International Women’s Day is a call to celebrate the extraordinary achievements of women and a reminder that, globally, we are a long way from achieving gender equality.
Today, women in Africa lag behind men politically, socially and economically, even though they make up half of the continent’s population. I have always stated that a bird can only fly with two wings. For too long, an Africa dominated by men has been the proverbial one-winged bird. For Africa to soar and flourish, it can only do so with the active and equal participation of women.
There are many encouraging signs of progress. Liberia’s Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, for example, did a brilliant job as Africa’s first female elected Head of State – and is to be congratulated for her crucial role in transitioning her country out of conflict, and for her exemplary behaviour as she calmly handed power to her successor, George Weah, following his victory in the country’s Presidential election in 2017. She deserves all the accolades on winning the Ibrahim Prize for African leadership – the first woman, of course, to do so. As Mo Ibrahim himself said, the award sent a “strong message to all African women and African girls that they can help to change the continent”.
And women are starting to do just that. In politics, the number of women elected to African parliaments has increased substantially. From 2005 to 2015, 85% of African nations increased their female legislative representation. Whether in small steps or great leaps, society will always benefit when there are more females in government or parliament to balance the male-weighted scales of political debate and decision-making.
Women are the backbone of Africa’s economies. They are primary producers and processors of food in Africa’s agriculture and rural economies. More than half of economically active women in Africa earn their livelihoods in agriculture, and they account for the majority of small and medium-sized businesses. Yet, they constitute a meagre 15% of land use rights-holders and just 1% of land owners. They receive only 5% of agriculture extension services, and less than 10% of available financial credit.
This state of affairs cannot and should not continue. For reasons of human rights, justice and equity as well as financial common sense, the African Development Bank advocates for policies that encourage women to work, set up businesses and participate in market development as consumers, producers and entrepreneurs. Significant economic potential is wasted when women are deprived of such opportunities.
We recently commissioned market research to identify the wasted potential in the women’s market. The findings were astonishing, showing an estimated US$42billion gap between men’s and women’s access to finance across business value chains. The financing gap for women in agriculture alone is US$15.6billion!
If women farmers have the same access to productive resources as men, they could increase yields on their farms by 20-30% – lifting 100-150 million people out of hunger. Closing the gender gap could also help increase food security and improve livelihoods for Africa’s growing population.
Gender equality is a key component of our High 5 strategy, a critical area of focus for the Bank’s operations and policies, and a prerequisite for achieving its development objectives. As part of our organisational culture and structure, we are mainstreaming gender in all our operations. We also continue to support reforms for gender equality in member-countries across Africa. Significantly, a Gender Marker system is being introduced and gender specialists have been deployed in the Bank’s operating regions.
The African Development Bank is also scaling-up the production of country gender profiles, as well as developing an online gender portal to obtain, report and share data on gender indicators. The Bank will also launch the first Africa Gender Index in 2018; the first Africa Gender Scorecard; and host the 2018 Multilateral Development Bank Gender summit.
Our Bank’s investments are focused on supporting women and helping to lift them out of poverty. We have developed the Affirmative Finance Action for Women in Africa (AFAWA), which aims to raise US$300million in phase-I of the programme, and leverage up to US$3billion for financial and non-financial services to women in business by 2025. The African Development Bank will also publish AFAWA bank ratings based on the quality of lending to women, and to incentivise good lending practices.
There is a long way to go and still much to do, and change must be a collaborative process that cuts across every sphere of society. Each of these strategic measures will help create parity with men and lift millions of women out of poverty and into wealth.
Ultimately, when women are supported they deliver. When women win, Africa wins. And that is something to work for and celebrate – not just once a year, but every single day.