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No sustainable development without gender equity — Yoman

YOMAN, GINETTE URSULEGinette-Ursule Yoman joined the Bank in 2011 as Head of the Division of Gender and Social Development. Previously, Ms Yoman was Special Advisor to the Prime Minister of Côte d’Ivoire, in charge of economic affairs and governance. She rose to the Ivorian Government Ministerial Cabinet in 2006 as Secretary of State in charge of good governance.  She was also a member of the Executive Board of the African Capacity Building Foundation.

A development economist, Ms Yoman was educated at the Centre for Studies and Research on International Development (CERDI), University of Clermont Ferrand in France, the Adam Smith Institute in London, the Civil Service College of Singapore and INSEAD in Fontainebleau.

 How would you describe African Development Bank’s experience in promoting gender equality?

The promotion of Gender Equality has been at the core of the Bank’s operations since the creation of the African Development Bank in 1964, but has gotten a boost in the past decade. This commitment to gender equality led to the drafting of the first Gender Plan of Action (UGPOA) between 2004 and 2009 and was later updated between 2009 and 2011. The review of the implementation of the UGPOA together with the evaluation of some key sectors revealed areas where the Bank is excelling with  the quality of gender mainstreaming, particularly the water and sanitation and the human development sectors, which have 55% and 66% of gender mainstreamed projects, respectively, directly linked to improving the lives of women.

Nonetheless, there are other sectors where more still needs to be done in line with the Bank’s Long-Term Strategy, which highlights the need for Africa to have inclusive growth through innovation, boosting agricultural production, helping small businesses, encouraging the private sector and addressing gender and regional disparities among others.

To operationalize the Bank’s commitment, we are identifying the challenges as outlined in the forthcoming Gender  Strategy 2013-2017 and proposing concrete solutions to intensify our activities in the sectors where attention is needed. These sectors include transport and energy where the Bank is making significant investments. We will need to take advantage of these efforts by consolidating the gender component in infrastructural development.  As at 2011, the percentage of gender mainstreamed projects recorded was 11%. Our target is to more than double this number by 2014.  Governance is an important entry point to put in place the institutional framework to support gender equality.  The Bank is also using the private sector to leverage the economic empowerment of women by supporting private enterprises, improving the environment and strengthening financial institutions and systems.

The vision as defined by the management of the Bank will be outlined in the Gender Strategy, which focuses on the following three areas: first, women’s legal status and property rights to eliminate any discrimination against women particularly in family law and land tenure rights; second, women’s economic empowerment through entrepreneurship development, skills training, better access to markets and reforms of business regulations and finally, knowledge management and capacity building for gender mainstreaming,

Let me also add that all our operations are supported by tools and specific mechanisms with gender dimensions at the conceptualization of projects.

One of the major challenges facing women’s empowerment is access to finance. Data show that among the most financially excluded in Africa, women make up the larger percentage.  How is the Bank tackling this?

It is “true” that women are disadvantaged when it comes to securing financing for small projects and start-ups. This is clearly highlighted in the forthcoming report on the State of Gender Equality in Africa, which forms the basis for discussions during the AfDB Gender Advocacy Forum scheduled for this year.

The Bank is taking various steps at different levels to address this imbalance. During the 2012 annual meetings in Arusha, Tanzania, the President of the Bank, Dr Donald Kaberuka announced the launch of the African Guarantee Fund (AGF), which is aimed at easing access to finance for small and medium-size enterprises (SMEs) due to their high growth potential. This will help in advancing women entrepreneurship and increase their access to finance.

The Bank is also considering the revival of the Growth Oriented Women Enterprises (GOWE) program, which was initiated in 2004. This program supports women entrepreneurs to gain access to finance, business mentoring and leadership development. Currently, the pilots of this program are running in Cameroon and Kenya. We are in the process of financially supporting more women entrepreneurs and consolidating this program by carrying out an evaluation of the pilot phase to learn lessons and explore how to better replicate the model in other countries.

Apart from these, we are also consolidating the women’s network through advocacy events, which present a platform for networking, collaboration and exchange of best practices. One example is our role during the 2012 African Women Economic Summit, which we co-hosted with New Faces New Voices (NFNV), a platform founded by Mrs Graça Machel in 2010 to promote women’s access to finance and to financial decision-making process in Africa.

Furthermore, in the forthcoming Gender Strategy 2013-2017, we are exploring the possibility of creating a Fund, which will serve as a financial instrument to address some of the challenges that I have mentioned.

I would also like to mention that women’s economic empowerment is not only linked to financial challenges. Providing infrastructure, for example, will allow women more time for other productive activities. Similarly, providing an overall conducive environment will enable women to thrive.

This will include Justice Sector reforms, Private sector development and entrepreneurship, Agriculture and food security, reducing women’s overall work burdens by promoting productive uses of energy that capture the different needs and opportunities of women for energy services, and prioritize access to clean cooking fuels and improved use of biomass. Reducing maternal mortality by investing in health services and other-related infrastructure and addressing Gender-Based Violence (GBV) through various programs would also be some major actions to pursue.

 How has the AfDB’s decentralization and gender policy helped in improving its service delivery?

Decentralization is central to the Bank and its operations. The objective for a decentralized presence is to be in the field in-order to enhance the quality of the services provided to regional member countries. More so, the Bank is re-enforcing technical experts on the ground in major areas including gender.

We have started carrying out gender profiling followed by dissemination missions for each country to have constructive dialogue and consensus on the way forward with the situation of women and men in the different countries. This remains our entry point and will enable us to customise our interventions according to the local needs. We started last year with Sierra Leone and The Gambia. This year we will go to Liberia, DRC and Senegal. This process provides us with the opportunity to harmonize our expectations with representatives from countries to better shape their commendations and mutually carve the way forward.

The fact that the AfDB has presence in the field helps us also to define the recently adopted new framework for effective collaboration with civil society organizations (CSOs). This will be followed to identify credible CSOs on the ground with which we can actively collaborate on operational activities especially in fragile states where sometimes, there is the lack of institutional capacity to implement and monitor some set of interventions. We are also partnering with CSOs for advocacy and policy dialogue on issues promoting gender equality. The time for responsiveness is also significantly reduced with field presence of gender specialists.

 Looking at what has been achieved so far in gender equality vis-à-vis the challenges, would you say the cup is half filled or half empty?

The cup is definitely 50% filled because we are in the business of development and development is a process where there are always new challenges. This assumption keeps us in check and gives us the zeal to keep seeking solutions to the new challenges.

It is not a coincidence that the theme of this year’s International Women’s Day (IWD) is “The Gender Agenda: Gaining Momentum”. Indeed the Gender agenda is gaining momentum within the Bank, in Africa, and around the World.There are two women presidents in Africa. That could never have been imagined some years back. That number can only grow. In the Bank at the moment, there are two female Vice-Presidents. The number of professional women has also grown compared to say 10 years ago. Evidently, the agenda has really gained momentum. The impression signifies that women are present in the highest echelons, but the numbers still remain minute compared to those of men in leadership and decision-making roles.

Moreover, there is greater international awareness of the gender equality agenda, which has been firmly embedded in national, regional and global agendas. Take, for example revised constitutions, which enshrine equality between men and women; the condemnation of discrimination on the basis of sex; affirmative action which increases women’s access into elective office; a less discriminatory legal framework governing property rights, inheritance and divorce.

Finally, it is no longer a secret that inclusive sustainable development cannot be achieved without gender equity; the urgency in finding solutions only grows stronger. We are already on the path of change but I must state that greater change can only come from shift in values and cultural mindsets.

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