International Women's Day Portrait: Vanessa Moungar

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On the occasion of International Women’s Day, March 8, we shine a spotlight on eight women plus one – the Director of Gender, Women and Civil Society – who are making a difference at the African Development Bank. This is the first in the series.

Interview with Vanessa Moungar, Director, Gender, Women and Civil Society

First, please introduce yourself by sharing an anecdote or an experience, personal or professional, that has made you who you are today.

I grew up between Chad and France, aware at a very young age of the imbalance that prevails in the world. Thanks to my dual citizenship, I was able to have access to quality education, health services, and more opportunities to realize myself than many of my relatives in Chad. While appreciating my fortune, I found that profoundly unfair, and it motivated me not only to take full advantage of it, but also to dedicate myself to working on leveling the playing field and strive for more social justice in the world. Africa is poised for continued growth and its most extraordinary wealth is its people. My dream is that of an Africa that realizes its full potential, and provides all of its children with access to opportunity.

What does March 8 mean for the African Development Bank?

Along with the rest of the continent, the African Development Bank has a longstanding tradition of celebrating International Women’s Day. It’s a day that brings people together to celebrate women and provides an opportunity to take stock of the progress made, as well as challenges preventing women from fully contributing to our countries’ growth stories. This year, we’ve made particular efforts to look inwards. We’re organizing collaborative exchanges with staff to discuss how to continue to press for progress internally by enhancing our work environment and redoubling efforts to hire, retain and engage talented women. Conversations will be taking place across the Bank, from headquarters to regional hubs and country offices. We’re also seizing the occasion to award the certificates of completion of the first graduates of our Crossing Thresholds programme, aimed at fostering women’s leadership development. In parallel, we’re engaging in debates around means to further empower women through our operations, to make sure our development interventions are truly human-centric and recognize women and men’s specific needs. We’re also taking the opportunity to highlight the impact of our operations on women’s lives on the continent through an innovative photo exhibition, showcasing women’s roles in relation to projects, as implementers or beneficiaries.

Beyond the actual celebration of March 8, how is International Women’s Day reflected in the everyday actions of the African Development Bank?

Empowering women lies at the heart of the African Development Bank’s strategy, and is a prerequisite for achieving the Bank’s development objectives. One of the main objectives of the Department of Gender, Women and Civil Society is to support gender mainstreaming across the Bank’s operations, thereby ensuring that all relevant projects specifically address women’s needs, from education, health and nutrition to infrastructure, transport and energy. There is a global movement in that direction and we are working closely with all development partners to share best practices and make sure that we all improve our performance and enhance our impact, at scale, faster. In addition, the Bank developed flagship initiatives specifically targeted at women. Our Affirmative Finance Action for Women in Africa programme aims at bridging the financing gap for women entrepreneurs and empowering them with access to finance, networks and markets. Our Fashionomics initiative seeks to strengthen the entire textile value chain, from cotton farms to retail shelves. With partners, we seek to increase women’s engagement in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM); expand women’s participation in political and business leadership; as well as bring them to the forefront of climate change mitigation efforts.

What is the Bank doing to ensure that the gender dimension is taken into account in its partnerships with Government and the private sector?

The Bank has equipped itself with the tools and structure necessary to embark on this transformational journey. We have developed a gender marker system to categorize all operations based on their impact on women, and deployed gender experts in regional hubs to support projects from design to implementation. We are scaling up the production of toolkits and guidelines for all Bank staff and are integrating gender outcomes in our corporate results measurement framework. In addition, we are ramping up our production of country gender profiles and enhancing our data collection efforts to assist countries in building their statistics management capacity. Finally, we continuously foster policy dialogue and provide support for institutional reform in regional member countries, to accelerate Africa’s transformation and ensure systemic change that can make a difference for women today as well as for generations to come.

What advice or words of wisdom would you give young women who would like to learn from your career and follow in your footsteps?

I would say to young women what I’d say to young men: work hard, as it’s the best way to achieve whatever it is you are trying to achieve. Believe in your dreams, and verbalize them, as you’ll need others to realize them, and no one can help you if they don’t know how to. Have unshakable values, and keep them as a compass through life to stay true to yourself. And last but not least, be good to yourself and others, and have fun in the process!

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