Interview - "The Gender Strategy represents a major milestone for the Bank" - Special Envoy on Gender

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African Development Bank’s Special Envoy on Gender, Geraldine Fraser-Moleketi, shares perspectives on the institution's Gender Strategy 2014-2018 approved by the Board of Directors in Tunis, Tunisia on 22 January, 2014.


What is the strategic vision of the Gender Strategy 2014-2018, just approved by the Board?


The Gender Strategy represents a major milestone for the Bank as it puts in place one of the critical foundations for realizing the ‘Africa at 50’ and ‘post-2015’ development agendas. It is closely aligned with the Bank’s overarching 2013-2022 Strategy, and its core objective of promoting inclusive growth which will broaden the opportunities for both women and men.  Promoting gender equality sits alongside two other ‘areas of special emphasis’ in the Bank Strategy: supporting fragile states, and supporting agriculture and food security.  

The strategy envisions an Africa where African women participate fully in decision making, have easy access to knowledge, where women’s skills and innovations are optimised and their capacities tapped to contribute to greater economic opportunities.


What are the key elements of the Strategy and how would it affect the way the Bank does business?


The elements of this strategy are two-fold. For the external component of the strategy, three mutually reinforcing pillars were identified as being key to addressing the underlying causes of gender inequalities in Africa. These are: strengthening women’s legal and property rights, promoting women’s economic empowerment, as well as enhancing knowledge management and capacity building on gender equality. These pillars will be addressed in country and regional programming as well as through Bank operations.

The Strategy also recognises the need for the Bank to lead by example as it works to support Regional Member Countries to promote gender equality.  To make this a reality the Strategy seeks to transform the Bank’s organisational culture with elements such as; gender diversity in staffing; an effective institutional framework for gender equality; a compliance mechanism with incentives; a peer review mechanism;  a gender-responsive work environment; and optimal human and financial resources.


How would it affect the way the Bank does business?


I believe that we must make gender the business of all staff at the Bank. To date, the Bank has been mainstreaming gender equality work in its five operational priorities: infrastructure development, regional integration, private sector development, governance and accountability, and skills and technology.

Additionally, in July 2013, we received a US Treasury “Development Impact” Honors Award for a project focused on restoring social services and reducing gender-based violence in post-conflict Côte d’Ivoire.  

But going forward under the new Strategy, the Bank commits itself to greater and better integration of gender equality in all its programmes.  Much of this work will revolve around strengthening the capacity of African countries to put into practice their own commitments to gender equality.


In what ways will the strategy enhance the Bank’s inclusive growth and transformational agenda?


What is new in this Strategy and what will take our work to a new level is the realization that gender equality is both a development goal in itself and a precondition for the achievement of other development outcomes. It is both a matter of human rights and a matter of “smart economics”.

Enhancing the Bank’s inclusive growth agenda is achievable through increasing women’s access to and control over resources to generate broad productivity gains, and improving women’s and girls’ legal status to benefit many other development outcomes, such  health, and nutrition.  Crucially, women’s economic gains benefit not only themselves but also the next generation, magnifying the development impact. Gender equality therefore has a direct positive impact on improving living conditions in households and communities.

The strategy is anchored in the Bank’s overall vision of supporting Africa’s transformation into a competitive, diversified, integrated, and prosperous continent, fully participating in global trade and investment - a continent whose high - quality growth creates more employment opportunities for all, especially women and youth.


What challenges or risks do you foresee in the implementation of the internal and external aspects of the strategy?


The strategy clearly outlines some risks and our mitigation measures. Country dialogue will be crucial especially during country programming processes to ensure political will. Specifically, in situations of fragility, keeping gender on the country’s agenda may be difficult in a context fraught with competing and expensive priorities.   

We must realize that the impact of conflict is often much more severe on women and increases their vulnerability. Working with the Fragile States Department closely we will be keen to strengthen the capacity of government and civil society to promote gender equality effectively.

Data and statistics for policy advocacy will also demonstrate the importance of women’s economic empowerment and their legal and property rights for economic growth. Moreover, the strategy makes provision for analytical work on these areas and their connection to inclusive growth to use as advocacy material.

The Bank will work closely with national actors vocal on gender equality particularly civil society. The naming of gender champions in the country also can be helpful, particularly if they are traditional or religious leaders. The Bank will also promote the dissemination of concrete successes of promoting gender equality and employ innovative pilot initiatives with the potential to show quick results.

The strategy is a living document, and so has built in the development of a compliance mechanism that effectively compels staff to promote gender equality to ensure accountability for its implementation. The strategy also relies on each core operational sector to leverage the existing resources.

The Gender Strategy will not only be financed by the budgets of dedicated units, but also by the implementing departments and units across the Bank. For the 2014-2016 period, nearly 13% of the requested resources were allocated to projects focusing on gender, and this is expected to rise thereafter.  And my role, as a Special Envoy, is to ensure that all this happens through monitoring, advocacy and constantly advancing the agenda.