Wives of heads of state in Africa, under the auspices of African First Ladies have lent their voice to the increasing need to invest more in gender equality as a catalyst to realizing demographic dividend in Africa.
The group of women often described as mothers to the nations their husbands lead, spoke at the First Ladies Panel during the Global Gender Summit which was rounded off on Wednesday in Kigali, Rwanda. It is the first time the Summit is being on the African soil.
The Summit is a biennial event organized by the African Development Bank with other multilateral development bank partners and it brings together leaders from government, development institutions, private sector, civil society as well as the academia.
Its main objective is to share best practices and catalyze investment to accelerate progress on gender equality and women’s empowerment in Africa and around the world.
With the theme “Unpacking constraints to gender equality”, the summit examined three dimensions in which gender equality and women’s empowerment can be achieved: scaling up innovative financing; enabling legal, regulatory and institutional environments; and securing women’s participation and voices.
The First Lady of Rwanda, Jeannette Kagame, said investments in gender equality are critical to realizing demographic dividend, adding that there is need to ensure that women have the tools to overcome the barriers they face.
The Rwanda first lady recalled the role women played following the 1994 Genocide against Tutsi, where a number of families were wiped out, with women in many cases being the ones catering for families.
“What a man can do, a woman can do just as well,” she said.
She noted that Rwanda has implemented gender several inclusive programs, which has enhanced economic equality in a country where women political participation has grown to 61 percent.
In her submission, the First Lady of Kenyan, Margaret Kenyatta, called for the removal of institutional barriers to accelerate women’s economic empowerment, adding that it has become urgent for Africa to translate its demographic dividend into viable potential.
“This is the spirit of Africa’s vision to accelerate its path to sustainable socio-economic development. Our collective commitment to ‘leave no one behind’ is a new chapter in our struggle towards achieving gender equality”, Kenyatta added.
Also speaking in a similar vein, the Chief Executive Officer of the Tony Elumelu Foundation, Ifeyinwa Ugochukwu, called on stakeholders to come together to leverage each other’s strengths “translate women dreams into reality. “History will judge us if we don’t work together to take action now”, she further declared.
Minister of Solidarity, Social Development, Equality and Family Jamila El Moussali of Morocco, shared experiences from Morocco where policies have been introduced to increase women’s political and economic participation.
The Panel observed that too many women and girls still face barriers to basic rights, particularly access to labour market opportunities.
The Panel said the impediments to gender equality include, lack of access to credit, low representation in decision making positions, lack of control over productive land and lack of financial control to make spending decisions on education and health.
Earlier in his welcome address, the President of the African Development Bank (AfDB), Dr. Akinwumi Adesina, urged the participants to focus on how to fast track economic, social and political opportunities for women, and girls.
“A smarter world must invest in women and girls. Let’s be smart and let’s be wise: women are the best investments any society can make”, he stressed.