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We cannot achieve great change if women are held back

Posted by: , Posted on: - Categories: Africa, Economic development

This article by International Development Secretary Alok Sharma first appeared in the Times Red Box on 17 January 2020:

We cannot achieve great change – either socially or economically – if half of the world’s population is not empowered to reach their full potential.

On Monday, we will host the UK-Africa Investment Summit in London. This is an opportunity to build new lasting partnerships to deliver more investment, jobs and growth across Africa.
But we cannot talk about growth and development, without also talking about the need to give women a greater role in the world’s economic systems.

Experts estimate that advancing economic equality everywhere could add $12 trillion to the global economy by 2025.

But this is not just about economic success.

Abuses such as violence against women, child marriage and female genital mutilation cannot be fully eliminated without having women around the table in every level of society from business to government.

In 18 countries women must have permission from their husbands to work. Where they do work, women earn less and have fewer workers’ rights.

We are making progress, but millions of girls and women around the world are still being left behind, particularly in developing countries.

That is why, as International Development Secretary, I am putting women and girls at the heart of UK aid.

Giving every girl in the world the chance to go to school for 12 years and the chance to be economically independent also gives them the chance to learn about their rights, themselves and the future they want to create. It is key to creating a better world for us all.

Women typically reinvest up to 90% of their income in the education, health and nutrition of their family and community, compared to 40% for men. It is fair to say that tackling gender inequality transforms not just the lives of women, but their communities as well.

This week I hosted a tech event in Nairobi, Kenya and met a trio of women entrepreneurs who will be at the investment summit. Their ideas are driving economic growth, creating jobs and even saving lives.

I spoke to Cindy Adem who set up Village2Nation, which teaches digital marketing and graphic design to young and disadvantaged people, focusing on rural areas including refugee camps. This in turn helps them to find jobs. She is making a real difference in Kenya.

So are two other women I met, Lucy Njuguna, founder of Nurse In Hand Emergency Response, and Catherine Kiguru, who set up Ukall Limited.

Lucy’s business uses blockchain technology – sharing data securely and efficiently – to improve response times to road accidents and prevent unnecessary deaths. It collates data from hospitals, blood banks and the emergency services all on one handy platform.

Catherine has come up with a neat solution through her app Akida to give businesses a better overview of the work patterns and availability of their staff. This is making firms more productive and helping them grow. She has clients in Kenya, but also across sub-Saharan Africa.

Research from sources such as the Global Entrepreneurship Monitor has found African women are by far the most entrepreneurial on earth – about 26 per cent of the female population aged 18 to 64 are entrepreneurs.

But in reality many women in Africa have low-paid, insecure jobs. In 2018 African women generated only 33% of the continent’s collective GDP. Imagine what could be achieved by realising their economic potential.

The African Development Bank says there is a $42 billion funding gap between male and female entrepreneurs. To say this is a missed opportunity is a gross understatement. That is why the UK is trying to address this disparity.

We are boosting Africa’s digital sectors, supporting tech hubs and matching UK businesses and investors with African tech entrepreneurs so they can share expertise.

Yesterday I announced that UK aid will provide an extra £3.5 million for our successful SheTrades programme to support female entrepreneurs in Kenya, Nigeria and Ghana. It has already given almost 3,000 women entrepreneurs training, advice and mentorships, resulting in over £18 million worth of sales for African female-led businesses.

This new funding will help double that impact, supporting the creation of up to 3,000 more jobs in women-run businesses.

All of this inspiring work will help women not just to survive, but to thrive.

Today, the UK Government is also announcing fresh support to help trigger billions of pounds of private sector investment in Africa.

Our backing of Financial Sector Deepening Africa will improve the financial systems and regulations of 45 African countries, making it easier to do business there.

We are launching a competition to identify new investment products for Africa, and working with the World Bank to make it easier to access finance in Africa through local currency bonds like the Jollof Bond in Nigeria.

But all of this work will fail to break the cycle of poverty without empowering women and girls in Africa.

Eliminating extreme poverty in the developing world and meeting the global challenges that we will all face in the next decade will need the talents and potential of whole populations, not just one half.

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