Op-Ed: Gender equality: It’s time for disruption, time to shatter the status quo. We can’t afford to wait!

By Vanessa Moungar, Director of Gender, Women and Civil Society 

If you are a gender champion, then you are familiar with the discussions around the glass cliff.  The story of women eager to defy the odds, accepting leadership roles at times of crisis, when the chance of failure is the highest. The truth is that many bold glass cliff climbers have succeeded without falling off.

Two of such champions come to my mind: the former Xerox CEO Anne Mulcah and Tokunboh Ishmael, co-founder of Aliethiea IDF.

Mulcah, Ishmael and likeminded agents of change have already shattered the status quo. So, when the first Global Gender Summit held in Africa kicks off on November 25th in Kigali, Rwanda, the international community will hurtle towards heeding the calls to dismantle barriers to women’s full participation and advancement economic development on the continent.

Women make up over 40% of African business owners yet only 2% are able to access finance according to a Mckinsey report. One in four women globally who start in a business come from Africa (Global Entrepreneurship Monitor).

The Summit, organised by the Multilateral Development Banks’ (MDBs) Working Group on gender, will be held in Africa for the first time ever, from the 25th to 27th November 2019 in Kigali, Rwanda. This year’s summit is hosted by the African Development Bank in partnership with the Government of Rwanda and supported by other multilateral development banks as key partners.

Under the theme “Unpacking constraints to gender equality,” the Global Gender Summit will share best practices and seek innovative solutions that can be harnessed to empower women and girls in Africa and around the world.

We are excited to be bringing the world to Rwanda, a country that has set a strong example when it comes to promoting women’s rights and representation.

Rwanda was the first country in the world with a female majority in parliament, currently at 67.5 %, following October parliamentary polls. Out of a total parliamentary membership of 80, women occupy 54 seats. This feat puts the nation ahead of even the most developed nations.

From the massive financing gap for women-led enterprises, inadequate data, laws and cultural norms that negatively affect women, to a lack of representation in business and politics, the challenges are great.

But the opportunities are there too.

Discussions will focus on the main barriers to achieving gender equality and women’s empowerment, namely: scaling up innovative financing, fostering an enabling environment and ensuring women’s participation and voices. Sectors to be addressed will include climate change, the digital revolution, private sector and human capital and productive employment.

In Africa, women-led enterprises face a whopping $42 billion financing gap. One of the Bank’s flagship gender-focused projects is its Affirmative Finance Action for Women in Africa (AFAWA), which seeks to accelerate growth and employment creation across African economies, by closing the financing gap for women.

Over the next 5 years, AFAWA is expected to unlock $3 billion in private sector financing to empower female entrepreneurs through capacity-building development, access to finance as well as policy, legal and regulatory reforms to support enterprises led by women.

Our Fashionomics Africa initiative supports the African textiles and fashion industries by building the capacities of small and medium-sized enterprises in the textile and clothing sector, especially those run by women and youth. By using technology as a driver for the development of skills and capacity in Africa’s creative industries, the African Development Bank aims to stimulate job creation on the continent. At the summit, we will unveil an innovative online marketplace for designers across the continent.

That’s just some of the exciting news. We will use the opportunity of the Global Gender Summit to launch a number of initiatives to dramatically transform the landscape of access to finance for women across the continent.

These include the Africa Gender Index- a joint African Development Bank and the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa (UNECA) report that assesses African countries on gender equality.

The launch of the AFAWA/AGF Risk Sharing Facility, which will de-risk lending to women through AGF’s partial, guarantees to financial institutions and its capacity development to women entrepreneurs.

As well as these continent-wide initiatives, we at the African Development Bank understand that change begins at home. That is why in 2018, the Bank rolled out its gender marker system to process, monitor, and promote gender mainstreaming in all its operations, with gender specialists as part of project teams and Bank operations.

By the end of last year, 40% of public sector Bank operations had been organised under the gender marker system, a major shift in the Bank’s way of doing business and commitment to gender mainstreaming.

We continue to support and build the individual power of girls and women across the countries we work in and never has the time been more urgent.

We expect the Global Gender Summit, to be a milestone event in the empowerment of women in Africa and beyond.  See you there.

* This year’s Global Gender Summit, is hosted by the African Development Bank in partnership with the Government of Rwanda and supported by other multilateral development banks as key partners.

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