Before Covid-19 struck Mali, the 9-year-old Ami was in the second grade of a school in Bamako. With the pandemic, schools closed and Ami and her 7-year-old sister Awa stayed home and did the housework. The schools have now reopened, but the teachers are on strike. There is a real danger that none of the girls will go back to school but, like their older sister, will be able to stay at home until they get married. For many countries, including Mali, graduation for girls is not a priority.
The story of Ami and Awa is all too well known. We know that lockdowns – and the move to distance learning where possible – lead to an increase in dropout rates and have been linked to it unwanted teenage pregnancies. An astounding 2.6 million African girls are at risk of not returning to school, which will have a negative impact on the continent’s human capital.
proof shows that investment in education, health and economic opportunities for women and girls is essential to accelerate demographic change in sub-Saharan Africa, a central tenet of the movement Human capital agenda drive forward and stimulate sustainable economic growth.
In recent years, countries across the continent have made significant strides in addressing a number of outcomes that are critical to the empowerment of women and girls, including improving job opportunities and promoting legal reforms to the minimum age at marriage. Mauritius, for example, has developed a national strategy to eradicate gender-based violence (GBV); Niger is actively mobilizing communities to combat child marriage; and the government of Sierra Leone recently its national policy overturned prevent pregnant girls from going to school and taking exams.
While there is still room for improvement, the region is also making progress in legislative reforms to improve women’s economic opportunities. According to Women’s Economy and the Law 2021 – Report, countries in sub-Saharan Africa do well on job-related reforms: 43 out of 48 economies (90%) in the region prohibit employment discrimination based on gender.
Unfortunately, Covid-19 (coronavirus) threatens to undo these socio-economic benefits. Sub-Saharan Africa is facing reduced capacity to provide reproductive, maternal and child health services, increasing the risk of maternal and child health Mortality under 5 years. Aside from that, Show data that women are negatively affected by financial hardship. Disruptions in basic services and labor markets are likely to lead to increased early child marriages, teenage pregnancies and gender-based violence.
An opportunity to lay better foundations
recognizing the disproportionate effects on gender and development, the World Bank Group works with countries around the world to respond to the health emergency and invest in stronger and more resilient systems to accelerate recovery efforts and lay the foundations for a better and more inclusive future. We have allocated over $ 2.2 billion to new projects to empower women across all sectors, and a first generation of human capital reform lending is helping to create a stronger legal framework to protect women and children. We also provide up to $ 50 billion in funding tailored to address the health, economic and social shocks African countries are facing due to Covid-19.
Working with governments, regional institutions and development partners, we have expanded multisectoral programs with immediate and long-term solutions that invest in women and girls. For example:
- the Sahel Women’s and Demographic Dividend Project (SWEDD.)), first launched in in the Sahel, is helping to create a favorable environment for the empowerment of women and girls through programs to keep girls in school and to expand economic opportunities and access to quality health services. SWEDD has come this far more than 2 million girls and has scaled and expanded to other countries with further funding to strengthen the legal framework, promote women’s rights and reach 80% of vulnerable adolescent girls.
- The Ethiopia Quality Education Improvement Program For Justice aims to strengthen the empowerment of girls, to improve gender parity among young people in grades 5 to 8, to reduce violence against girls in schools and to teach them life skills. To date, girls ‘enrollment in primary II has improved in several regions, as has girls’ retention in lower secondary, where the proportion of girls to boys has risen by 5.3 percentage points to 68%. Additional funding was approved in 2020, among other things, to strengthen the education system’s resilience to shocks such as Covid-19 and to reintegrate displaced children into the school system.
Empowering women and girls like Ami and Awa is fundamental to realizing human capital gains. As we work together to protect and reclaim human capital, measures to target innovative investments in the well-being of women and girls, education, employment and freedom of choice must be an integral part of our response. With Covid-19, we have the opportunity to recalibrate ourselves and focus on building resilient, fair and high-quality service systems for a more inclusive future.
“When you raise a woman, you raise a nation” – an African proverb.
About the authors:
Mamta Murthi – World Bank Vice President for Human Development
Hafez Ghanem – Vice President of the World Bank, East and Southern Africa
Ousmane Diagana – Vice President of the World Bank, West and Central Africa