The strength of African women can lift communities out of Covid crisis

Thursday November 19 2020
African women.

Women are the backbones of African economies and can be key drivers of transformation. ILLUSTRATION | JOHN NYAGA


In Africa’s fragile contexts, the burden of conflict, poverty and climate change falls most heavily on already marginalised groups. If we do not significantly and collectively step up our efforts, the continent’s share of the world’s poor will rise to more than 90 per cent by 2030, and eight of the world’s 10 poorest countries will be in Africa and in situations of fragility.

We need to act decisively to reset this trajectory. Today, pockets of fragility are increasingly spreading within and across borders, exacerbated by the Covid-19 outbreak with its health and socio-economic consequences. The pandemic has disproportionately impacted women and girls living in fragile contexts with ripple effects on education, livelihoods and nutrition, among others.

However, women are the backbones of African economies and can be key drivers of transformation as we strive to build back better, more resilient societies. It is women, if empowered and provided with adequate support, who can help rebuild communities once the crisis has passed.

Studies demonstrate that in Africa, women reinvest up to 90 per cent of their income in providing a social safety net for their families, with a positive impact on health, education, and nutrition. Investing in women generates higher development returns.

Fragility and its manifestations are complex, multi-dimensional and evolving as a result of dramatic social, economic, political and environmental changes that exacerbate patterns of inequality, exclusion and marginalisation. Women have been for far too long — and are unfortunately too often still — confined to unpaid care work and low paying jobs, which results in unpredictable and inadequate sources of income and social protection.

The Covid-19 crisis has deepened these inequalities. A study carried out by ImpactHer and UN Women across 30 African countries in July 2020 revealed that 80 per cent of female small- and medium-sized (SME) business owners had to temporarily or permanently shut down their businesses due to pandemic restrictions.


The effect of an economic retrenchment in women-led businesses is being felt across society as women-led businesses account for about 40 per cent of Africa’s SMEs. This has resulted in reduced access to basic services, including food security, nutrition, health, education and housing, to mention a few, rising fragility pressures across the continent.

Women are at the centre of our economies and societies, and their access to more opportunity results in collateral benefits for all — and magnifies impact. If women are empowered and provided with adequate support, transformation to inclusive communities with shared prosperity and reduced poverty is possible on the African continent.

The African Development Bank remains on the frontline of the challenge to reach the continent’s most vulnerable and to bolster resilient communities.

Specifically, the bank is working with partners to address some of the root causes of fragility and vulnerability among women, youth and other marginalized groups such as forcibly displaced and hosting communities, through key strategic and operational policies.

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. While responsiveness and flexibility guide the bank’s approach to addressing fragility, more emphasis is to be given to early warning of risks, mitigation and prevention efforts.

While a lot of ground has been covered, many challenges still lie ahead. These should be addressed through an integrated approach across all sectors, for specific interventions to be identified, performance monitored and reported.

We need innovative partnerships that break the silos of development and humanitarian interventions along the peace-development-humanitarian nexus. We need to bring in the private sector and leverage our comparative advantages to have the desired impact at scale on the ground 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 was spotlighted between November 11 and 12 at the virtual Finance in Common Summit.

The summit brought together 450 public development banks for the first time, with the aim of promoting new forms of investment to foster inclusive and sustainable growth.

The time has come to invest in women, harness their strength and resilience to build more prosperous communities.

Because where women succeed, everyone benefits.

Vanessa Moungar is director of Gender, Women and Civil Society at the African Development Bank. Yero Baldeh is director of the Transition States Coordination Office at the bank.