In Africa’s fragile contexts, the burden of conflict, poverty and climate change falls most heavily on already marginalized groups. If we do not increase our efforts significantly and collectively, the continent’s share of the world’s poor will rise to more than 90% by 2030, and 8 of the 10 poorest countries in the world will be in Africa and in situations of fragility.
We must act decisively to restore this path. Today, trouser pockets are increasingly spreading within and across borders, exacerbated by the COVID-19 outbreak with its health and socio-economic consequences. The pandemic has excessively affected women and girls living in fragile contexts, including ripple effects on education, livelihoods and nutrition.
However, women are the backbone of African economies and may be the main drivers of transformation, as we strive to build better, more resilient societies. It is women, if empowered and given adequate support, who can help rebuild communities once the crisis is over.
Studies show that women reinvest up to 90% of their income in Africa to provide a social safety net to their families, with a positive effect on health, education and nutrition. Investing in women generates higher returns for development.
Challenges of vulnerability and fragility
Fragility and its manifestations are complex, multidimensional, and evolve as a result of dramatic social, economic, political, and environmental changes that exacerbate patterns of inequality, exclusion, and marginalization. For too long, women have been – and unfortunately too often – confined to unpaid care and low-paid work, resulting in unpredictable and inadequate sources of income and social protection.
The COVID-19 crisis deepened these inequalities. A study conducted by ImpactHer and UN Women in July 30 in 30 African countries revealed that 80% of female small and medium-sized (SME) business owners had to suspend their businesses temporarily or permanently due to pandemic restrictions.
The effect of an economic retrenchment in women-led businesses is felt across society, as women-run businesses make up about 40% of SMEs in Africa. This has led to reduced access to basic services, including food security, nutrition, health, education and housing, to name a few, increasing pressure on fragility across the continent. At the same time, the fiscal space of governments is narrowing due to reduced economic activity and rising budget demands for social protection amid the pandemic. This leaves less resources for development funding.
Utilizing the potential of women to stimulate resilience
Women are at the heart of our economies and societies, and their access to more opportunities has collateral benefits for all – and magnifies their impact. If women are empowered and adequately supported, transformation into inclusive communities with shared prosperity and reduced poverty on the African continent is possible.
The African Development Bank remains at the forefront of the challenge of reaching the continent’s most vulnerable and strengthening resilient communities.
The Bank works specifically with partners to address the main causes of fragility and vulnerability among women, youth and other marginalized groups, such as violent displaced persons and host communities, through key strategic and operational policies. We do this by expanding analysis, knowledge and tools that support our strategies, policies and operations across the African continent.
One example is the Bank’s support for income-generating activities in the Sahel, in areas such as Timbuktu in Mali, Diffa and Agadez in Niger and Kishira in Chad, with the aim of breaking long-term cycles of crisis and vulnerability. Although response and flexibility guide the banking group’s approach to tackling fragility, more attention needs to be paid to early warning of risks, mitigation and prevention efforts.
While much land has been covered, many challenges still lie ahead. This needs to be addressed through an integrated approach in all sectors so that specific interventions can be identified, performance monitored and reported.
We need innovative partnerships that break the silos of development and humanitarian interventions along the peace development-humanitarian context. We need to win over the private sector and take advantage of our comparative advantages to have the desired impact on the land and break the cycle of poverty and fragility.
Some of the most effective ways to invest in the resilience of women, youth and vulnerable communities will be highlighted at the Virtual Finance in Common (FiC) virtual summit from 11 to 12 November (for example, but not limited to, high-level event 3) on human security in fragile environments: investment in humanitarian and resilience and high-level 7 on development banks as actors scale for change towards gender equality. The summit brings together for the first time 450 public development banks, with the aim of promoting new forms of investment to promote inclusive and sustainable growth. Join us online (https://financeincommon.org/).
The time has come to invest in women, harness their power and resilience to build more prosperous communities.
Because where women succeed, everyone benefits from it.
Vanessa Moungar is the director of the AfDB’s division for gender, women’s and civil societies
Yero Baldeh is the AfDB’s director of the Transition States Coordination Office