Women’s Day: AfDB Women Establish Women's Scholarship Fund

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Today, March 8, 2011, the centenary of the International Women’s Day (IWD) celebrations is a great day for women worldwide. It is also a great day for women in the African Development Bank (AfDB), who commemorated the day with the establishment of a scholarship fund to assist girls’ education.

The meeting in Tunis brought together high-level African intellectual women, including former women education ministers, as well as several Bank staff and senior managers, to share perspectives on the theme: “Equal access to education, training, science and technology: Pathway to decent work for women”.

In her introductory remark, AfDB Secretary-General, Cecilia Akintomide, explained that women vocational education, science and technology were key pillars and crosscutting issues in the Bank’s Medium-Term Strategy (MTS). “This year’s celebration is an occasion to take stock of past actions, but in a different manner, and to set a new agenda for more concrete actions,” she said.

Speaking on behalf of AfDB President, Donald Kaberuka, the chief Operating Officer and vice-president, Nkosana Moyo, said that the institution had been at the forefront in promoting women’s empowerment and gender equality, both in the Regional Member Countries and in the Bank itself. “The theme of this year’s celebration is a cornerstone of economic growth and development and is likely to have positive impacts on poverty reduction and economic growth on the continent,” he said.

Mr. Moyo explained that the institution had since recognized the need to mainstream gender in its operations, and to promote excellence among women. He recalled that in 2010, the proportion of women in AfDB management stood at over 27 percent, up from just fewer than 8 percent in 2006.  He, however, acknowledged that progress had not gone far enough to close the gender gap in leadership positions in the Bank.

He said the training of girls and women in science and technology was not enough, given their growing role in development. Furthermore, he added, African women shouldered the larger share of work burdens and had limited access to labor and time saving technology… “Girl’s and women’s access to science and technology training is still phenomenally skewed in favor of boys and men… Girls’ access to science and technology is hampered by false perceptions about male and female abilities and roles, male dominated environments, negative attitudes of teachers and parents, as well as a lack of role models,” he explained, adding that “There is need for gaps to be closed.“

During the panel discussion which followed, the panelists said that technical and vocational training was an important factor in skills development and in fostering science, technology and innovation, in particular, as well as in the application, adaptation and use of technologies.  According to the panelists, key measures aimed at meeting women development goal include discouraging early marriages through public awareness campaigns and improved retention of girls in school. They also said promoting equal access to education, training and science would require taking affirmative and special measures to encourage female enrollment in secondary and tertiary institutions; and to discourage gender discrimination in the workplace, while addressing cultural and religious objections to women’s employment outside the home. It was also important to take appropriate actions to expand non-agricultural wage employment and the participation of women in decision-making, including political decision-making.

The celebration was marked by the launching of the AfDB Women’s Network Scholarship fund, which the Bank President, Donald Kaberuka pledged to “personally contribute to the funding.”

“G-Dynamics”, a bi-annual magazine launched by the AfDB women network during the celebration also provided a unique opportunity to explore the importance of incorporating gender perspectives into economic policy management.

In Liberia, (where an African woman was inaugurated as the first head of state on the continent) the former Chili President and first Head of the UN Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women, Michelle Bachelet, celebrated the event with President, Ellen Johnson. “Time has come to make equality a truth’’, Mrs. Bachelet affirmed.