KAMPALA – The theme of this year’s Labour Day, “Enhancing Innovation for Increased Employment Creation and Labour Productivity: A Sustainable COVID-19 Response,” is relevant to the socio-economic challenges the world is grappling with today in the context of the Covid-19 pandemic. In an economy that has been ravaged by the Covid-19 pandemic, it was re-assuring that the government rightly emphasised the role that innovation will play if we are to recover from the crippling effects of the lockdowns with our heads high. As often happens with these commemorative events in the year’s calendar, the gendered nature of the challenges society faces get lost in the cloud of assumption of a monolithic society. To the contrary, the pandemic has affected different segments of society uniquely along gender, racial, economic class and age grades.
Women-owned businesses, for instance, were already less profitable than men-owned businesses and the Covid-19 pandemic just made matters worse. It is for this reason that a context-specific approach should be applied in addressing the challenges faced by society.
At the Forum for Women in Democracy (FOWODE), we are passionate about gender equality and equity in macroeconomic policy and we strongly believe that equitable distribution of resources between women and men, girls and boys must be at the centre of all the Covid-19 responses that the government devises.
Government is obliged to support women’s innovativeness through enabling entrepreneurship by facilitating women entrepreneurs to grow their businesses, addressing market entry barriers and encouraging women’s and girls’ professional development. It is important to note that women innovators face unique challenges different from those of men.
The government has to find a way of reducing heavy and unpaid care work on women. There must be efforts by the government to ratify the International Labour Organization (ILO) Maternity Protection Convention 2000 (no. 183) standards which is a torch-bearer on matters maternity leave. The Convention includes at least 14 weeks of paid maternity leave and also compels countries to provide at least 18 weeks as well as workplace support for breastfeeding families.
We call for policies that alleviate care burdens on women through quality childcare options. If women are to stay productive in the labour force, there have to be programs that boost their economic activities and also increase their profit margins.
Labour unions have for long advocated for workplaces to have breastfeeding facilities where women can comfortably breastfeed their babies. It’s shameful that in Uganda, only Parliament, thanks to the leadership of Speaker Rt. Hon. Kadaga, and a few other workplaces have such a facility worthy of the name.
The government has to devise deliberate interventions to ensure that Ugandan women successfully enter the labour market as well as measures to ensure that they are maintained there.
World Bank studies have shown that in 2016, between 25-30% of female youth between the ages of 20-24 were neither working nor in school, compared to 10-15% for male youth. This sad state of affairs has obviously been exacerbated by the Covid-19 pandemic. It is important that the government supports women’s innovations because of the unique nature they have in turning around the fortunes of an economy that is already badly ravaged by the COVID-19 pandemic.
As the pandemic forced the government to enforce strict shutdowns, majority of women-owned businesses were forced to close, forcing more women out of work as they inevitably had to even dedicate more work to family chores.
It is common knowledge that women in our labour market earn less than what men take home, in some cases even when they are engaged in the same work.
Therefore, as we celebrate the International Labour Day, it is important that the government reflects on the critical importance that innovations by women can play in breathing life back into our ailing economy.
Patricia Munabi Babiiha is the Executive Director, Forum for Women in Democracy (FOWODE).