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International Women’s Day: AfDB Experience in Promoting Gender Equality in Africa

African Development Bank operations have had a profound impact on women’s lives in Africa. Several successful examples from various education, employment, microfinance, social protection and health projects indicate that women and girls have better access to services and opportunities that have led to reductions in gender disparities and improvements in gender outcomes including women’s participation and empowerment.

Education and Girls’ Enrolment

Across Africa, primary school enrolment for girls is increasing and gender disparities in education are reducing. The gender parity index shows that most countries will attain parity in primary school enrolment. At the secondary and tertiary level, however, there are still significant gender disparities in enrolment.

Over 2008–2012, the AfDB has improved gender equality in access to education. Schooling for girls has been promoted through sensitizing communities, improving the school environment and providing forms of support, such as stipends and school kits.

  • In Burkina Faso, primary school enrolment increased 10 per cent for girls in project areas.

  • In Rwanda, the school completion rate for girls increased from 79 per cent in 2010 to 82 per cent in 2012.

  • In Morocco girls’ enrolment rates increased by eight per cent at primary level and 14 per cent at secondary level between 2008 and 2012.

  • In Ghana, the student enrolment in AfDB project areas more than doubled while girls’ enrolment was almost on par with that of boys.


Through Bank-funded training programs, women’s employability in the formal sector and income prospects have improved. Vocational training expanded career choices available to girls with limited career options.

  • In Ghana the AfDB’s Support for Girls and Women in Skills Training and Entrepreneurial Development Project is helping women and girls acquire skills to enhance career options. Scholarships are provided to girls from very poor families to pursue courses in non-traditional professional trades such as electrical installation, carpentry and joinery, motor vehicle repairs, plumbing, masonry and welding. The project also sensitizes parents and communities to garner support for girls’ participation in technical courses.

With a loan of TSh 1m (about $650) from the Small Entrepreneurs Loan Facility in Tanzania, Mary Sabastian has established a small agro-business. She bought a few dairy cows and chicken layers so she could be supplying milk and eggs to clients in her locality. Mary is now able to contribute to the cost of her children’s education and provides milk and eggs for the household.

Empowering Women through Access to Financial Resources

The AfDB has promoted women’s empowerment by strengthening their ability to access and control financial resources.

  • Bank projects in Egypt, the Gambia, Malawi, and Mali increased women’s access to micro-credit, skills development and socio-economic infrastructure that helped increase women’s small-businesses productivity and reduced their household labour.

  • The Tanzania Small Entrepreneurs Loan Facility Project is increasing access to finance especially for rural women. About 58 per cent of its beneficiaries are women who have taken small loans for businesses that are helping transform lives.

  • In Niger, Bank investment supported the development of a national policy for improving women’s status. 9.3 million people have benefited from micro-finance and social services.

  • Through the Uganda Poverty Alleviation Project, women in rural areas were able to access financial services which narrowed the gender disparity in access to credit and savings. The project increased income and household savings, improved children’s education, reduced gender disparity and social exclusion.

Access to Quality Health Services

Significant challenges persist in reducing gender disparities in health on the continent. Sub-Saharan Africa accounted for more than half of the 287,000 maternal deaths worldwide in 2010, with an average maternal mortality ratio of 500 per 100,000 live births. Maternal mortality trends have been varied across the African continent and overall progress has been modest.

African women on average have more children than anywhere else in the world leading to a detrimental impact on their health and survival. In 2010 a woman in Sub-Saharan Africa had 4.9 children, compared to 2.7 in South Asia and2.2 in Latin America.

The average contraceptive prevalence (22 per cent) is less than half that of South Asia (51 per cent) and less than a third that of East Asia (77 per cent). Although the rates of family planning use are increasing, empowering women with the means to control fertility remains a neglected priority. A recent study published in the Lancet showed that contraceptive use averted 92,752 maternal deaths in Africa alone, accounting for nearly one-third of total maternal deaths. An additional 59,000 maternal deaths could be averted in Sub-Saharan Africa if the unmet need for contraception is met.

The Bank is supporting projects to strengthen health infrastructure and services to improve maternal health, for example construction of gender-friendly health facilities. These projects have increased women’s access to skilled delivery and emergency obstetric care. Female health workers trained under the project have acquired skills for providing maternal health services.

  • In Tanzania, health projects have improved women’s access to functioning health facilities that provide comprehensive obstetric care. These projects also improved the quality of reproductive health services by training service providers and upgrading medical equipment.

  • In Uganda, a project to improve the quality of maternal health significantly reduced maternal deaths in the 10 project districts. Mbarara Hospital in Western Uganda recorded a 43 per cent reduction in maternal mortality rate during the project implementation period.

  • In Tunisia, the AfDB is supporting the Tunisian National Observatory on Emerging Diseases and more precisely a nationwide survey on the prevalence of genital human papillomavirus (HPV) among women in order to prevent cervical cancer.

  • In Ethiopia, the Bank is supporting a pilot study on the impact of the use of mobile phones by health extension workers to improve access to antenatal care, safe delivery and family planning services.