002- 2004 Development and Poverty Reduction Strategy Paper (SDPRP), the gross primary school enrollment reached 64.4 percent (the target was 65 percent), and the girls/boys ratio was 0.72 (the target was 0.7).

Moreover, the enrollment of girls in grades 1-8 increased from 3.3 million to 3.6 million. By the end of 2004, the gross primary enrollment (GER) reached 68 percent surpassing the target of 65 percent. The girls/boys ratio was 0.78 almost reaching the 0.79 target. Nevertheless, the total primary completion rate total was only 38 percent, for girls it was 29 percent and for boys 46 percent.               

In Mozambique, the Plan for Education and Culture (PEEC-I) implemented between 1999 and 2005 resulted in the construction of new primary and secondary school facilities and the rehabilitation of those that had been destroyed by the 1992 civil war. In 2006, the PEEC-II (2006-2008) was developed aligning its objectives with the government’s action plan for the Reduction of Absolute Poverty (PARPA II) (2006-2009). The PARPA II aimed at guaranteeing quality education for everyone, with special attention to the primary grades. Specific targets included:

·         Reduce the illiteracy rate by 10 percent (from 53 percent to 43 percent).

·         Increase the net enrollment rate (primary education) from 83 percent to 93 percent.

·         Increase the enrollment rate into the first grade for girls at age six from 56 percent to 80 percent.

·         Increase completion rate from 55 percent to 59 percent for girls in the 7-grade basic education system.

Addressing Gender Inequalities in the Health Sector

In Ethiopia, a comprehensive health sector development program was issued in 1997. Implementation was scheduled in four phases within a 20-year period. The first three phases were complete in 2002, 2005 and 2010 respectively.

The programs targeted rural households and particularly women through sanitation and disease prevention efforts for waterborne diseases and services for reproductive health, family planning and HIV/AIDS awareness. They aimed at reducing maternal, infant and child mortality and the overall vulnerability of women and children.

After implementation, health sector goals such as reducing child mortality and improving maternal health have experienced a slow but positive result. The infant mortality rate (per 1,000 live births) was 98 in 1997, 87 in 2001, 75 in 2004 and 51 in 2010. The maternal mortality rate (per 100,000 live births) was 700 in 2000, and 350 in 2010.

In Mozambique, HIV/AIDS affects the health sector by both increasing the demand for health services and taking its toll on health personnel. In 2004, the government declared HIV/AIDS a national emergency. The epidemic has reduced life expectancy from 41 years in 1999 to 38 in 2004. On average, 500 new infections occur every day, 90 of them among young children through mother-to-child transmission.

Through the Government’s Action Plan for the Reduction of Absolute Poverty (PARPA II) (2006-2009), the government aimed at improving the health of the general public. After its implementation, the infant mortality rate dropped from 89 percent in 2005 to 74 percent in 2009.

Addressing Gender Inequalities in the job area

Africa women are badly disadvantaged regarding employment status. In a 2008 survey conducted by the Ethiopian Society of Population Studies, in 2005 about 87 percent of men were working while only 36 percent of women were working. Women also experience multiple forms of another deprivation –longer working days. Furthermore, violence and discrimination against women is still widespread.

Nations are taking measures to tackle the problem. In Ethiopia, a national policy for women was launched in 1993. It contains measures to combat all forms of discrimination and to improve the involvement of women in all policy interventions, programs and projects. Subsequently in 2001, a national action plan on gender equality was issued. It focused on poverty reduction, reproductive rights, women’s health, the elimination of violence against females and the advancement of women in decision-making at all levels. The government formulated a national gender policy which recognizes equality of the sexes and sets up mechanisms for the improvement of women’s conditions, such as the establishment of the Women’s Affairs Office within the Prime Minister’s Office.

Through the 2011- 2015 Growth and Transformation Plan (GTP), Ethiopia aims at empowering youth and women by improving the distribution of their resources and opportunities. It intends to ensure women’s equal access to resources, access to credit, the protection and promotion of reproductive rights and abolishment of harmful traditional cultural practices.

Challenges & Possible Solutions

Although most African governments’ programs consider measures to tackle gender inequalities, women still face widespread violations of their constitutional rights. Government needs to invest in developing gender equality programs with full participation of women’s associations.

Regarding education and primary health care, challenges continue with strengthening the quality and efficiency of public service delivery as well as increasing the supply of these services.

Although access to education for girls has been modestly successful, the primary completion rate remains weak. In this vein, reasons for low completion and dropouts should be explored and addressed.

Finally, more efforts should be made to improve women’s participation in the implementation of gender equality programs.


Author: Carmen R. Apaza, Ph.D. is an international public service consultant. She can be reached at [email protected].

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