Title Page
 Table of Contents
 Women and work in Africa
 African women workers and...
 ILO policy statements (1964-77...

Title: Working women in Africa
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Permanent Link: http://ufdc.ufl.edu/UF00086871/00001
 Material Information
Title: Working women in Africa
Physical Description: Book
Language: English
Creator: International Labour Organisation
Publisher: International Labour Organisation
Publication Date: 1980
Spatial Coverage: Africa
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Bibliographic ID: UF00086871
Volume ID: VID00001
Source Institution: University of Florida
Rights Management: All rights reserved by the source institution and holding location.

Table of Contents
    Title Page
        Page i
    Table of Contents
        Page ii
    Women and work in Africa
        Page 1
        Page 2
        Page 3
        Page 4
    African women workers and ILO activities
        Page 5
        Page 6
    ILO policy statements (1964-77)
        Page 7
        Page 8
        Page 9
        Page 10
Full Text


International Labour Organisation


(An Information Brief*)

Prepared by the Office for Women Workers' Questions
(K. A.-Patel), Geneva, October 1980.

Table of Contents

I. Women and work in Africa
1. Some estimates
2. Rural women and development
(a) Agriculture
(b) Technology
(c) Migration
3. Urbanisation and modernisation
(a) Organised sector
(b) Small scale and home-based industries
(c) Informal sector
4. Women and apartheid
II. African women workers and ILO activities
1. Special programmes
(a) Rural women
(b) Population and employment
(c) Technology and employment
(d) Rural public works programmes
(e) Improvement of Working Conditions and
Environment (PIACT)
(f) Women and apartheid
2. Training women for new skills
3. International standards
III. ILO Policy statements (1964-77)
1. Resolution concerning the Employment and Conditions
of Work of Women in African Countries (Addis Ababa, 1964)
2. Resolution concerning ILO Action to Advance the
Economic and Social Status of Women in African
Countries (Addis Ababa, 1964)
3. Recommendations of the Committee on Education for
Development (Abidjan, 1977)
ANNEX Decisions and resolutions of the World Conference on
the United Nations Decade for Women (WCUNDW), 14-30
July 1980
1. Programme of action
2. List of selected resolutions related to ILO subjects

I. Women and work in Africa

1. Some estimates

According to ILO estimates1 out of the female population in
Africa of about 200 million, about 50 million or one-fourth the
total are considered to be "economically active".2 This means
that 24 out of over 100 women are participating in the labour
force the highest in any geographical region of the world.
The nature, extent and degree of their participation rate varies
from one country to another and largely depends upon the demo-
graphic pattern, stage of industrialisation and social structure.
Of 50 million African women workers, approximately 30 million
work on the land their main source of employment. In this
category are included a high percentage who work on their "own
account" and are usually classified as "unpaid family workers".
The next in the hierarchy is the service sector which employs
women in commerce, hotels and restaurants, banks, transport and
communications. The industrial sector employs only about
3 million women the lowest percentage rate than any other
continent a reflection indeed of the stage and pattern of

As regards the distribution of women workers by major
occupational groups, the data reveals that the majority of women
are employed in the lowest paid and the least productive
occupations in the employment structure. Like women workers
in the developing continents of Asia and Latin America, most
African women work in difficult conditions, particularly in
agriculture where their wages are non-existent or very low.
Due to the low skill profile of women in the African continent,
there are very few women working in technical, administrative
and managerial jobs.

ILO, Participation of women in economic activities and
their working conditions in African countries, Geneva 1979.
It may be noted that economic activity "usually
signifies participation in the production of goods and services" -
a definition which varies from country to country. A very
large number of women working in the non-monetised sector of
economy are frequently left out of existing methodologies and
are not counted in the labour force. Therefore the present
figures are to be used with caution, as they substantially
underestimate women's contribution to the economy.

2. Rural women and development

(a) Agriculture
In the African continent, women participate extensively in
a range of agricultural tasks such as tilling, sowing, weeding,
harvesting with traditional tools in a technologically advanced
world. They do not either own or control or work on the land
in their own right and constitute a major group of food producers,
performing in addition the "feminine jobs" of food-gatherers,
food makers and food distributors. While they manage the
subsistence economy of the majority of the countries of the
continent and in this process make technical and administrative
decisions, the existing economic and social indicators reveal
their economic vulnerability and social dependence. Women face
considerable difficulties obtaining access in relation of modern
inputs such as credit, fertilisers, etc. and controlling their
income and expenditure. Traditionally and by unwritten rules
of law, they are usually excluded from agricultural extension
programmes, schemes and services.

(b) Technology

The role of rural women alters under the impact of tech-
nological change, yet very little is known about the nature of
this impact. A review of empirical evidence from Africa
reveals that:1 (a) a technology which is looked upon as a
labour-saving device may well put some women out of work
altogether; (b) when an improved technology is introduced,
male members usually control it and often perform tasks earlier
considered "feminine" when traditional tools were available;
(c) women seem to have shown a marked propensity to overcome
initial doubts and problems with the introduction of basically
sound technologies if the time is taken up to assist and advise
them; (d) a great majority of rural women are unaware of most
of the improved technologies; (e) there is a need for a
package approach to rural development under which beneficial
equipment innovations for rural women together with adequate
institutional, financial, organisational and extension support;
(f) there is also a need for alternative income-earning
opportunities for rural women as an incentive to the adoption of
labour-saving devices; (g) the effect of technological change
on rural women varies with the underlying division of labour;-
(h) many of the types of technological change occurring today
have a negative impact on rural women (e.g..tendency for work
burdens to increase and decline in women's income generating
activities); (i) rural women tend to be associated with sectors

1 ILO, "Technology and Rural Women in Africa", Marilyn
arr, WEP Research Working Paper WEP 2-22/WP 61, July 1980; and
"Technological Change and the Condition of Rural Women: A
Preliminary Analysis", (Iftikhar Ahmed) WEP Research Working
Paper, WEP 2-22/WP 39, October 1978.

of production which remain at low levels of productivity;
(j) the socio-economic category to which a woman belongs may
effect the impact of technological change; (k) and women's
access to technology, extension services, and various inputs
(physical, capital, skills, etc.) is in no way commensurate
to their role as a factor of production in the rural economy.

(c) Migration

In countries with extensive male internal and international
migration to urban centres or cities such as Upper Volta, Lesotho
and Botswana, women are increasingly involved in farm and off-
farm operations. As a consequence of this male movement of
labour, an increasing number of rural households are headed
by females who are perpetually on the verge of poverty and
deprivation and who are not usually included in agricultural
manning, credit or extension schemes.

3. Urbanisation and modernisation

Under the impact of the existing Development Models,
particularly economies dependent on export and/or extractive
industries, in food and non-food cash crops women's workload
has considerably increased simultaneously with the decline in
their incomes and wages.

(a) Organised sector
Women in urban industries in Africa are often recent migrants
from rural areas, who are often employed in the "traditional
industries" where women predominate, including textiles,
construction, food and drink, and tourism. In the industrial
hierarchy, invariably they are found in low skill occupations,
which are labour intensive, economically vulnerable and poorly
paid. At the workplace equally, their conditions of work and
life are hard and mostly outside the purview of labour or other

(b) Small scale and home-based industries

The incorporation of small farms into large holdings also
meant women earlier engaged in home-based industries, paid on
piece rates, are even more dependent on private contractors who
control the raw material, marketing and income.

For a table on legal provisions relating to maternity
protection, see ILO, Women at work, 8/1977, pp. 14-18.

(c) Informal sector

The studies on the urban informal sector indicate that on
the whole the participation of women in this sector is frequently
lower than that of men and may vary from 1 to 30 per cent in
activities often defined as petty trading, tailoring, food
processing and domestic services. The study also shows that
wages and earnings of women are also significantly lower in
such sectors than that of men. It is not yet clear what
are the important factors that inhibit women's participation
in these activities. Notwithstanding the fact that women
engaged in tie-dye, fish-gutting, marketing, basket weaving,
or any other informal sector activity, experience specific
difficulties in terms of -working conditions, they are all
confronted with the same problems as regards protective
legislation on maternity and other benefits. In view of
the generally prevailing resource constraint, State-provided
maternity benefits and child-care facilities are usually not
available and proper medical attention may be difficult or im-
possible to secure.

4. Women and apartheid
Various ILO reports,2 particularly since 1975 have emphasised
that women are helplessly caught in a complex web of apartheid
laws and legislation which affect their work, wages and working
conditions. Due to various legal and administrative restrictions
in the urban areas, a married African woman-may lose her
"Residence Right" at any time together with the possibility of
a livelihood. The wage rates of African women everywhere in
Southern Africa are lower than that of African men. The 16th
Special Report on Apartheid2 submitted to the ILO Conference in
June 1980 devotes a chapter on this problem, entitled "African
women and apartheid in labour matters". The report summarises
the position of women in South Africa, according to which, they
... are discriminated against through legislation that
circumscribes their civil, political and economic rights and
opportunities ... "

The term "petty trading" covers a wide range of work
situations and may include marketing products grown as surplus or
subsistence plots. These activities may involve anything from
4 to 12 hours of work per day.
2ILO, Sixteenth Special Report of the Director-General on
the Apolication of the Declaration Concerning the Policy of
ADartheid of the Republic of South Africa, 66th Session, Geneva,
1980. Chapter II.

II. African women workers and ILO activities

This section describes selected programmes and projects
(1975-80) and provides a synoptic outlined of ILO activities.

1. Special programmes

(a) Rural Women

Within the general framework of the World Employment
Programme, the ILO has for the past three years undertaken a
series of research projects to promote the employment of rural
women in Africa. Its objective is to define concrete policies
that will benefit rural women, emphasise the need to define
concrete policies that will benefit rural women, emphasise the
need to create the conditions necessary for equality between
the sexes and place the problems concerning rural women within
the perspective of over-all social and political change.

The results of the series of studies to be published in an
anthology at the end of this year include the Ivory Coast, South
Africa, Namibia and Nigeria.2

(b) Population and employment
Under this Programme, a research project entitled "Demographic
change and the role of women" has planned a series of studies
interlinking labour force participation, fertility levels and
Their association with economic factors and&consumption patterns
of households. Research projects in this series subcontracted
to various institutions include:
"The effect of innovations on rural women: a case study of
Gari processing in Ibadan districts (south-west Nigeria)";

"Sex segregation and sex discrimination in the urban labour
market of Accra-Tema: causes and consequences";

-"Womens' roles in Ibadan and Abeakuta labour force: a study
of the reciprocal effects of domestic and wage responsibili-
ties ...";
"Sex segregation and sex discrimination in urban labour
markets: causes and consequences in Ile-Ife (Nigeria'); and

"Women industrial workers in Mauritius".

1 In this connection see also ILO, Standards and polic
statements of special interest to women workers, Geneva, 1980,
pp. 33, 37 and 57.
2See ILO, Rural development planning and the sexual
division of labour: a case study of northern Nigeria
(Richard Longhurst), June 1980.

(c) Technology and employment
To examine the impact of technological change on the role
and working conditions of women, selected studies1 have been
planned to gain an insight on rural activities of women and
basic technologies.

(d) Rural public works Drogrammes
Under an inter-regional project on planning and administration
of special public works/schemes, a series of case studies2 are
being carried out by local research institutions on the role of
women in relation to special public works programmes.

(e) Improvement of Working Conditions and Environment (PIACT)
The purpose of this programme is to place emphasis on the
quality of working life in adapting the working environment to
the physical and mental capacities of workers. Within this
broad framework, the ILO multi-disciplinary teams visited Senegal
and made a concrete proposal to study the conditions of work and
life of women in the informal sector.

(f) Women and apartheid 3

An international seminar on women and apartheid held in
Helsinki in May, examined various aspects of the specific dis-
advantages suffered by African women particularly in respect to
their access to education and vocational skills as well as the
inequalities in the field of employment, conditions of work.
The recommendations of the women's legal status committee which
aims at the abolition of sex discrimination in wages and other
conditions of employment was also submitted to the seminar.4

In this connection see ILO, Technological change and the
condition of rural women: a preliminary assessment (Iftikhar
Ahmed), WEP Research paper, 1978.
2 For example, ILO, Participation of women workers in labour-
intensive rural public works in Tanzania (in the process of being
On this question see various ILO Reports on Apartheid,
particularly the Sixteenth Special Report of the Director-General
on the Application of the Declaration concerning the Policy of
Apartheid of the Republic of South Africa, 66th Session, Geneva,

4 Another seminar on the Equality of Treatment for Women
Workers in South Africa to be held in October 1980, will study the
problems encountered by women as a result of discrimination
based on race and sex.

2. Training women for new skills

A number of pilot schemes on "new occupations" and "new
approaches" to training women in income-generating skills have
been launched by the ILO in which training is integrated ito
a broader programme to include "locally employable skills" at
the village, community and national levels.

3. International standards

Apart from the international Conventions relating to women
workers ratified by African States, the following developments
need to be noted. The observations and direct reque-sts made
by the Committee of Experts during 1976-79 show that the problems
in application still exist in the following cases:

Convention No. 3: Algeria, United Republic of Cameroon,
Gambia, Guinea, Ivory Coast, Libyan Arab Jamahiriya, Upper

Convention No. 41: Central African Republic; and

Convention No. 45: Guinea.

III. ILO Policy statements (1964-77)

The following Resolutions, Decisions and Recommendations
directly relate to questions concerning women and work in Africa.

(1) Resolution concerning the Employment and Conditions of
Work of Women in African Countries (adopted by the Second
African Regional Conference, Addis Ababa, 1964).

Within the framework of national, economic and social
development and of planning employment expansion, the Resolution
recommended, inter alia, that ... development plans should make
full and appropriate provisions for the best use of woman power
as well as for the best use of manpower"; and that national
educational plans should take full account of women including
" ... giving them full access to available facilities; action
should be taken to expand vocational training opportunities for
girls and women ... "; ... the structure for social protection
for women should be kept under continuous and systematic review ..."
and ... maternity protection schemes should be established
where they do not yet exist ... ".

1 See, for example, TARWA Women's Income-Generating
Activities Project (TWIGA) launched in 1979 and the Handicraft
Development Project in Madagascar.

(2) Resolution concerning ILO Action to Advance the Economic
and Social Status of Women in African Countries (adopted by
the Second African Regional Conference, Addis Ababa, 1964)

Under this resolution, the Conference recommended that the
ILO in co-operation with other organizations as appropriate ....
facilitate international exchange on information and experience
among women in Africa. It also urged, inter alia, that the ILO's
programmes including manpower surveys, training projects and
rural development should include women and ... aim at raising
the economic and social status of women".

(3) Recommendations of the Committee on Education for Develooment
(Fifth African Regional Conference, Abidjan 1977).

The conclusions of the Committee listed priorities with
respect to training of "vulnerable groups" including women and
suggested that special efforts should be made to help women
to have access to training opportunities and in providing them
with increased opportunities in occupations not typically
feminine and extend training opportunities to lower income
groups in rural and urban areas.

ANNEX Decisions and resolutions of the World Conference on the
United Nations Decade for Women (WCUNDW) 14-30 July 1980.

1. Programme of action

The programme adopted at the Conference=proposes various
steps to be undertaken during the next five years (1980-85) at
the national, regional and international levels. Its main
points, particularly relevant to Africa are:

(a) National

The programme of action specifically addresses itself to
the needs of rural women, the urban poor and the plight of
migrant women. Special sections are devoted to measures that
would assist refugee women, and women in South Africa under
apartheid. Among the measures proposed are:

to include women in major priorities, strategies and sectors
of development;

to take legislative and developmental action to eliminate
discrimination and change attitudes;

to increase political participation; and

to disaggregate data to provide for sex and age breakdown.

(b) International

The programme also aims "to refine and strengthen practical
measures that would improve the status of women and to ensure
that women's concerns are considered in the formulation and
implementation of the international development strategy for
the third UN development decade". It also calls for action
to five main areas: technical co-operation, training and
advisory services; elaboration and review of international
standards, research data collection and analysis and dissemination
of information.

(c) Regional

As regards regional policies and programmes, the programme
of action states that international policies and programmes
outlined in the text should also be regarded as regional
priorities. It also states that the strengthening of appropriate
regional action programme for women should be based on the
development of co-operation between the countries of the region
with the aim of promoting the principle of self-reliance.

2. List of selected resolutions related to ILO subjects

The following resolutions adopted at the Copenhagen
Conference have a direct bearing on the future programming of
women workers in the ILO.


Family planning

Subject area


Improving the situation of disabled
women in all ages

Migrant women

Elderly women and economic security

Review and evaluation of progress made
in the implementation of the World Plan
of Action at the national level

Special measures in favour of young women

Convention on the elimination of all forms
of discrimination against women

Promotion of equality in education and

Social security,

Migration (inter-
national and national

Social security,
conditions of work
and life

Equality of rights

Conditions of work
and life

International stan-
dards, women workers


Subject area

Les femmes et la discrimination
fondue sur la race

Collection of information on women with
the help of questionnaires for the purpose
of conducting census of the population
(re. statistics of census and surveys)

Women refugees and displaced women all
over the world

Integrated approach to the health and
welfare of women

International centre for public enter-
prises in developing countries

Strengthening the women's programmes and
appointment of women in the secretariat
of the regional commissions and agencies
of the UN

Co-ordination of status of women's issues
within the UN system

Women in the UN secretariat

Women and development assistance

The international research and training
institute for the advancement of women

Establishment and strengthening of
machinery for the integration of women
in development'

Implementation of the goals of the UN
Decade for Women within the framework of
the UN efforts to achieve the NIEO

Women in agriculture and rural areas

Women and nutritional self-sufficiency

Voluntary fund for the UN Decade for Women

Apartheid and women in South Africa and

Equality of rights,
rural women


Equality of rights,
rural women

Conditions of work
and life, basic needs

Industrial relations

Policies, administra-

Women workers,
official relations

Policy, administra-

Women workers,

Institute of Labour
Studies and other

Women workers,
labour administration

Women workers,
employment multi-

Rural women,

Basic needs, women

Women workers, tech-
nical co-operation

Equality of rights



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