Women’s economic empowerment (WEE) approaches often neglect to consider both the unpaid labour needed to care for families and women’s lack of control over their bodies. In doing this, WEE approaches risk disempowering women and girls, who are the main caregivers in most families, as they might be unable to take full advantage of available opportunities. Further, when programmes do not factor in the presence or lack of services and the reorganisation of unpaid care work when women enter paid work, other females in the family, such as younger girls and older women, bear the costs. A rights-based approach to WEE - one whose objective is economic justice – therefore, needs to take into account the processes and barriers to young urban women’s access to and participation in economic opportunities.
This research builds on ActionAid’s Young Urban Women: Life Choices and Livelihoods programme. It aims to examine the processes by which young urban women engage in paid work without deepening their time poverty; adding to their concerns about the quality of care that their families receive; without economic gains being eroded by costs of substitute care; and without overburdening other females in the household. The multi-faceted and complex inter-linkages between bodily integrity, economic security and unpaid care responsibilities are especially important to understand, as are the choices that young urban women make regarding the type of paid work they access, as well as increasing their capacity for autonomous decision making.
This research aims to better identify the positive linkages between access to gender-responsive public services (GRPS) and economic justice for women. It examines the potential of GRPS, including access to water, sanitation, health and childcare services, as enablers for young urban women’s economic activities and the fulfilment of their rights, including their right to bodily integrity. The research was carried out in Ghana’s Ga West District and Johannesburg, South Africa.
The peri-urban areas of Ga West District are densely populated, but lack sufficient coverage and quality of basic infrastructure such as water, electricity, health facilities, roads and transportation networks. In Johannesburg, fieldwork was completed in several townships located on the periphery of the city, taking more than two hours by public transportation to get to the centre of the city. Almost all households have access to basic services such as water and electricity; however, feelings of unsafety within these communities are strong and many of them lack roads or street lighting.
1. Poor access to essential services means poor access to decent work
Many young women in Ghana and South Africa face multiple barriers to finding and maintaining a job in the formal economy, which reflects poor or lack of access to some essential services. In part, these barriers reflect and reproduce disadvantages and challenges that the whole population faces, such as unreliable water and electricity provision in Ghana, and spatial marginalisation of women, men and children in townships in South Africa. Yet they also have gender-specific impacts.
In Ghana, for example, lack or poor provision of services such as water and electricity affects businesses where women’s economic activities are concentrated, such as hair and beauty salons, tailors and grocers. In South Africa, lack of access to safe transport means that women either cannot look for jobs beyond the township where they live, or when they do, they face daily insecurity and risk being attacked.
Case study 1:
Mudiwa (27 years old) lives in the Ga West District in Ghana, with the highest population rate in the Greater Accra Region and a population growth rate higher than the national average. She has no access to running water in her house. Like all the women we met or interviewed, she needs to go outside to collect it. The burden of this task varies. Depending on whether the land on which the water access point is located is public or private, access may be restricted and available only during certain times of the day, resulting in long queues based on the time of collection.
The time used for this task adds to the physical drudgery of collecting and carrying heavy loads on one’s head from the water source to the home (several times each day or week), which frequently results in neck and back pains. Mudiwa has a beauty salon at home and is waiting until she has saved enough money to open her own shop. In envisioning the salon she dreams of, she mentions water and electricity as the main challenges to open it. Electricity is needed to run the appliances and she will need water [already a struggle] to ‘wash the towels, the roller: you use water for everything’.
2. Violence and stigma undermine economic rights
Other gender-specific barriers reflect links between violence against women and their economic rights. Women are disproportionately engaged in unpaid care work, which exacerbates their relative economic dependency on men, whose status as breadwinners (actual or ascribed) tends to justify their persistent lack of participation in care work. This dependency means that many stay in violent relationships due to a lack of economic alternatives.
Women also continue to be exposed to sexual violence and harassment everywhere, which constrains their mobility and capacity to maintain a job if this requires long journey times. The gendered stigma towards young single mothers, furthermore, constitutes for many young women an insurmountable challenge to finishing their education, thereby constraining their capacity to find a decent job even further.
To be continued next week…
This is the first part of a two-part article on key excerpts from ActionAid’s report titled ‘Gender-Responsive Public Services and Young Urban Women’s Economic Empowerment: A report on research in Ghana and South Africa’.
The full report can be downloaded at www.actionaid.org/ghana/publications