Fragile Gains – Women Have Made Progress in Education, but Challenges Persist in Business and Around Abuse.

As part of our coverage for International Women’s Month, we seek some insights from Vanessa Moungar, the African Development Bank’s Director for Gender, Women and Civil Society. Moungar tells us how the Bank is supporting women entrepreneurs and outlines the challenges that remain.

What does International Women’s Month mean to you?

Working for a world that is more equal and more fair for all people is our daily engagement. International Women’s Month provides an opportunity to take stock of the progress made, as well as the challenges still preventing women from fully contributing to our countries’ growth stories.

This year, International Women’s Month takes on special significance as we reflect on the essential role that women play in times of crisis, such as the current COVID-19 pandemic. For an inclusive and more resilient recovery, we must ensure that the specific needs of women are central to all programs that address the pandemic, from economic relief measures to vaccination.

The Bank is celebrating International Women’s Month in multiple ways across its platforms, from our HQ to our country offices, putting the spotlight on the women who are driving the continent’s transformation.

What progress in gender empowerment and equality have you seen in your career, and what challenges remain?

Africa is making progress on gender equality, but there is still a long way to go. The Bank co-published the Africa Gender Index 2019 which measures parity between women and men across three dimensions: economic, social and representation, and empowerment. The Index shows that the continent has improved most on the social dimension, which measures gaps in access to education and health services between women and men. For example, since 2005, the gender gap in primary education has narrowed significantly, with nearly equal numbers of girls and boys now completing basic education. However, improvements in educational attainment have not translated into equality in the labour market yet, with a gender wage/salary gap still standing around 26% across the sectors.

Gains across the board are fragile. The coronavirus pandemic has seen an increase in gender-based violence and child marriages. Women-led businesses are still struggling to survive and face further challenges, as they are typically smaller, with fewer employees and limited access to capital. Cross-sector collaboration is needed more than ever to ensure we protect the gains made and chart a development path that is much more inclusive.

We also all have responsibilities at the individual level, to question our own unconscious biases. Most of us have been judged on the basis of gender, age or race before being evaluated on the basis of competence. Let’s be the change we wish to see in our realms of influence. Let’s celebrate diversity as an asset that supports better decision-making, better results, and a better world we are all proud to live in.

How does your work at the Bank advance opportunities for women across the continent?

Empowering women lies at the heart of the African Development Bank’s strategy and is a prerequisite for achieving the Bank’s development objectives. We do this by mainstreaming gender across all our operations, thereby ensuring that all relevant projects address women’s needs specifically, from education, health and nutrition to infrastructure, transport and energy.

We also developed special initiatives such as the Affirmative Finance Action for Women in Africa (AFAWA) program to tackle the challenges women in business face, such as access to finance, training and a conducive business environment.

Evidence clearly demonstrates that investing in women and girls is key for building a better future that benefits everyone, women and men, girls and boys, and we will continue to work hand in hand with all partners – government, private sector, and civil society – to accelerate progress on the continent.

What words of advice would you give to young women starting out in their working lives?

I would say to work hard, as that is the best way to achieve whatever it is you are trying to achieve. Believe in your dreams, and verbalize them, as you’ll need others to realize them – and no one can help you if they don’t know how to. Have unshakable values, and keep them as a compass through life to stay true to yourself. And, last but not least, be good to yourself and others, and have fun in the process!

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