Women and gender-focused policies have a pivotal role in African recovery programs following the Covid-19 pandemic, affirm some of the continent’s top development leaders.
In a multimedia series released to coincide with the African Development Bank’s 2021 Annual Meetings, four of the institution’s experts in gender-based finance, human capital and youth, agriculture, social development and industrial trade, share perspectives on how women have been disproportionately impacted by novel coronavirus economic shocks, and the continent’s post-pandemic prospects.
“Women have to be part of the decision-making process…it is critical that gender equality, women entrepreneurship and women’s empowerment are at the center, when it comes to solutions for economic resilience on the continent. This is the path to putting Africa back on the economic growth trajectory,” said Atsuko Toda, the Bank’s Acting Vice President for Agriculture, Human and Social Development.
Toda is one of four African Development Bank leaders who spoke with Carol Pineau, a longtime journalist and filmmaker. The podcast interviews were produced in collaboration with Foreign Policy Studios and explore Bank efforts to support women’s access to trade and finance, as well as the role of women in Africa’s economic recovery.
While Africa hasn’t experienced the rate of Covid-19 -related deaths and infections seen in other regions of the world, the pandemic has taken a massive toll on the continent, hitting tourism-dependent economies, oil-exporting economies and other-resource intensive economies the hardest, as well as deepening inequality.
To help cushion the impact of Covid-19, governments deployed stimulus packages, fiscal and monetary policies targeting business. However, according to research co-developed by the Bank’s Affirmative Finance Action for Women in Africa initiative (AFAWA), most of those efforts do not address existing or entrenched gender barriers that prevent women entrepreneurs from growing and accessing business opportunities.
For example, the majority of Africa’s women-led businesses are in the informal sector. That means they aren’t registered, don’t pay taxes – and don’t have insurance – Pineau said in her podcast with Esther Dassanou, manager of AFAWA, an African Development Bank pan-African initiative that aims to unlock financing to bridge the $42 billion financing gap facing women in Africa.
As governments moved to offer financial assistance to registered, formal businesses during COVID, women-led businesses lost out.
“As long as women entrepreneurs remain in the informal sector, we will not really see [them] benefiting from all these different investments,” said Dassanou.
In his podcast, the Bank’s Director of Trade and Industrialization, Abdu Mukhtar, reminded listeners that when women have equal access to decent jobs and investment opportunities, their economic growth, is Africa’s economic recovery.
“The main sectors that really should work for a good recovery to take place are agriculture, agribusiness, service industries, (and) manufacturing industries. These are also the areas where women operate the most,” he added, emphasizing the need to see more women-led businesses formalized.
Martha Phiri, Director of the Bank’s Human Capital, Youth and Skills Development Department says that Africa must prepare women not just for jobs, but for quality employment. She said the Bank is focusing on projects and initiatives around science, technology, science engineering and mathematics skills, also known as STEM.
“If we are to transform Africa, investing in people is fundamental,” Phiri said. She told Pineau about the Bank’s Africa Vs Virus competition, which challenged African youth to come up with solutions to help African communities survive the pandemic and thrive in its wake. Phiri mentioned one of the competition’s top solutions, a women-led science and tech start up in Ethiopia that provides drone services to deliver COVID-19 testing from regional medical centers to clinics in rural parts of that country.
“They are not only saving lives, but also improving livelihoods,” Phiri said of the company. “This is the type of innovation – the type of space we think that women would occupy post-Covid-19,” Phiri added.
To listen to the four-part, sponsored podcast series, click here.