Q&A: Why Cabo Verde Leads Africa In Gender Equity At Work

Q&A: Why Cabo Verde Leads Africa In Gender Equity At Work

Many locals will tell you that Cabo Verde is not exactly Africa.

Perhaps it’s because, in addition to the African influences, there are heavy European, American, and even Latin American influences on the archipelago of 10 islands and 498,897 people.

In fact, the Cabo Verdean gene is like no other. According to a recent study published in PLoS Genetics, the Cabo verdean gene “presents unique characteristics because it has an absolutely extraordinary level of miscegenation between Africans and Europeans.”

Perhaps because of this distinctive mix of influences, gender roles are not so clear in this young country, whose independence from Portuguese colonization happened in 1975.

Women here are still often expected to keep the house, make the meals, and “stay in the house” while the men socialize. But this seems to be changing with the newer generations of women.

“Labor is not strictly divided along gender lines. Women and men do heavy physical labor; however, domestic work is an exclusively female domain,” according to a report in Everyday Culture.

Despite domestic gender roles women are categorized in, you’ll find high-ranking female executives at Cabo Verde’s major corporations and in government. Some political observers predict Cabo Verde could soon get its first female prime minister if Janira Hopffer Almada, who was just elected leader of the country’s ruling PAICV party, wins the 2016 elections.

There is still work to be done to reach full gender equality in Cabo Verde, says Carla Santos Carvalho. 

A researcher and gender advocate, Carvalho is pushing for gender studies to be included at the University of Cabo Verde. She has collaborated with Wellesley College, a top U.S. college for women. From 2009 to 2012, Carvalho was an assistant professor at the university’s School of Business and Governance. Carvalho, who is pursuing a doctorate, plans to run for a municipal-level public office in 2016.

She recently took part in the Mandela Washington Fellowship, a program of President Barack Obama’s Young African Leaders Initiative in the U.S.

Carvalho spoke to AFKInsider about the state of gender equality in the Cabo Verde workplace.

AFKInsider: Describe gender equity in Cabo Verde employment. Is there equal pay and equal opportunity?

Carla Santos Carvalho: Women and men have the same possibility to receive the same salary. The law keeps this situation safe for men and women. But when we talk about opportunities in leadership positions, we have found that women have to make a big effort to achieve those positions and for women are implicitly required more skills (education, foreign language, etc.) than men both in private and public spheres.

AFKInsider: How does Cabo Verde gender equity compare to the rest of Africa?

Carla Santos Carvalho:  In Cape Verde the promotion of gender equality has gained a strong visibility, with remarkable results, due in large part to the work of many NGOs committed (to) gender equality, as well as a public policies implemented by the government.

Cape Verde in terms of equality has a very favorable position. Only three or four African countries are better than us in terms of gender equality. We are in position 50 compared to the rest of the world, according to the Global Gender Gap Report 2014 from World Economic Forum.

AFKInsider: What are some of the things that Cabo Verde has to work on as far as gender equality?

Carla Santos Carvalho: We must address the gender-based violence. Despite the gains, we still have a long way to go, especially about sexual violence against children and women and sexual harassment against women.

Also, we should pay attention to the education of boys. The data shows us a high failure rate within the boys, and the rate of grade repetition and dropouts, particularly in secondary education.

Another situation that should be given special attention is men’s health. The situation of inequality that men in health (lower life expectancy at birth and high mortality rate due to external causes) need to be addressed. Women gained access to health care (through the feminist movements and civil society organizations committed to gender equality).

AFKInsider: How about on the university level? What needs to change?

Carla Santos Carvalho: At the university level, the access for students do not have significant difference between women and men. Although we can check the status quo; men follow the traditionally male areas (engineering, mathematics), while women go to the social areas (education, social services). For the university staff — employees and teachers — the situation (ratio) is balanced.

AFKInsider: Has the Cabo Verde community in America had any influence on gender equity in Cabo Verde?

Carla Santos Carvalho: I’m not sure about this situation, but there is a clear understanding that the Cape Verdean men behave differently when they are living in U.S. because the laws are applied and women’s rights are respected.

AFKInsider: How did Wellesley College get involved with gender studies in Cabo Verde?

Carla Santos Carvalho: The Centre for Research and Training in Gender and Family of University of Cape Verde is working with Wellesly College.

My collaboration with (gender studies and the Univerity of Cape Verde) started in 2011. Currently, I am involved with training on gender issues aimed at teachers, students, and university employees. Also, I am preparing a project to train teachers and introduce a module of gender issues in the courses curricula.

AFKInsider: How will this be done?

Carla Santos Carvalho: The gender curricula project will bring experts in gender issues to empower teachers in the university.

AFKInsider: Why did you get involved in the issue of gender roles in Cabo Verde?

Carla Santos Carvalho: I got involved in the gender issues during my master’s course in 2007 at Univerity of Cape Verde. I met there the president of the Cape Verdean Institute of Equality and Gender Equity who works with these issues and she inspired me.

AFKInsider: What was your experience like with Obama’s Young African Leaders Initiative in the U.S.?

Carla Santos Carvalho: My experience was positive. I spent six weeks in Arkansas and then we went to Washington to meet President Obama. It was a learning time and the biggest lesson I learned in this journey is that it’s necessary to dream and work to make a difference because all things are possible when we believe.