Africa stands to benefit from the converging of many trends, including a 5.5% growth rate and an increasingly educated young population. But will 51% of its population benefit from these opportunities? According to the World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap Report 2012, when it comes to achieving gender parity in areas such as health, education, economics and political empowerment, the continent is lagging behind. There are, however, a few surprising and stellar examples that give hope. For example, both Lesotho and South Africa made it into the top 20 of the rankings; Mozambique was in 23rd place, just behind the US; and Malawi came in at 36 out of 135 countries.

The Nordic countries, consistently ranked at the top of the Global Gender Gap Index, have policies such as mandatory paternal leave and quotas which help increase female participation in both education and the workforce. But are such policies impractical and too costly for Africa’s emerging economies? And what are the negative side effects associated with their implementation?

I will be moderating a discussion in Cape Town at the World Economic Forum on Africa, called “Working Women: From Talent to Leadership”, that will address some of these issues. It will examine the various voluntary and mandatory measures needed for African countries to promote gender equality, and will highlight and celebrate the practices and policies of the African countries that rank highly in the Global Gender Gap Index, exploring how these can be exported to the rest of the region and the world.

One of the questions the panel will look at will be how we can increase the number of female graduates in relevant fields, so as to build a pipeline of talent. This must first involve identifying the “relevant” fields important to Africa’s growth, fields that will create many high-paying jobs (by 2020 these will be agriculture, manufacturing, retail and hospitality, and government and social services). Then we need to match these industries with the right programmes at the secondary and tertiary education level, and bolster them with female-focused enrollment schemes, career training, mentoring and skills development, both during the courses and after graduation. The female graduates that will emerge in these fields will be natural leaders by virtue of the industries they are in, i.e. the ones driving growth on the continent. 

I also want the panel to look at how we can overhaul African academic institutions and corporate systems in terms of gender sensitization. What must they do in order to retain their female students and employees? In addition, I’d like to explore the success of interventions at the enrollment level of tertiary institutions and the recruiting level of companies.

Finally, I will be encouraging the members of our panel to share their personal journeys on how they achieved their current levels of success and leadership, and what they’re doing to help the next generation of young women achieve as much as they have. I welcome your comments and insights for us to consider ahead of the panel discussion. 

Author: Vimbayi Kajese is a Zimbabwean freelance TV presenter. She is also the Special Friendship Envoy and Cultural Ambassador to China and a Young Global Leader at the World Economic Forum.

Image: Girls walk to school in Gao. REUTERS/Joe Penney