In Africa, it is easy to overlook the role that women play in economic development. However, this should not be the case. According to labour statistics women are active as employment agents in Africa than in any other part of the world, and are also statistically marked as more innately and actively entrepreneurial than men in most African societies.

Women in Africa perform the majority of agricultural activities, own a third of all firms, and in some countries even comprise up to 70% of all employees. Over and above their income-earning ability, women are also central to the household economy and the welfare of their families, and they play a vital — if sometimes unacknowledged — leadership role in their communities and nations. Yet, across Africa, women face an array of barriers to achieving their full potential, from restrictive cultural practices to discriminatory laws to highly segmented labour markets. Eliminating gender inequality and empowering women could raise the productive potential of 1 billion Africans and deliver a to the continent’s development potential.

The African Development Bank is a key international institution placing gender equality at the heart of its approach to promote development in Africa. Its main directive is informed by the principle that gender equality is not just intrinsically important, but is also clinical to achieving inclusive growth and resilient societies. Its new Gender Strategy 2014-2018 is committed to helping African member countries level the economic playing field between genders, so that women and men alike can contribute to - and benefit from - social and economic development. It calls for women to have a strong voice in decision-making at all levels: the household, in the community, and at the national level. This, in turn, will enforce more representation and responsiveness in other African institutions.

The importance of improved gender equality is not only apparent within the African continent, but across the globe. Various gender-oriented approaches to development have arisen as the world better understands and quantifies the negative impact of gender disparity, all of which further emphasize the need to integrate women in the development process. One such gender approach is the Women in Development (WID) approach to interventionist development projects. The Women in Development approach calls for the integration of women into the global economy, as informed by three major feminist waves.

The first wave of feminism was the women’s suffrage movement, which originated in North America during the 19th century. The movement fought for female right to vote and the inclusion of women in political discourse. The second feminist wave sought to reconcile the remaining social and cultural inequalities women encountered on a regular basis, some of which included a lack of reproductive rights, the prevalence of sexual violence and systemic sexual discrimination. The third wave was influenced by the publication of a book entitled “Women’s Role in Economic Development” by Ester Boserup, which caused no small degree of scandal upon its release in Western development agencies and humanitarian organizations. Boserup investigated how the specialized development of labour associated in development frameworks greatly undermined the value of women’s status and work - especially in Africa and other emerging economies. It explained how women are being deprived from social benefits and economic gains as a result of this division of labour.

In this case, WID can be found in the Africa Development Bank's Gender Strategy, as it serves the same purpose of eradicating gender inequality. The approach establishes new ideas that prove to be practically beneficial. For instance, in a country like The Gambia, inferior national literacy levels can be a barrier for the nation to achieve its full potential. However, it has taken steps in line with WID that have stemmed gender inequality in most of its local communities, as well as helping to educate the nation. It launched a Girls Education Initiative in 1988 and still continues to place heavy emphasis on integrating young girls into the school system.

Thankfully, such efforts haven’t gone unrecognized and appear to be paying dividends as Fatima Tambajang, the country's current Vice President and Minister of Women's Affairs was recently named African Woman of the Year. If approaches like WID or the country's Girls Education Initiative never existed, it would leave many to doubt if a woman could ever rise to become minister, let alone Vice President.

The Women In Development approach is not only essential to gender, but also to development. As it stands, it has integrated women into the workforce and increased personal and economic productivity levels, improving their lives of millions of people and entire nations. There is no limit to how far this approach can go – all we need to do is harness it so that it can be more effectively brought to scale.

 

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