New Reforms Target Gender Inequality in Sub-Saharan Africa


SEATTLE — The World Bank recently published its report “Women, Business and the Law 2018”, tracking key indicators of gender equality across countries. According to the report, four of the five most improved economies were in sub-Saharan Africa: the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Kenya, Tanzania and Zambia. Overall, the report indicated that the largest number of reforms to combat gender inequality were in sub-Saharan Africa.

Women in sub-Saharan Africa still face legal barriers to equality. Out of 36 countries worldwide with no domestic violence laws, 19 are located in sub-Saharan Africa. However, the World Bank report indicates that there have been recent efforts to lessen gender inequality in sub-Saharan Africa.

The World Bank report tracks seven key indicators of workplace parity: accessing institutions, using property, getting a job, providing incentives to work, going to court, building credit and protecting women from violence. These indicators track metrics like equality before the law, paid maternity leave policies, right to equal education, access to bank loans and mortgages and legal protections from violence and sexual harassment. All four of the most improved economies passed reforms in three or more of the World Bank’s categories, indicating positive developments in the fight against gender inequality in sub-Saharan Africa.

The Democratic Republic of the Congo

The Democratic Republic of the Congo ranked 153rd out of 188 countries for gender equality on the 2015 United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) Human Development Report. Women hold only 8.2 percent of Parliament seats. Women still cannot act as head of household. Tax deductions or credits are given to male taxpayers automatically. 

However, the Democratic Republic of the Congo improved in three areas tracked by the World Bank. New reforms have increased women’s ability to build credit, access institutions and get a job. A new law prohibits gender discrimination by creditors at financial institutions. Women’s access to institutions was strengthened by altering its family code so that married women are no longer obligated to obey their husbands and have the right to mutually choose their home. Additionally, married women now have the same rights as married men to sign contracts, open bank accounts and register businesses. Gender-based discrimination in hiring and promotions is now prohibited. Finally, restrictions that previously prevented women from working at night in public or private industrial establishments were lifted.


On the 2015 UNDP Human Development Report, Kenya ranked 135th for gender equality. Women hold 20.8 percent of Parliament seats.

Kenya improved in three of the World Bank’s key indicator areas: protecting women from violence, going to court and building credit. Kenya passed its first domestic violence law protecting partners (even non-cohabiting partners), spouses, ex-spouses and other family members from physical, psychological and economic abuse. Legal aid is now provided in civil cases through the Legal Aid Act. Access to credit information was improved when Kenya released records from two utility companies reporting positive and negative payment history.

Despite these improvements, women in Kenya still encounter legal barriers to equality. For example, married men who hold M-Pesa and M-Shwari accounts with Safaricom cannot name their wives as beneficiaries. Kenya can further improve gender parity by allowing a widow access to her deceased husband’s bank accounts and implementing other similar reforms.


Tanzania ranked 129th on the 2015 report. Women hold 36 percent of seats in Parliament. Gender inequality in Tanzania stems from pervasive social power imbalances that are reinforced by unequal distribution of land and resources.

Tanzania has introduced new reforms relating to going to court, providing incentives to work and building credit. Legal aid in civil cases for indigent people is now offered under the Legal Aid Act of 2017. Primary education is now both free and compulsory. Finally, access to credit information was improved when Tanzania released information from retailers.

Furthermore, UNDP has engaged in a series of initiatives in Tanzania to increase women’s access to opportunity. The organization aims to increase the number of women holding elected positions by training candidates and teaching political parties about the importance of gender inclusion. UNDP also works to improve the economic capacity of Tanzanian women by introducing new technological interventions, developing entrepreneurial skills and helping women access additional financing.


Zambia ranked 124th out of 188 countries for gender inequality on the 2015 UNDP Human Development Report. Only 12.7 percent of Parliament seats are held by women. There are still legal barriers to equality in Zambia. For example, women cannot apply for passports in the same way as men.

However, Zambia improved in three of the World Bank’s key indicator areas: going to court, building credit and getting a job. A new Gender Equality Commission was established under the Gender Equity and Equality Act. The Act also prohibits gender discrimination by employees and mandates equal pay. Additionally, access to credit cannot be denied based on gender or marital status. Finally, new legislation enacts civil penalties for sexual harassment in the workplace.

Overall, these reforms show promising change occurring in regards to gender inequality in sub-Saharan Africa. The region’s new legislation in the seven areas tracked by the World Bank indicates improving conditions for women, particularly in the workplace.

– Katherine Parks

Photo: Flickr


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