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Gender dividend: The economic benefits of investing in women

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The debate around gender equality has recently adopted the notion of gender dividend whose focus is to increase the economic opportunities of women. Its proponents believe that there is a business case to be made for gender equality and that the fact that women make up a significant part of the population makes them vital to the development process.

At the 2014 African Development Bank Annual Meetings in Kigali on Wednesday, May 21, a session titled “The Gender Dividend” brought together some of the biggest champions of gender equality across the continent to discuss the tremendous potential that women possess and the importance of harnessing that potential through giving them equal economic opportunities.

“One thing that is evident is that the growth we are experiencing on the continent has not helped to reduce gender inequalities. We should be looking at the areas of growth that are likely to improve the quality of life for women and invest in them,” said Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, Minister of Finance and Coordinating Minister for the Economy, Nigeria.

She added that capacity building in form of education should be at the forefront of all gender related strategies and argued that Nigeria is committed to ensuring girl education. She said that despite attempts to undermine these efforts, as depicted by the Chibok girls incident, the Government of Nigeria would not abandon the education of the girl child. “We recently created the Safe Schools initiative in a bid to ensure the safety of girls while they attend school,” Okonjo-Iweala said.

A central theme throughout the AfDB meetings was the need to move away from micro-focused interventions for women towards more macroeconomic policies. According to AfDB President Donald Kaberuka, this would take on the form of financial inclusion for women. Similar to this is the issue of land ownership for women, where by legislation in most African countries does not support the inheritance of land by women.

“Forty to 60% of those employed in the agricultural sector in Africa are women and yet less than 15% are land owners; there is an imbalance here that needs to be addressed,” said Gasinzigwa Oda, Minister of Gender and Family Promotion, Rwanda. One of the explanations that has been given for this was voiced by former South African President Thabo Mbeki, who highlighted the different nature of African landownership systems where land is communally owned.

Overall, governments were urged to stop dealing with women’s issues as a form of catch-up, but rather to make them an intricate part of the development process. 

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