Zambia - An Overview of Women's Work, Minimum Wages and Employment

An Overview of Women’s Work and Employment in Zambia. Minimum wage, wages, labour employment, unemployment, women employment, working conditions, Labour market structure, Legislation, Labour relations, Literacy, Literacy and skill levels of female labour, etc...

Decisions for Life MDG3 Project Country Report No. 4

University of Amsterdam /Amsterdam Institute for Advanced Labour Studies (AIAS)
Maarten van Klaveren, Kea Tijdens, Melanie Hughie-Williams, Nuria Ramos Martin
Amsterdam, Netherlands, September 2009


This report provides information on Zambia on behalf of the implementation of the DECISIONS FOR LIFE project in that country. The DECISIONS FOR LIFE project aims to raise awareness amongst young female workers about their employment opportunities and career possibilities, family building and the work-family balance. This report is part of the Inventories, to be made by the University of Amsterdam, for all 14 countries involved. It focuses on a gender analysis of work and employment.

History (2.1.1). After Zambia gained its independence from the United Kingdom in 1964, the Kaunda administration moved towards a one-party system and central planning. With falling copper prices and poor management, and the country’s GDP per capita continuing to fall, in 1991 a multi-party democracy was installed and Kaunda had to retreat. In the 1990s, liberalization and privatisation did not spur economic growth, while corruption grew. In the 2000s Zambia experienced strong growth, though the country remains one of the world’s poorest.

Governance (2.1.2). Since 1991 Zambia’s political record has been rather stable. Its human rights record, by contrast, remains rather poor. Especially women and children trafficking is a major problem. The participation of Zambian women in politics is quite limited. Also, they have very limited rights in relation to family matters, including issues related to land ownership.

Prospects (2.1.3). Recently Zambia has been confronted with the negative effects of lowering copper prices and with a grave electricity situation. The country may escape the worst effects of the current economic and financial crisis because of its limited integration in the global financial system, though the negative effects on women may be relatively large where their future depends on access to finance.

Communication (2.2). Over 2.6 million cell phones are already in use, one to each five Zambians. Internet coverage is still low, with in 2007 about 4% of the population as users. Radio is the most utilized medium. Women constitute only one of six news sources. The sectoral labour market structure (2.3). In 2005, women made up 46% of the total labour force; 49% of those in informal labour, and 137,000 or 27% of those in formal employment. 78% of the economically active women worked in agriculture. The share of women in wage employment in the non-agricultural sector was 28%.

Unemployment is mainly caused by an absolute lack of jobs, and is especially high among the young. In 2005, unemployment among girls and young women aged 15-29 in urban areas was 41%.

Legislation (2.4.1). Zambia has ratified the core ILO Labour Conventions, but procedural requirements frustrate holding legal strikes. Also, women remain severely disadvantaged in employment and education, notably the overwhelming majority working in the informal economy.

Labour relations (2.4.2). Union strength has been weakened over the years. 2006 estimates point at a union density of 60 to 66% in the formal economy, or about 10% of the total labour force. Two union confederations are in place, ZCTU and the much smaller FFTUZ.

The statutory minimum wage (2.5.1). Though many advocate a rise of the current statutory minimum wage (SMW), pointing at the rising costs of living, with Kwacha 268,000 per month the SMW is still at the level set in May 2006. By then, that level varied from 21 to 91% of monthly average earnings in the main industries. Half a year before setting the SMW rate, 35% of paid employees earned less than that rate.

Poverty (2.5.2). For 2004-05, it has been estimated that 82% of the population lived under the poverty line of USD 2 per day. Since 1993, the share of the extremely poor has decreased. Yet, especially in rural areas the poverty pattern continues to be detrimental for the future of women and girls.

Population and fertility (2.6.1). Population growth has been falling recently, from an average 2.4% in 2000-’07 to an expected 1.9% in 2005-’15. With 6.2 children per women, the total fertility rate remains very high, as does (with 146 per 1,000) the adolescent fertility rate.

HIV/AIDS (2.6.2). In 2007, over 1.1 million Zambians lived with HIV, and the HIV/AIDS prevalence rate for those aged 15-49 was estimated at 14%. For women aged 30-39 years the rate was even about 25%. Yet, HIV prevalence among the 15-24 of age is reported to decrease. Official policies stress that the spread of HIV/AIDS is related to domestic violence and poor empowerment of women.

Women’s labour market share (2.6.3). The labour partication rate of the 15-64 of age overall is 71%, but only 61% for women. With just over 50%, the 2005 women’s share in employment was highest in agriculture, followed by restaurants and hotels (49%), community, social and personal services (48%), and commerce (45%).

Agriculture (2.6.4). The perspectives for agricultural growth are rather bleak. The most female-intensive sub-sectors are also the least skill-intensive. Thus, young women living in urban areas and trying to make a career cannot rely on a “fall-back scenario” in which they can go back to their families living from agriculture.

Mining and manufacturing (2.6.5). Trade liberalisation of the 1990s has been disastrous for indigeneous manufacturing industries such as textiles and clothing, and thus notably for females. The competitive position of domestic-owned, small-scale manufacturing remains very weak.

Commerce (2.6.6). 95-97% of all women working in commerce did so in the informal sector. In 2005 women made up a minority in all sales jobs, but took half of all high-skilled jobs in commerce. Supermarkets are only a quite limited source of employment for women.

Services (2.6.7). Women constitute nearly half of the labour force in commercial services. In 2005 nearly one third could be found in formal employment. Tourism is an expanding source of employment, but the development of international call centres does not seem to take off.

Government (2.6.8). The public sector has traditionally been a male stronghold, and still only about one quarter of public servants is female. The public sector seems to have lost its wage premium, especially for the high-skilled.

Literacy (2.7.1). The adult literacy rate –those age 15 and over that can read and write—was in 1995-2005 68%. As the female rate was only 60%, a substantial gender gap remains. Recently this gender gap widens, in general as well as among the 15-24 year-olds.

Education of girls and young women (2.7.2). For 2007, the net enrollment rate in primary education was over 95%, with girls 1%point higher than boys, but the primary completion rate of girls was 11%points lower: girls make up for the large majority of early school-leavers. With 26% in 2005, the net enrollment rate in secondary education was rather low, with 23.5% notably for girls. Recently in most categories of technical vocational training women outnumbered men, but in regular tertiary education there were twice as many male students

Female skill levels (2.7.3). In 2005 64% of the economically active Zambian women were unskilled, nearly 33% had at least completed lower secondary education (skilled), and 66,000 or 3.6% had completed tertiairy education (high-skilled). We estimate the current size of our target group at about 106,000 girls and young women 15-29 of age working in urban areas in commercial services, of which only 20,000 in formal employment.

Wages (2.8.1). Earnings vary widely between industries, occupational groups, and urban and rural areas. Earnings of women in formal employment in finance etc. and in community, social and personal services are about four times those in trade etc. and in hotels and restaurants. Education may explain part of the gender pay gap, but discrimination is another factor. Calculated on an hourly earnings basis, the countrywide gender pay gap in 2005 was 45%, and for paid employees 13%. In restaurants and hotels, transport etc., finance etc. and community and other services, the gap was below 20%, but in trade etc. it was 44%.

Working conditions (2.8.2). Average working weeks turn out to be quite long in Zambia, for women especially in restaurants and hotels, transport etc., finance etc., and trade etc., in urban areas, and among paid employees and high-skilled. In 2005, about one of five of the employed reported illness (excluding HIV/AIDS), as did a slightly higher share on injury. Workers aged 15-29 reported comparatively much skin problems as well as wounds and deep cuts.


  • Download the complete report: 

     'An Overview of Women’s Work and Employment in Zambia' (pdf, 436kb).