TABLE 9-1 Adverse Occupational and Environmental Factors in Sub-Saharan Africa: Gender-Related Burden


Exclusive to Females

Greater for Females than for Males

Burden for Females and Males Comparable, but of Particular Significance for Females

Ergonomic stressors




Exposure to indoor air pollution




Exposure to organic dusts from food processing




Exposure to toxic wastes




Job overload




Lack of job control








NOTE: Significance is defined here as having an impact on health that, for any reason—biological, reproductive, sociocultural, or economic—is different in its implications for females than for males.

a Other includes: ill-fitting personal protective equipment designed for men; working under recommended exposure limits for occupational hazards designed for healthy, well-nourished men in the developed countries working an eight-hour day; exposure to malaria prophylaxis and infection that pose serious risks for pregnant women; exposure to uncontrolled chemical and ergonomic hazards that pose risks for the fetus; effects of chemicals, indoor smoke, and injury hazards that extend to infants; work-time requirements that further compromise breastfeeding and infant nutrition; and lack of sufficient "off time" to allow for appropriate rehabilitation from injury or work-related disease, thus exacerbating hazardous exposures or increasing female work loads.

methodological problems require attention. The most salient relates to how women's work in Sub-Saharan Africa is to be conceptualized.

It is tempting to construct a table providing information about where women work by country, region, and sector compared with men. Given the unreliability of currently available information, this would run the risk of reifying such data, thereby allowing facile applications that are unlikely to be meaningful. The available data are not strictly comparable and show such wide variation among countries in Sub-Saharan Africa that they are neither likely nor reasonable on an individual-country basis. Nevertheless, the averages and range of percentages for the region as a whole are significant, and are provided below.

Women's economic participation rates in Sub-Saharan Africa are high, clustering around 50 percent (UN, 1991). Nearly 80 percent of economically active women work in agriculture. About 40 percent of this group work unpaid on family farms, 30 percent are paid agricultural employees, and 30 percent labor on their own farms or in other informal work in the sector. While women make up a little over 40 percent of the agricultural labor force, they produce the bulk of the food in the region (Kerven, 1989). Men's participation in agriculture is restricted to cash-crop production and wage labor on plantations. Agriculture is thus the greatest single component of women's work outside the home.

Women's labor force participation in Sub-Saharan Africa is higher than in most developing countries, and it is growing. This greater involvement of women in economic activities is thought to be a function of both improvements in their educational levels and the global economic crisis, which compels women to work in order to sustain their families (UN, 1991). The mounting proportion of female-headed households in the region also means that these women—up to 66 percent of them—are the main, if not sole, source of sustenance for their

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