It is still very much a man’s world. In many places across the globe, women are not paid as much or promoted as often as men. In India, women’s participation in the workforce is still shockingly low. And in the United States, despite consistent agitation for equality and higher wages, women may never make up half of the total workforce.

However, in many countries across the world, there’s still a glimmer of hope. According to a recent Pew Research Center analysis of labor statistics in 114 countries, women make up 40% of the workforce in more than 80 countries globally. But more surprisingly, the top five countries with the highest female representation in the workforce are all in sub-Saharan Africa. Zimbabwe and Malawi lead the list with more than 52% of female share in the labor force, followed by The Gambia (50.8%), Liberia (50.6%) and Tanzania (50.5%).

The female share in the US was 46.8%, with 47.3% in Canada and 48% in France. In all 114 countries, the median female share was 45.4%.

 Top countries with female share of workforce
Image: Pew Research Centre

In Africa, the twist is that the women are more likely to be engaged in the informal economy. In sub-Saharan Africa, 74% of women in contrast to 61% of men are more likely to be employed in lower-paying, informal jobs, according to the International Labor Organization. This leaves women prone to exploitation, low job security, intensive poverty and largely excluded from policy support programs.

The gender gap also begins early, with girls spending 160 million more hours than boys in the same age group on house chores. This lead many girls in low-income households to drop out of school, get married early and spend their time cooking, cleaning and caring for family members. These restricted ambitions also manifest later, with fewer African women represented in boardrooms or heading companies.

Countries in North Africa—and the larger Middle East—were also among the worst performers in women employment globally.

Lowest countries with female share of workforce
Image: Pew Research Centre