International Women’s Day: 25 portraits - How the AfDB is improving the lives of African women

05/03/2015
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On the occasion of International Women’s Day, we share the stories of 25 women from across the African continent whose lives have dramatically improved, thanks to interventions financed by the African Development Bank. 

Liliam Makosa
Transboundary Animal Diseases Project, Zambia

Using Digital Pen technology, veterinarian Liliam Makosa can alert the regional animal health authorities almost instantly if there’s a new case of foot and mouth or any other bovine disease.

Paired to a cell phone, the device can provide real-time information.
“The reporting systems have become very efficient now. Sometimes if there’s an emergency I might not meet my boss there and then to report the issue but with this one wherever he is he will get the report”, says Liliam proudly.

Animal diseases can wreak economic havoc not just on smallhold farms, but also on a nation’s valuable exports. Five SADC countries with Zambia in their midst were assisted by the African Development Bank’s Transboundary Animal Disease project. Support was made available to develop the means to rapidly detect and identify outbreaks of disease as well as its prevention and the monitoring of livestock health. Ultimately the aim is to create wealth and enhance rural livelihoods.

Marwa El Hazgmi
Rural Drinking Water Distribution Program, Tunisia

Marwa El Hazgmi, a housewife and mother of three, is now connected to the main supply which she says means she “can organise her day better”. And avoid the two-hour journey on foot to fetch water from a public well. “The water has made it easier to do the housework, but the best thing is that the children are cleaner now,” she says.

Tunisia would appear to have few problems when it comes to water distribution. 100% of the country’s city dwellers have access to water and the vast majority of the rural population is in a similar position. Yet there remain dry pockets in some rural areas of Tunisia. Since 2012 a new, $140-million drinking water distribution program has been in place. It is expected to provide access to water to over 350,000 people and is being supported by the African Development Bank and the Government of Tunisia.

Lubna Karba
Medical Coverage Reform Support Programme, Morocco

Lubna Karba, aged 32 and mother of two, is now a Medical Assistance Regime cardholder, which means she has free access to complete care.
She is amongst the 8.5 million in Morocco that recent health reforms aim to benefit, not least by cutting down on waiting times.
Lubna is having her arm X-rayed for a relatively minor injury. She will be treated and her files processed rapidly through her medical insurance card.

Health expenditures in Morocco can still represent a heavy burden for households with records showing that until a few years ago, less than half of all costs were being met by the state or health insurance. Access to health care in Morocco was limited by the poor coverage of social protection mechanisms. Less than ten years ago just 32% of the population was insured either through compulsory health insurance or private insurance, now thanks to reforms in the care system and to RAMED, the new Medical Assistance Regime, officials say that number has increased to 53%.

Rachida Gheriani
Souk At-tanmia, Tunisia

The region of Kef in northern Tunisia suffers from high rates of unemployment and few prospects for local youth. Women too, often without much schooling, are destined to a life at home. Two years ago, a glimmer of hope came through a carpet-weaving cooperative called ‘Andi Sanaa’ or ‘I have a job’. Its founder, Rachida Gheriani, 56, obtained a grant from the AfDB’s Souk At-tanmia program. The cooperative has already created 20 jobs and provides members with a steady income, while also giving them a chance to make a go of it on their own.
“They will receive a diploma in carpet-weaving after they’ve been trained and then they’ll pass a test to show they can set up their own workshops.”

An entrepreneurship initiative conceived in 2012 by the African Development Bank and 19 co-sponsors, ‘Souk At-tanmia’ aims to generate jobs in a sustainable manner. Its organizers identified over 70 business ventures worthy of financial aid, and have since paired entrepreneurs with grants and sponsors to achieve their respective goals. The mission has already brought new hope to projects and increased employment in the poorest regions of Tunisia, and much needed attention to businesses with a high impact on women, youth, and other vulnerable populations.

Sabine Nibere
Rural Water and Sanitation Program, Rwanda

Freshly pumped water now reaches the village and the locals can fill a jerry can for less than 2 cents US. Schoolgirl Sabine Nibere, 13, collects water from the distribution centre in her village. Sabine says she can now spend more time doing her homework and getting an education as opposed to trekking for miles to fetch water for her family regardless of the risk, the terrain or the weather.

Parts of the remote and hilly rural areas of Rwanda are finally able to enjoy the benefits of clean water and sanitation facilities after major infrastructure projects have been completed, providing dozens of villages and upwards of 400,000 inhabitants with mains water. Among the results of clean water from standpipes, water pumps and improved sanitation are a significant drop in water-related diseases. Women and children are among the greatest beneficiaries, as the arrival of water closer to their doorsteps means an end to the centuries-old and back-breaking chore of fetching water from far afield.

Kamel el-Idriss el-Hassania
Financial Sector Development Support Programme (PADESFI), Morocco

In Casablanca, Kamel el-Idriss el-Hassania helps one of her daughters tackle that day’s homework. Her family were able to use a $16,000 loan to purchase a home of their own for the first time in 2013. Previously, el-Hassania and her family shared a house with her brother-in-law. “Psychologically there has been a great change,” she says. “We used to be in a small house…and with our girls and their boys growing up there wasn’t enough space for everyone to have their own room. We’re calmer now, our life is more comfortable.”

Morocco has a young and vibrant population. Yet those who wish to improve their own and their families’ lives have been hampered by a financial system providing loans against collateral or guarantees. Now a project aimed at improving access to financial services and strengthening the sector’s governance has gone a long way to helping reduce poverty, boost small business and ease access to social housing. The African Development Bank and other international institutions provided funding of over $500 million for the program.

We no longer fear rape…
Rural Water and Sanitation Program, Rwanda

Until very recently the women of the village of Bisate had to risk more than exhaustion in walking through thick forest to fetch water. The women feared being attacked and raped. This social issue is being tackled and incidences of violence have now fallen significantly due to improved accessibility of water being supplied near homes.

Parts of the remote and hilly rural areas of Rwanda are finally able to enjoy the benefits of clean water and sanitation facilities after major infrastructure projects have been completed, providing dozens of villages and upwards of 400,000 inhabitants with mains water. Among the results of clean water from standpipes, water pumps and improved sanitation are a significant drop in water-related diseases. Women and children are among the greatest beneficiaries, as the arrival of water closer to their doorsteps means an end to the centuries-old and back-breaking chore of fetching water from far afield.

Maria do Comceiçao Lopes Tavares Semedo
PABV: Watershed Management Project, Cape Verde

Storekeeper Maria do Comceiçao Lopes Tavares Semedo can now afford to send her two daughters to university in Portugal.
She borrowed the equivalent of almost $4,000 at the project’s favourable rates. With that, she says she bought vegetables and other produce and sold it in town for a profit and repaid her loan.

And, as sometimes eating sparks a bigger appetite, she borrowed more money and continued to do well.
She adds that she would have taken out a third loan had not the project ended, temporarily at least.

The Picos and Engenhos Watershed Management Project on Santiago Island, Cape Verde, helped reduce rural poverty through soil conservation and optimizing water resources. An intricate and technically challenging network of irrigation systems and wells and reservoirs was constructed over a seven-year period together with several new dams.
The African Development Bank also helped organize and support vocational training.
Courses in long-term agricultural produce, constructional and agricultural engineering, and livestock management or pasture improvement were made available. The participants were mostly women. The project allowed significant improvement in access to water for both agricultural and domestic use and the development of dozens of micro businesses in livestock farming and market gardening.

Nana Beatrice Ansah Akua
REP: Rural Enterprises Programme, Ghana

Nana Beatrice Ansah Akua owns the Cassava Processing Group. The new and improved machinery “has allowed me to produce a lot more cassava flour”, she says, as well providing jobs in her flourishing enterprise. An astute businesswoman, she says her training in business management has converted her company into an efficient production line where the cassava is pressed, grated, fried, dried, sieved and finally packaged. The first stage, the peeling, is still carried out manually.

The African Development Bank (AfDB) was asked by the Ghanaian government to lend its technical and financial support to the Rural Enterprise Project, an effort to reduce poverty and improve living conditions in the rural areas of the country.
11 million Ghanaians live in the country’s rural districts and have often been left behind in the process of modernisation, forcing many to abandon ancestral lands and head for the cities and an uncertain future.
An ongoing program, REP’s successful projects will be increased and the next phase will run into 2017 bringing total support from the AfDB to more than $70 million.

Mrs. Uzabakiriho
“One Family, One Cow”, Rwanda

Mrs. Uzabakiriho checks the books in the family-run dairy business. Housekeeping and management skills were also integrated into the training programme that accompanies the “One Family, One Cow” project. Gervais, her husband, received his first cow in 2003 and was obviously a fast learner. He won a prize in 2006 designating him as one of Rwanda’s top farmers.

As part of efforts to reconstruct Rwanda and encourage a shared national identity, the government launched a programme aimed at providing a dairy cow to poor households in order to help them improve their livelihood.
Since its introduction more than 180,000 households have received cows. The “One Family, One Cow” programme has contributed to an increase in agricultural production in Rwanda – especially milk products which reduced malnutrition and increased incomes.
The program aims to provide 350,000 cows to poor families by 2017.

Elina Mwiinga
TAD: Transboundary Animal Diseases Project, Zambia

A healthy cow means a healthy profit. So says milk producer Elina Mwiinga. “I make 70% more these days,” she says. Outbreaks of animal disease can seriously impact small businesswomen like Elina. She has children in school now, thanks to her income. The project, she says, has meant she has to travel far less to sell her milk these days as a new dairy to handle the increase in demand and production has opened just a short distance from her small farm.

Animal diseases can wreak economic havoc not just on smallhold farms, but also on a nation’s valuable exports. Five SADC countries with Zambia in their midst were assisted by the African Development Bank’s Transboundary Animal Disease project. Support was made available to develop the means to rapidly detect and identify outbreaks of disease as well as its prevention and the monitoring of livestock health. Ultimately the aim is to create wealth and enhance rural livelihoods.

Mrs. Alassane Niang
Rural Drinking Water and Sanitation Program, Senegal

Mrs. Alassane Niang is a member of a woman’s cooperative in the village of Sakal in Louga Province, which encourages women to set up business for themselves, within the framework of the ‘Great Green Wall’ pan-African project.

Less than a decade ago only 60% of the Senegalese population had access to drinking water in rural areas. Hundreds of thousands of women had to walk several kilometres each day to find water, which was often of poor quality. Supported by the African Development Bank to the tune of $115 million, Senegal’s ‘Rural Drinking Water and Sanitation Program’ continues to have a positive impact on the daily lives of the local populations. This program is part of the pan-African Rural Water Supply and Sanitation Initiative (RWSSI) that aims to improve the living conditions of rural populations in Africa.

Joana Lopes
PABV: Watershed Management Project, Cape Verde

Better irrigation means a greater variety of fruit and vegetables and water for homes. Joana Lopes says, “I now grow potatoes, tomatoes, cabbages, beetroots, Chinese cabbage… I use papaya to make jams. Not forgetting,” she adds, “…lemons. I sell a lot of lemons at the markets”. Joana has in many ways become a spokesperson for her women’s cooperative. She has appeared on TV and radio news and current affairs shows and achieved minor celebrity status in her district when she became one of the first local women to visit Brazil, a country which shares a common linguistic and cultural heritage with Cape Verde.

The Picos and Engenhos Watershed Management Project on Santiago Island, Cape Verde, helped reduce rural poverty through soil conservation and optimizing water resources. An intricate and technically challenging network of irrigation systems and wells and reservoirs was constructed over a seven-year period together with several new dams. The African Development Bank also helped organize and support vocational training. Courses in long-term agricultural produce, constructional and agricultural engineering, and livestock management or pasture improvement were made available. The participants were mostly women. The project allowed significant improvement in access to water for both agricultural and domestic use and the development of dozens of micro businesses in livestock farming and market gardening.

Agnes Acheampang
REP: Rural Enterprises Programme, Ghana

Neither age nor gender is a barrier to success.
Grandmother Agnes Acheampang’s soap business near Donkorkrom is thriving. She received technical training for her home-based enterprise.
Agnes is proud of the results achieved so far: her business is showing a 150% return on the initial investment.
These profits have allowed her not only to send two of her grandchildren to one of Ghana’s best universities, but also to take on four full-time staff.

The African Development Bank (AfDB) was asked by the Ghanaian government to lend its technical and financial support to the Rural Enterprise Project, an effort to reduce poverty and improve living conditions in the rural areas of the country.
11 million Ghanaians live in the country’s rural districts and have often been left behind in the process of modernisation forcing many to abandon ancestral lands and head for the cities and an uncertain future.
An ongoing program, REP’s successful projects will be increased and the next phase will run into 2017 bringing total support from the AfDB to more than $70 million.

Herminia Minha
PABV: Watershed Management Project, Cape Verde

Market farmer Herminia Minha grows lettuce both on and below the erosion walls. The walls provide some shelter from the often torrential rainfall that would otherwise destroy her crops. Herminia is one of many women who are able to sell their produce in local markets at competitive prices. Enough, she says, to be able to afford higher education for her children, something that was unthinkable just a few years ago.

The Picos and Engenhos Watershed Management Project on Santiago Island, Cape Verde, helped reduce rural poverty through soil conservation and optimizing water resources. An intricate and technically challenging network of irrigation systems and wells and reservoirs was constructed over a seven-year period together with several new dams.
The African Development Bank also helped organize and support vocational training.
Courses in long-term agricultural produce, constructional and agricultural engineering, and livestock management or pasture improvement were made available. The participants were mostly women. The project allowed significant improvement in access to water for both agricultural and domestic use and the development of dozens of micro businesses in livestock farming and market gardening.

Christine Mbabazi
Poverty Reduction Strategy Support Program, Rwanda

Designer Christine Mbabazi has launched her fashion boutique in Kigali at the age of 24.
In the past, registering a company would cost the equivalent of $400…
“After finding a name, I went to the Rwanda Development Board to register there, they told me it’s free, I did not pay anything. It was done online. It took 20 minutes and everything was done and I was advised on how to run my business. That’s how it was. I felt really happy and I feel it’s time for me to work now”.

During the last 10 years Rwanda has experienced one of the most exciting and fastest periods of growth and socio-economic progress in its history. More than a million people were lifted out of poverty. Population growth stabilised and the country is making great strides towards achieving its Millennium Development Goals and middle-income status. These achievements are the result of government reforms supported by funding from international donors, including the African Development Bank with $35 million.

Fatou Sinyan Ergan
West African Monetary Zone Payments System Development Project, The Gambia

Fatou Sinyan Ergan heads up the Banjul Breweries Limited company. Like many business people, she’s delighted with the banking reforms. “Our big suppliers like the electricity company, we pay them big, huge amounts. We also consume a lot of diesel, as well sugar, the only local component that we buy locally here. Those bills are huge, so using the Real Time Gross Settlement (RTGS) system facilitates the payment and it’s faster…”

The Gambia is undergoing a small monetary revolution. The small West African nation has reached a milestone in radically changing its payment systems and banking infrastructure. Now most financial transactions are faster and safer whether for big business or the man in the street. It was all part of a wide reaching $28.17-million project supported by the African Development Bank (AfDB). The wider aim is to improve the West African Monetary Zone region’s financial sector basic infrastructure by upgrading the payment systems of four countries in the zone: The Gambia, Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia.

Fredian Nyandwi
Poverty Reduction Strategy Support Program, Rwanda

Motorcycle repair shop owner Fredian Nyandwi started her business in 2008. Back then it took the former homemaker and mother of nine, 5 months to register her company. Customers were a little thin on the ground she recalls, but business has since picked up and she now employs two full-time mechanics. Registering a business today can take less than 24 hours. Rwanda’s businesswomen have been actively encouraged and supported as part of the programme.

During the last 10 years Rwanda has experienced one of the most exciting and fastest periods of growth and socio-economic progress in its history. More than a million people were lifted out of poverty. Population growth stabilised and the country is making great strides towards achieving its Millennium Development Goals and middle-income status. These achievements are the result of government reforms supported by funding from international donors, including the African Development Bank with $35 million.

Amalia Lopes with the new Picos dam in the background
PABV: Watershed Management Project, Cape Verde

Amalia says higher sales of beans and bananas from her newly irrigated fields meant she could afford to send her son to university in Praia, the capital of Cape Verde.

The Picos and Engenhos Watershed Management Project on Santiago Island, Cape Verde, helped reduce rural poverty through soil conservation and optimizing water resources. An intricate and technically challenging network of irrigation systems and wells and reservoirs was constructed over a seven-year period together with several new dams.
The African Development Bank also helped organize and support vocational training.

Courses in long-term agricultural produce, constructional and agricultural engineering, and livestock management or pasture improvement were made available. The participants were mostly women. The project allowed significant improvement in access to water for both agricultural and domestic use and the development of dozens of micro businesses in livestock farming and market gardening.

Domina Mukamunana
“One Family, One Cow”, Rwanda

Owner and farmer Domina Mukamunana walks past her newly-constructed home, built with money from her burgeoning dairy farm. Domina is 58 and a widow. She says she was struggling to make ends meet until she made a go of raising cattle through the project. She was able to get loans from her local bank. “When I wanted to build my house, I asked for a loan from the bank by presenting the project”.

As part of efforts to reconstruct Rwanda and encourage a shared national identity, the government launched a programme aimed at providing a dairy cow to poor households in order to help them improve their livelihood.
Since its introduction more than 180,000 households have received cows. The “One Family, One Cow” programme has contributed to an increase in agricultural production in Rwanda – especially milk products which reduced malnutrition and increased incomes.

The program aims to provide 350,000 cows to poor families by 2017.

Sarah Rahmouni
Financial Sector Development Support Programme (PADESFI), Morocco

Sarah Rahmouni, 29, a graduate of the Toulouse Business School in France, runs, with her brother, ‘Green is better’ salad bar-restaurant in Rabat.
“We returned to Morocco after our studies and banks were asking for guarantees we really didn’t have”. The solution? “I was told to see the Central Guarantee Fund and they were the ones that guaranteed a credit line”. After a mixture of disappointment and frustration, she received assistance from the CGF. She now runs, with her brother, two restaurants.

Morocco has a young and vibrant population. Yet those who wish to improve their own and their families’ lives have been hampered by a financial system providing loans against collateral or guarantees. Now a project aimed at improving access to financial services and strengthening the sector’s governance has gone a long way to helping reduce poverty, boost small business and ease access to social housing. The African Development Bank and other international institutions provided funding of over $500 million for the program.

Solange Uwera
Science and Technology, Skills Development Project / Education III Project, Rwanda

Solange Uwera, 24, is studying environmental chemistry at the Faculty of Architecture and Environmental Design, which is positively supporting access for women to the scientific and technical programmes at higher education levels. Solange is a firm believer that women have a major role to play in Rwanda’s future: “It’s so important because if you compare the percentage of the population in Rwanda, many are women, but there are few girls who join the higher ranking colleges.”

In March 2014, 18 female students graduated, from the College of Science and Technology (CoST) of the University of Rwanda (UR), the former Kigali Institute of Science and Technology (KIST). The 18 students were among the first 190 female recipients of AfDB’s supported Science and Technology, Skills Development Project. CoST is equipped with modern tools of technology, including a $28-million facility with a lab under AfDB’s supported Education III project, which was completed in 2009. The establishment of CoST with its Faculty of Architecture and Environmental Design (FAED) and the Carnegie Mellon University (CMU) Kigali Campus (also known as the Regional ICT Center of Excellence) reflect Rwanda’s stated aim of producing a generation of specialized and skilled mid and high-level technicians.

Saverema Myiramajigija
Rural Water and Sanitation Program, Rwanda

Widow Saverema Myiramajigija is shown here next to the latrine that was built as part of the Rural Water and Sanitation Program.
Saverema, who lost her husband in 2008, directly benefited and as a result says her life “has changed immeasurably”. Whereas before she would have to fetch and laboriously carry all the water she and her four children needed to drink, cook and bathe, she now has time to dedicate herself to helping her children attain her dream of sending all of them into higher education.

Parts of the remote and hilly rural areas of Rwanda are finally able to enjoy the benefits of clean water and sanitation facilities after major infrastructure projects have been completed, providing dozens of villages and upwards of 400,000 inhabitants with water mains. Among the results of clean water from standpipes, water pumps and improved sanitation are a significant drop in water-related diseases. Women and children are among the greatest beneficiaries, as the arrival of water closer to their doorsteps means an end to the centuries-old and back-breaking chore of fetching water from far afield.

Virginie Mukakabano
Skills, Employability and Entrepreneurship Program, Rwanda

Virginie Mukakabano has undertaken a new challenge. Along with a partner, the recently retired but energetic 65-year-old woman is producing scented candles and essential oils in her small ‘Nice Dream Candles’ company.
Step by step training in entrepreneurship has seen the project improve at each stage. It was finally able to acquire the necessary bank loans to invest in equipment. Virginie’s idea was to combine ingredients from locally grown plants known to ward off insects into candles, which when burned could repel mosquitoes. It was an idea with tremendous potential given the prevalence of malaria in Rwanda. Not only has Virginia created permanent jobs, but also recruited dozens of employees to help grow the plants her company needs to create her candles.

Helping Rwanda’s future entrepreneurs help themselves is the aim of business ‘incubators’, where expert advice, assistance and financial support are available. The African Development Bank’s (AfDB) grant of $25.7 million and loan of $12.6 million for a Skills, Employability and Entrepreneurship Program (SEEP) in the country is aimed to support the government of Rwanda’s policy reform to promote human capital development, inclusive growth and poverty reduction. From leather goods to perfumed candles, all viable business ideas are welcomed and mentored by SEEP. 

Yacine Diop
Rural Drinking Water and Sanitation Program, Senegal

Yacine Diop has just paid her water bills in Ndiobene Mbatar village, Louga Province. A mother of two, Yacine recalls that until the water tower was built four years ago, she and her children had to leave the village early to fetch water. “When I got to the well”, she says, “I had to wait for hours to collect only a little water. The water from the bore hole is much better. It’s clearer and there is no more diarrhea or illnesses related to water”.

Less than a decade ago only 60% of the Senegalese population had access to drinking water in rural areas. Hundreds of thousands of women had to walk several kilometres each day to find water, which was often of poor quality. Supported by the African Development Bank to the tune of $115 million, Senegal’s Rural Drinking Water and Sanitation Program continues to have a positive impact on the daily lives of the local populations. This program is part of the pan-African Rural Water Supply and Sanitation Initiative (RWSSI) that aims to improve the living conditions of rural populations in Africa.