Vital Progress for Women’s Economic Empowerment in West & Central Africa Demonstrates Need for Continued Investment

Vital Progress for Women’s Economic Empowerment in Sahel Demonstrates Value of Continued Investment

The Sahel Women’s Empowerment and Demographic Dividend (SWEDD), a regional initiative launched in 2015, remains one of UNFPA WCARO’s remarkable success stories.

“Investing in human capital will determine whether or not Africa is able to acquire human capital that is commensurate with its desire for emergence,” said Mabingue Ngom, UNFPA Regional Director for West and Central Africa. At a recent convening of public and private sector representatives in Abidjan, Cote d’Ivoire, he stated that aiming to achieve the Demographic Dividend is a “win-win partnership [for] the public and private sectors and communities,” and that it “can only be achieved through quality investments in health and education, particularly girls’ education, … access to sexual and reproductive health care [and by] creating jobs for young people.” He added that “young people make up 75% of the population of SWEDD countries,” which represent “a huge potential of assets for the private sector.”

GBCHealth and UNFPA have worked together since 2017 to encourage smart private sector investments in health, empowerment, education and employment to reduce vulnerability, support young people and transform the lives of individuals, communities and societies.

The overall goal of the SWEDD project is “to accelerate the demographic transition, to spur the demographic dividend, and to reduce gender inequality in the Sahel region,” which is the youngest region in the world, and its youth is a critical asset that needs to be nurtured. The initiative focuses on actions in line with three related goals:

  • Encourage demand for reproductive, maternal, neonatal and child health, and nutrition services by promoting social and behavioral change and empowering of women and adolescent girls, in part through increased awareness and access to reproductive health services
  • Strengthen regional capacity to improve the availability of these services with qualified health workers and reliable access to commodities throughout the region
  • Support advocacy and collaboration in order to promote related policies that better support project implementation and meeting the goals that will change lives

In December 2018, UNFPA, the World Bank and GBCHealth hosted a Public-Private Partnership (PPP) Forum focused on establishing public-private collaboration to accelerate results and fill both funding and programmatic gaps. Later, in March, Ministers and stakeholders reconvened at the 4th Annual Meeting of the Regional Steering Committee to identify what is required to support the program through its recent 2023 extension and agree on goals and messaging ahead of the next cross-sector mobilization event tentatively scheduled for July.

The December forum, presided over by Prof. Mariatou Koné, Ivorian Minister of Solidarity, Social Cohesion and the Fight Against Poverty, was an opportunity to create synergies and foster strategic collaborations between public and private sectors to address the needs of populations, particularly women and young people, in the seven SWEDD countries; Burkina Faso, Chad, Côte d’Ivoire, Mali, Mauritania, Niger, and the newest SWEDD member, Benin.

Forum attendees discussed how implementing innovative partnership models and scaling up successful existing practices can help achieve economic empowerment for women and ensure prosperous, sustainable development in line with the Demographic Dividend ideal, and articulated a continued commitment to work together.

Minister Koné commented “[t]he SWEDD project gives us hope in the socio-economic development of our countries. Côte d’Ivoire’s commitment to this project will not falter. On the contrary, it has been carried very high, with the involvement of the First Lady in 2017. We must, today, strengthen the initiatives through a strong partnership with the private sector.”

The then Chair of the SWEDD Regional Steering Committee, the Minister of Land Planning and Development of Mali, Adama Tiémoko Diarra, noted the need to boost innovative partnerships with the private sector at both the national and international levels. He welcomed the forum as a starting point to pave the way for additional resources and investments. He commented that “the SWEDD project has made remarkable progress in just a few years, which is now being translated into concrete, high-impact projects on the ground. This justifies the real enthusiasm expressed by all stakeholders, including those involved in its extension and expansion to other countries and regions across our continent.”

Other regional and private sector leaders provided a strong endorsement of the social and economic value of PPPs to accelerate progress. Michel Welmond, Human Development Program Leader at the World Bank, reaffirmed that private sector contributions to the SWEDD project are a priority for the World Bank, and pointed out that investment in women’s economic empowerment can lead to increased competitiveness for companies and countries.

This sentiment was echoed by Emre Özaltin, Senior Economist in the World Bank Group’s HNP Global Practice, who shared that “[t]he private sector can count on the World Bank,” and that “[t]he World Bank is committed to further engaging the private sector in efforts to empower women and ensure a stronger demographic dividend.”

Some conference attendees presented specific innovations relevant to the SWEDD project. For example, Dr. Samuel Mathey, President and Founder of the African Foundation for Entrepreneurship and Economic Development (AFFEED), discussed the “Zero Capital Entrepreneurship” concept, which teaches women how to start an income-generating activity without any external funding. The project, which has been running for five years, covers 15 countries and provides financing, taxation and market access solutions, which are three problems at the root of the failure of most women’s empowerment programs.

By the end of the program, stakeholders agreed on a set of recommendations for continuing the mission of the forum:

  • Review the gap in each country by component, convert this gap into subprojects and map the partners for all the SWEDD countries
  • Establish an organizing committee to organize a resource mobilization roundtable
  • Identify additional requirements and make technical assistance available to all countries
  • Establish an advocacy system at the highest level
  • Integrate the requirements of the private sector and mobilize resources after the roundtable
  • Redefine and update the funding gap, clearly define requirements relating to the national steering committee and establish a national organizing committee per country comprising the key sectors: state actors, the diaspora and the private sector

In concluding remarks, Hissein Tahir Souguimi, Secretary of State of Chad, highlighted the value of “strengthened accountability through the establishment of monitoring and evaluation mechanisms for sustainable development indicators” via the implementation of National Demographic Dividend Observatories, which were established to track the progress of the programs. He reaffirmed the common aim to develop “human capital through quality education; resilient health systems capable of supporting the reduction of maternal and infant mortality; the creation of decent, gainful employment for young people and women; and … a significant contribution to the empowerment of women and girls.”

On behalf of the Ministers and Members of the Regional Steering Committee, he stated they “[a]ffirm the importance of realizing the potential of inclusive economic growth linked to investment in human capital,” confirm their “countries’ commitments to invest more in women’s empowerment and harnessing the demographic dividend” and request that the co-hosts organize a future roundtable focused on mobilizing important programmatic and financial resources to achieve these goals.

Ministers Celebrate Results of SWEDD Project

Opening the 4th Annual Regional Steering committee meeting in Abidjan on 29 March 2019, Daniel Kablan Ducan, Vice President of Cote d’Ivoire, said that “SWEDD must be understood and considered as an opportunity for us, and an opportunity that we intend to seize fully.”

Salifou Zouma, representing the Director General of the West African Health Organization (WAHO), praised the synergy among the project partners.

Mabingue Ngom noted that SWEDD has emerged as a real tool for regional integration in Africa, capturing the potential of the demographic dividend and the domain of women’s empowerment.

Mariatou Kone, Ivorian Minister of Solidarity, Social Cohesion and the Fight Against Poverty called on the different actors to pool their efforts. This was the essence of the message as the outgoing Steering Group Chair, Minister Adama Tiemoko, passed the torch to Minister Kone as the new chair of the Regional Steering Committee of SWEDD. The former chair stressed that the project’s stakeholders need to work together to consolidate achievements on the ground.

2018 successes, highlighted in the recently released 2018 Progress Report on the Demographic Dividend in West and Central Africa, which were also discussed during the March meeting. These highlights include “safe spaces” and “husband-to-be schools” which are two novel SWEDD projects that were up-scaled in 2018.

The “safe space” is designed as a “liberty zone” that welcomes 100 girls, of which two thirds are aged between 9 and 14 years and the remaining third are aged 15 to 19. These are girls who have not had the chance to access school or who are out of school, vulnerable and at risk of being married before reaching the age of 18. The “safe spaces” strategy is structured around a three-dimensional intervention encompassing the girl, her community and institutions. The “safe space” program was originally launched in Niger in 2013 and offers training in life skills, hygiene, general health and reproductive health.

To reduce gender inequalities, “husbands-to-be” clubs have also been set up. These male forums act as platforms for accurate and comprehensive information exchange. They are designed as spaces to forge voluntary discussions and actions so as to instill community responsibility among the men and encourage peer-to-peer counseling. The objective is to promote the involvement of men, who hold decision-making power within family units and the wider community, especially as it concerns the promotion of sexual and reproductive health and gender equality.

Finally, the Report emphasized the opening of three new “Centres of Excellence” for training health workers, specifically nurses and midwives, which were opened as part of the SWEDD project. Additionally, three existing institutes were upgraded to offer health workers access to Graduate-level courses.

Other key results:

  • >3,400 safe spaces installed for over 100,000 teenagers in SWEDD countries
  • >1,600 “husband-to-be schools” established in the region
  • More than 100,000 girls involved in support programs for schooling and keeping girls in school and benefiting from economic empowerment programs
  • 15% increase in midwives in the region
  • 6 Demographic Dividend Observatories installed
  • >400 experts trained in demographic analysis
  • >4,300,000 new adopters of modern contraceptive methods from 2016 to 2018
  • More than 340 million people reached through the press and online media efforts

More information about the July meeting will be available in future editions of this newsletter and via GBCHealth.




Matt RomneyVital Progress for Women’s Economic Empowerment in West & Central Africa Demonstrates Need for Continued Investment