One of the greatest threats to Africa’s future: gender inequality

Held in Africa for the first time, the theme of the Global Gender Summit 2019 was “Unpacking constraints to gender equality”. The Summit saw the international community heed the call to dismantle barriers to girls and women’s full participation in the socio-economic development on the continent.

December 16, 2019 by Victoria Egbetayo, Global Partnership for Education Secretariat
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6 minute read
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A woman speaking during the Global Gender Summit 2019
A woman speaking during the Global Gender Summit 2019
GPE/Victoria Egbetayo

Technology is an ever-greater disruptive force for good by enhancing human existence, and arguably for bad also, with many jobs being given over to machines and artificial intelligence.

As with technology, so we need creative and disruptive approaches to how we achieve development, address the learning crisis and avoid continuing to have millions of girls out of school, and those in school not learning or completing their education.

Without drastic action, the global community will have failed a generation and a generation to come by not attaining the SDGs by 2030. Africa is at the forefront in the discourse and fight for gender equality and gender transformative disruption.

A unique set of African leaders and actors are trying to stem the tide to right this wrong.

Women and girls still lag far behind

Women are responsible for 60% of work done globally yet earn just 10% income and 1% of property. In Africa, 70% of women are excluded financially. The continent has a US$42 billion financing gap between men and women.

According to McKinsey’s Power of Parity Report: Advancing Women’s Equality in Africa, Africa’s gender parity stands at 0.58 (1 would be full parity). For the continent to achieve full parity could be 140 years without drastic action.

Closing the gender gap for women and girls in all spheres of life is urgent globally, and particularly in Africa, with girls at risk of being left behind—millions are not in school now, and 4 million may never set foot in a classroom.

The disadvantages faced by African women and girls in education and training start in the early years, and this even though 25% of political representatives in Africa are women, ahead of the global average of 21% (albeit limited to a small subset of countries).

Yet, advancing women’s equality the African economy could add 10% to GDP, or US$316 billion by 2025. As the world, experience a rapidly changing global context and recognizes the crucial role of education and skills for the youth of tomorrow, Africa is the fulcrum for change.

Harnessing the momentum from global events

The International Conference on Population and Development 25 (ICPD25) Summit in Nairobi October achieved groundbreaking commitments to close the gap in gender equality for women and girls, including sexual and reproductive health rights and elimination of harmful practices like child marriage, which limit a girl’s life prospects, including her education.

ICPD25 was a watershed moment for global reflection and action on what still needs to be done to ensure the SDG targets are met. But if ICPD25 was a watershed, the Global Gender Summit 2019 in Kigali in late November presented an ocean of possibilities, with Africa further taking on the responsibility to urgently close the gender gap.

On offer was a delectable menu of dialogues, best practices, and innovative solutions to achieving gender equality and women’s empowerment in Africa and around the world:

  • scaling up access to finance and credit for women-led businesses
  • fostering an enabling environment for gender equality and gender lens investing
  • ensuring girls and women’s participation and voice
  • breaking not the ‘glass ceiling’ but the ‘cement ceiling’ for African women’s leadership.

The Summit turned the tables on what achieving gender equality could mean for women and girls. Akin to the climate action, women and youth are standing up for a new world order.

The Summit drew a clear link between women’s lack of economic empowerment and barriers to girls’ education. As powerfully expressed by the First Lady of Kenya:

Women’s lack of access to credit and financial control to make spending decisions on education and health are impediments to gender equality.

Margaret Kenyatta

Although Africa registers progress on improved completion rates, particularly primary level parity between girls and boys, this is elusive at secondary level. Learning is low and out-of-school numbers remain alarmingly high.

Eliminating financial bottlenecks allows women to participate in decision-making at home - transforming families and communities.

Several speakers drew connections between issues like child marriage, harmful practices against girls, gender-based violence and the lack of safety, all of these being driven by women’s lack of economic empowerment.

President Joyce Banda of Malawi spoke passionately:

“People are born with 30% leadership traits, but 70% of that is added on by education, environment, society. What about the girls born in abject poverty – her 30% is not nurtured, cultivated and allowed to increase.”

Participants advocated for more integrated approaches and investments that target youth and adolescents, and address women’s lack of resource control with a view to deepening the global progress on girls’ education.

President Paul Kagame from Rwanda, the host country, during his speech
President Paul Kagame from Rwanda, the host country, during his speech
PME/Victoria Egbetayo

Africa challenges the status quo

Held in Africa for the first time, the theme of the Global Gender Summit 2019 was “Unpacking constraints to gender equality”. It was hosted by the Government of Rwanda and organized by the African Development Bank (AfDB), a partner of GPE and co-member of the G7 Gender Equality Advisory Council.

The Summit saw the international community heed the call to dismantle barriers to girls and women’s full participation in the socio-economic development on the continent.

I represented GPE at the summit, to lend our support to advancing gender equality in and through education, in particular to harness Africa’s demographic dividend and advance human capital for sustainable development.

I shared with partners GPE’s innovative, disruptive and transformative approach to gender equality, which is at the heart of education systems in partner countries – from planning, analysis, policy, budgets through to monitoring and evaluation of education sector plans, programs and interventions.

Through the gender-responsive education sector planning (GRESP) initiative, GPE and its partners have held several regional workshops on taking concrete steps to make sector plans and their implementation truly responsive to gender.

Having reached 26 countries, GRESP is now expanding with the G7-endorsed Gender At the Centre Initiative (GCI), taking it to a whole new level.

GPE’s efforts to address the learning crisis and work with countries to put gender at the center of the education policies and interventions will contribute to progress on gender within the continent.

A transformative approach to gender must be deliberate and purposeful

The AfDB understands that change begins at home and is rolling out a gender marker system to process, monitor and promote gender mainstreaming in all its operations, with gender specialists as part of project teams and operations.

Recognizing the scale of the challenge, GPE is also stepping up its focus on gender across its operations.

At GPE, we recognize that change must be deliberate, purposeful and transformative as we move into our next strategic period. Leveraging strategic partnerships across institutions, stakeholders, regions, sectors and getting gender even more embedded throughout the partnership and operating model will be essential.

Looking to the Generation Equality Forum and Beijing +25

We are in a time when achieving gender quality and equity has never been so urgent. The world is in flux with climate urgency, crisis in learning, technological disruptions and socio-economic and political imbalances.

GPE is committed to helping partner countries make progress on gender equality and working with all our partners to get the job done in the remaining ‘decade of action’ to achieve Africa and the world’s goals. Because when women and girls thrive, we all do too.

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Gender equality, SDG 4
Sub-Saharan Africa

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