Women are Africa’s hope and future. They have the potential to unlock the continent’s economic development and its ability to truly prosper.
This is evident in all the brilliant women I meet through my work at the African Development Bank Group, from every part of the continent, from every type of background, who are entrepreneurial, resourceful, and creative.
However, all too often women struggle to gain financial independence – poorly supported by banks, under-appreciated by investors, and held back by harmful practices, including gender-based violence, that are still entrenched in so many of our societies.
This can take the form of physical, sexual, psychological or economic violence, forced marriages or unequal access to food and social services.
The annual 16 Days of Activism Against Gender-based Violence awareness campaign, which runs from 25 November to 10 December, is a reminder that gender-based violence is not just cruel and traumatising for women and girls, it is damaging to our societies and our economies. This year’s theme, “Invest to prevent violence against women and girls”, shines a spotlight on the economic cost of gender-based violence and the significant benefits of investing to address it.
Investing in women’s economic power
The International Monetary Fund estimates that for every 1% increase in the number of women subjected to gender-based violence, national economic activities are reduced by up to 8%. This negative impact is especially acute in countries without protective laws against domestic violence and in those where women are deprived of decision-making power.
In order to make the case for investing to prevent violence against women and girls, we must measure and acknowledge the economic impact of this violence.
In Africa, the investment case is clear. The continent has one of the highest rates of gender-based violence across the globe, with 31% of women reporting that they have suffered violence from intimate partners at some point in their lifetime.
To achieve Africa’s economic development goals, we must address the scourge of violence against women once and for all. One critical step we can take is to invest in women’s economic power.
Studies have shown that a lack of financial autonomy or alternative means of economic support is one of the leading factors that prevent women from fleeing intimate partner violence. By helping women access finance and become more economically independent, we can provide them with an invaluable escape route.
African women are incredibly resourceful and entrepreneurial. According to the Global Entrepreneurship Monitor, 26% of all women in sub-Saharan Africa are in the process of starting or managing a business, the highest percentage of women entrepreneurs in the world. But finance leaders across the public and private sectors must do more to foster an environment where women-led businesses can thrive.
How AFAWA is helping
Through the African Development Bank’s Affirmative Finance Action for Women in Africa (AFAWA) programme, we are working with policymakers and banks across the continent to help women achieve financial independence through access to loans and support to grow their businesses. But there continues to be a $42bn financing gap between men and women in Africa, partly because financial institutions tend to perceive women as high-risk borrowers, when in fact they are more reliable at paying back loans than their male counterparts.
Beyond providing access to loans and other financial products, financial institutions in the public and private sectors can also help drive a shift in cultural attitudes towards gender-based violence. They can support community programmes that raise awareness of national laws to safeguard women and prevent violence, implement workplace policies and codes of conduct, and use their influence and convening power to advocate for change.
For financial institutions that invest in infrastructure, they can also take steps to ensure that these projects help improve women’s safety. For example, the African Development Bank has funded numerous water and energy projects that bring those services closer to communities, reducing the risk of women and girls experiencing sexual and physical violence when they collect water and firewood. The Bank’s investments in road projects commonly provide lighting to increase visibility along walkways and road bridges, helping to reduce the risk of women being assaulted. Measures like this are often underestimated but positively impact women’s safety in communities.
There is much we can do to combat gender-based violence, and the financial community plays a critical – and often overlooked – role. Let this be the year when we pool our collective energy and resources and invest it in Africa’s women. In doing so, the entire continent will benefit.
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