The term gender refers to the state of male or female in terms of social and cultural diffferences rather than biological differences. Gender refers to the socially determined differences and characteristics of men and women, while sex refers to the biology.  It relates to socio-cultural constructions of what is seen as typical of a particular gender and its role in society. For example, certain societies have culturally determined rules of behaviour for women and men. 

The examination of as traditional gender stereotypes and roles can provide insights into the social power relations and discrimination in a society. This can be seen through a close examination of a cultural, social, economic, and historical framework. The role of a specific gender is not necessarily a static construct, but can shift and change depending on the social context and times. 

One of the UN Millennium Development goals is that by 2015, worldwide discrimination against women and girl will be abolished. However, it is already clear that this goal cannot be achieved. In sub-Saharan Africa alone, six out of ten females are illiterate. Despite this fact, progress is being made in education. 10 years ago only 40% of women could read and write in sub-Saharan Africa. Today that number is around 58%. 

Unfortunately, there are still girls who have to stop attending school when their labour is needed for household chores, taking care of the family or to working in fields. 70% of the agricultural work on the continent is done by women, but they hold only 12% of land titles. 

Violence against women can appear in many different ways. Factors that can increase oppression or violence (sexual) against women include poverty and margalination as well as internal and armed conflicts. 

The circumcision of women and girls is practiced in 28 African countries. About 6,000 girls and women in Africa are subjected to this ritual every day. In the section on Gender and Health, you can learn more about female genital mutilation (FGM) and efforts to increase awareness for the prevention of FGM. The Mapotu Protocol came into effect in 2005 and has been signed by 42 African heads of state and government. It officially stands against all forms of discrimination against women. The Protocol deals with the strengthening of the rights of women and girls. These include, for example, the recognition and guarantee of economic rights and equal land and property rights.

"A development without women is like a cart without a wheel."

African proverb
In the African countries south of the Sahara, the fight against poverty depends greatly on the equality of the sexes. Women do the majority of agricultural, unpaid and undesirable work. There are only 12%  of women represented in parliaments and other top governments positions across the continent. Women and girls are at a disadvantage when it comes to education as well as HIV infection. 

The inequality between genders is a problem which affects both men and women. It also slows overall economic development and hinders the process of social change towards better democracies and social justice across the continent. Only by using a gender-sensitive approach, based on an equal footing for both men and women and fair participation of women and men in political and economic decision-making and distribution processes, can the development challenges be successfully overcome. There is often a mutual reinforcement of gender inequalities and other social change, partly because gender and generational conflicts are often closely intertwined. The category of gender therefore covers not only the differences between women and men, but also includes a broader understanding of age and status-related differences. The integration of a gender perspective can thus contribute to an overall understanding of complex processes of transformation in African societies. 

In the following sections, the gender situation in the countries of sub-Saharan Africa is demonstrated through the thematic priority areas of agriculture, law and jurisprudence, education, health, and rights of homosexuals. The areas of culture and religion in terms of "gender" are not discussed in the following. (For more: Lutz van Dijk, "The History of Africa," pp. 154ff;. more online ) 

The African Women's Decade which started on 15 October 2010 by the African Union (AU), is an important step towards the equality of women on the continent. The motto of the African Women's Decade is "Grassroots approach to gender equality and women's empowerment". The decade will span from 2010 to 2020. Throughout this decade, the AU aims to highlight women’s issues while paying particular attention to programmes targeting the empowerment of women in the fight against gender injustice, their exclusion from land ownership, credit and inheritance as well as gender-based violence. Another aim of the AU during this decade is to bring about changes in the lives of women and their involvement in decision-making processes at all levels. 

The AU’s plan is to undertake 53 projects annually, starting from 2010. The projects will be proposed by the AU member states and financed by the newly established African Women's Fund. A close link between local and national action is essential for the successful implementation of these goals. The contributions of civil society organisations on gender equality must be recognized and promoted accordingly. 

The task of the AU member states is also to develop national action plans to implement during the National Women's Decade. This will help ensure adequate financing and involve the AU in in national development plans. 
  • Poverty reduction, economic development and the strengthening of women 
  • Agriculture and food security 
  • Health, maternal mortality and HIV / AIDS 
  • Education, Science and Technology 
  • Environment, Climate Change and Sustainable Development 
  • Peace, security and gender-based violence 
  • Governance and legal certainty / Law 
  • Finance and Budget 
  • Participation of women, supported by a fund that supports grassroots organisations 
  • Promoting youth 
One of the priorities of the African Women's Decade is to strengthen the inheritance and land rights of women. In the agricultural sector, African women have only limited prospects for access, participation, ownership and management of land. 

Women head a third of all households worldwide. In sub-Saharan Africa, women in both the city and the country contribute greatly towards food security and supply a significant proportion of basic services to the population. Women also represent approximately 70 to 80% of the labour force. This tradition goes back to the pre-colonial era. In many African regions, women possessed extensive agro-ecological knowledge and produced a large amount of the agricultural surplus on the continent. 

In many countries, women were denied many rights by the colonial administrations, including the access to land. Today, women in African agriculture produce about 90% of the staple food on the continent. Despite their high level of participation in agricultural production, the economic potential of women is limited through various legal, agricultural policies and socio-cultural obstacles to owning land. Women hold only about one-eighth of the land titles in sub-Saharan Africa. Although many African constitutions officially concede the right of ownership of land by women, the legal reality is far from common. 

There are a number of fair land and inheritance rights for women in particularl countries and their implementation is one of the most important preconditions for the economic independence of women. Discrimination against women is rife in inheritance law. In succession, which is a classical form of access to land, female family members in many countries are favoured (next oldest), while male offspring are ignored. Widows are therefore granted a full inheritance in only a few African countries. A widow in Liberia only have a claim to a third of her deceased husband's estate, while the children are entitled to the remaining two-thirds. What is often not realized, is that this right in practice is due to the restructuring of the gender division of labour in the agricultural sector. This is, to some extent, due to male labour migration and a resulting labour shortage. 

Labour migration started during the colonial period. During colonial rule, men were directly or indirectly forced to neglect their own agricultural production and to leave for work on large farms, on mines or in other more industrial areas. Even though political independence was gained, the migration of labour continues even in present day. It is an important source of income for most of the young, male population and has become a transnational phenomenon. Young men from Ghana can work in the industrial areas of Nigeria, men from the Sudan move to the United Arab Emirates, and young men from Lesotho and Mozambique move to South Africa to find work. 

Given the high cost of living in the cities and new consumer behaviour, young men who migrate to cities are often are unable to provide sufficient financial support their families back home. The women and children who stay behind in the rural areas are left to deal with the consequences. Most migrant workers are male, due to traditional norms which dictate that the man earns the money. Opportunities for women to enter the labour force in the city or to better their education and employment opportunities are less common. 

While the number of female-headed households continues to increase, the notion that  man makes the money and therefore is the head of the household, and a woman simply assista, is still common. It is, therefore, not surprising that the power to decide on crop utilization and profits is often claimed by male family members. Despite the weighty role women play in the sub-Saharan African agricultural sector, they are still overlooked as a target group for projects trying to improve the conditions of rural agricultural work and workers. 

In order to promote the economic independence of the poor and to strengthen the position of rural women, microfinance organisations have become increasingly popular. This money can be used for the purchase of seeds, paying for medical care and other essential things. These loans are especially helpful for women in countries where obtaining capital to do business is difficult. About 80% of microfinance clients are female. In Germany, the construction of these microfinance organisations are supported by the GTZ , the BMZ and the German Development Service (future together as GIZ). (Source: BMZ)