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Uganda: Building back better by bringing women into the center

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As highlighted in the 18th Edition of the Uganda Economic Update, Uganda now faces the opportunity and necessity of harnessing women?s economic potential for a sustained recovery. As highlighted in the 18th Edition of the Uganda Economic Update, Uganda now faces the opportunity and necessity of harnessing women’s economic potential for a sustained recovery.
Women's History Month

In Uganda, as in the rest of the world, the COVID-19 shock affected women disproportionately due to the particular role they play in society. Because they were already concentrated in vulnerable jobs and sectors, and have heavier caregiving responsibilities, women were the first to stop working when lockdown measures were put in place in March 2020.

Women entrepreneurs, with smaller, less-profitable businesses and less savings to cushion against shocks, had to shutter their businesses first and required more financial assistance to re-open. At the same time, women saw their care responsibilities increase as schools closed and household members fell sick.

As highlighted in the 18th Edition of the Uganda Economic Update, Uganda now faces the opportunity and necessity of harnessing women’s economic potential for a sustained recovery.  There is much progress that can be built upon — the country already has relatively high labor force participation in the region, one of the highest level of female entrepreneurship in the world, and is nearing gender parity in financial inclusion.

However, stubborn gender disparities in educational attainment, occupational sex segregation and heavy care responsibilities — all exacerbated by the COVID-19 shock — continue to limit women’s movement into higher-skill and higher-earning jobs and sectors. Limited access to technology and training, together with gender discrimination in asset inheritance and access to credit, hinders women entrepreneurs’ ability to make best use of productive assets, especially land.

These persistent gender inequalities not only constrain women’s economic empowerment; they deprive the economy the energy and innovation women could bring.  

Investing in closing gender gaps now promises huge payoffs for all Ugandans. Pre-pandemic analysis estimates that bringing women’s lifetime earnings to meet those of men could generate an increase of US$1,619 in human capital wealth per capita for the country, with a gain in wealth of $61 billion for women and positive spillover effects on under-five mortality and stunting.

Putting women at the center of the economic revival means:

  • Investing more in women’s human capital: Although girls’ enrollment is on par with boys at primary and early secondary education levels, girls are more likely to drop out before completing their schooling, leaving them at a disadvantage if, and when they join the labor market. Increased incidence of teenage pregnancy during the pandemic exacerbates these challenges. It is imperative Uganda provide support to low-income families so that girls can stay in school, step up efforts to prevent early pregnancy, and create pathways for girls to move into technical training and apprenticeships, especially in male-dominated sectors.
  • Reducing the household time burden on women and girls: Women already performed the lion’s share of unpaid care work prior to the pandemic; school closures that have lasted a year and a half have multiplied this. Investments in community childcare models, employer-provided childcare as well as community-focused programs that promote equity in household work could increase the time women have available for paid work.
  • Removing barriers to ownership and productivity of land: Women are the majority of workers and entrepreneurs in the agricultural sector, yet they own a fraction of the land men do. Proposed legal reforms have the potential to increase women’s land inheritance and ownership rights; however, these must be accompanied by increasing women’s access to formal land titles and to technology and inputs to enhance productivity.
  • Meeting women entrepreneurs’ demand to grow their businesses: With 40 percent of businesses already owned by women (mostly microenterprises in the informal sector), Ugandan women are highly entrepreneurial. Yet their businesses tend to be smaller, employ fewer workers and earn 30 percent less in profits than male-owned firms. Interventions to support sustainable growth of women’s businesses will need to include improving women’s access to credit (by enacting legislation to prevent gender discrimination by creditors), business training, and technology — all of which will facilitate women’s crossover to male-dominated, higher-profit sectors and bring more innovation and growth across the economy.

Investing in women now, as part of Uganda’s recovery, promises substantial benefits not only to women and their households, but all of Ugandan society. 


Alys Willman

Former Senior Social Development Specialist, Fragility, Conflict & Violence Group

Jennifer Solotaroff

Senior Social Development Specialist in the Europe and Central Asia (ECA) Social Sustainability and Inclusion (SSI) unit

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