Investing in girls, women’s empowerment in Africa

30May 2020
Washington
The Guardian
Investing in girls, women’s empowerment in Africa

​​​​​​​THE World Bank Board of Directors has approved $376 million in additional International Development Association (IDA) financing to build human capital and improve human development outcomes in Africa.

This is the fourth additional financing to the Sahel Women Empowerment and Demographic Dividend project (SWEDD), a significant regional initiative developed in response to a call for action by the Presidents of Niger, Burkina Faso, Chad, Côte d’Ivoire, Mali and Mauritania in 2014.

The newly approved expansion brings the total World Bank investment toward the SWEDD to $680 million, with an additional EUR 10 million invested in parallel financing by the Agence Française de Développement (AFD) in Mali.

SWEDD 2 will scale-up activities underway in Chad, Côte d’Ivoire, Mali and Mauritania and expand into two new countries, Cameroon (US$ 75 million) and Guinea ($60 million).

“Cameroon’s vision for 2035 emphasizes how healthy and well-educated Cameroonians will achieve the country’s enormous potential for shared prosperity. However, challenges faced by girls and women today, including child marriage, early and frequent pregnancies as well as early school drop-out, put girls and their future children at heightened risk of poor health outcomes, tremendous loss of educational opportunity and future earnings prospects”, said Abdoulaye Seck, World Bank Country Director for Cameroon.

“SWEDD 2 will serve as an instrument for empowering girls and building human capital, initially concentrating on three regions, namely the Far North, North and Adamaoua, where about 700,000 girls 10-19 years of age are vulnerable to these risks.”

Overall, the SWEDD 2 will continue to invest in activities that target adolescent girls and their surrounding communities to improve life skills and sexual and reproductive health knowledge among adolescents, keep girls in school, expand economic opportunity and create an enabling environment for girls’ social and economic empowerment through the nexus of statutory, religious and customary laws and norms, including through the prevention and improved response to gender based violence. Investments will also enhance last mile delivery of essential medicines, including access to contraceptives at community level and strengthen the capacity for midwives to deliver services in rural areas to women and adolescent girls.

One important aspect introduced by SWEDD 2 is the enhanced attention to strengthen legal frameworks that promote women's rights to health and education. Activities supported by the project have been identified at both national and regional level through peer consultations between parliamentarians, judges and lawyers in and beyond SWEDD countries. These include reinforcing legislation, strengthening judicial capacity and promoting knowledge and application of existing legislation in communities where harmful practices are highly prevalent.

SWEDD 2 will also support the West Africa Health Organization (WAHO) – the health arm of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS)— to facilitate a regional dialogue on improved opportunities in rural areas, and to conduct regional workshops to facilitate knowledge sharing. The United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) remains an important partner in coordinating technical advice and implementation support, including through contracting with specialized partners and in the delivery of the regional social behavior change and communications campaign.

The African Union (AU) joins the project as a new strategic partner. With membership of 55 States, the AU is the largest inter-governmental organization on the continent, providing a platform for social and economic transformation. This partnership will build AU’s capacity to serve as a platform for codifying policy/legal reform, facilitate peer exchange and communicate progress on areas related to the advancement of women empowerment across the continent.

The SWEDD project is well aligned with the African Union’s Agenda 2063, as well as with the national strategies of the respective beneficiary countries. It also contributes to the World Bank Group’s Regional Integration and Cooperation Assistance Strategy which puts an emphasis on human capital development, with a special focus on women’s economic empowerment. “*The World Bank believes that there can be no sustainable economic growth without women’s empowerment and sees the full participation and inclusion of girls and women as fundamental to the continent’s progress,” said Deborah Wetzel, World Bank Director of Regional Integration for Africa.