Dispatch

11 March 2014

Building the Future of Africa by Empowering Women and Youth

The World Bank Group and UNFPA discuss initiatives that focus on demographics in the Sahel and gender-based violence in the Great Lakes
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Ms. Trina S. Haque, Sector Manager for the World Bank Group's Health, Nutrition and Population in West and Central Africa; Dr. Babatunde Osotimehin, Executive Director of UNFPA, the United Nations Population Fund; and H.E., Ms. Maikibi Kadidiatou Dandobi, Minister of Population, Promotion of Women and Protection of Children of Niger.

UNITED NATIONS, New York – As the 58th session of the Commission on the Status of Women opened in New York, UNFPA, the United Nations Population Fund, and the World Bank Group convened a high-level side event to focus efforts on a landmark partnership to promote regional peace, security and development in Sub-Saharan Africa.

UNFPA Executive Director Dr. Babatunde Osotimehin and representatives of the World Bank were joined by Ministers from Benin, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and Niger, who shared their experiences on issues that pose the greatest challenges to women, girls and youth in their countries.

“UNFPA and the World Bank Group are committed to working together to promote gender equality and women’s empowerment in the Sahel and Great Lakes regions,” said Dr. Osotimehin. “I share the conviction with the leadership of the World Bank that this is the time to invest in Africa, particularly in young people, so that they can become the agents of peacebuilding and peacekeeping.”

During a historic visit to the Sahel by a high-level delegation in November 2013, the World Bank Group and UNFPA responded to the “Niamey Call to Action” where the Bank pledged $100 million to UNFPA to invest in women’s empowerment and the demographic dividend – a linchpin of the UNFPA mandate. The demographic dividend refers to the potential economic growth that can be experienced as a result of changes in the age structure of a population following a decline in fertility, giving families and governments the opportunity to allocate more resources to meet the needs of the youngest generations and contributing to an increase in human capital, poverty reduction and more sustained economic growth.

Earlier in the year, the Executive Director also joined the high-level mission to the Great Lakes Region where gender-based violence and other challenges that face women and girls, including reproductive health and rights and obstetric fistula, were among the key issues highlighted.

The relationship between gender-based violence and the development and security agendas has become clear. “What is required is a multi-dimensional response that not only addresses the needs of the survivors of gender-based violence, but also empowers women economically and through education, and addresses the culture of impunity that often characterizes these situations,” said Ms. Trina Haque, Sector Manager for the World Bank Health, Nutrition and Population in West and Central Africa.

 "Teach boys it's not cool to violate women": UNFPA Executive Director Dr. Babatunde Osotimehin speaks to UN Radio

Violence against women and girls in the Great Lakes region can be reduced by empowering young people, and giving girls an education will help them learn more about their rights, says UNFPA's Executive Director.

The Great Lakes region has been wracked by conflict in the past two decades. And sexual violence is still being used as a weapon of war in the region.

A high-level panel was held on 10 March as part of the 58th Session of the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women.

LISTEN: UNFPA Executive Director speaks to UN Radio about the importance of teaching boys at a young age that it's not cool to violate women.

“Ultimately, it is about the status of women and girls,” said Dr. Osotimehin, “And this requires the participation of men on the ground everywhere.”

“We must change attitudes towards women. Women can have education, skills and health, but beyond that they must be able to speak up and be politically active,” he added. “We cannot restrict our efforts to the Sahel and the Great Lakes, but must invest in Africa more broadly so its populations reap the benefits of its demographic dividend. I think that the renaissance of Africa is going to come from there.”

This year’s Commission on the Status of Women focuses on the Challenges and Achievements in the Implementation of the Millennium Development Goals for Women and Girls. As the 2015 deadline for the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) draws near, the side-event offered an important opportunity to celebrate advancement in gender equality and to identify strategies to address the most important issues that confront women, girls and youth in Africa. The debate helped to ensure that issues of gender equality, the elimination of gender-based violence and demographics are considered in the post-2015 development agenda.

The World Bank and UNFPA partnership represents a starting point to galvanize action around the complex challenges that face the Africa’s women, girls and youth beyond 2015.

“We recognize that we cannot achieve sustainable development in the Sahel or the Great Lakes Regions without addressing adverse norms that constrain women’s agency and choice,” said the Bank’s Director of Gender and Development Jeni Klugman. “Our partnership with UNFPA reflects our commitment to continuing to invest in these regions and to convening partners around these complex challenges”.

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Speakers:

  • H.E., Ms. Maikibi Kadidiatou Dandobi, Minister of Population, Promotion of Women and Protection of Children of Niger
  • H.E., Mr. Antonin Dossou, Minister for the Evaluation of Public Policies and Denationalisation Programmes of Benin
  • Ms. Trina S. Haque, Sector Manager for World Bank Health, Nutrition and Population in West and Central Africa
  • H.E., Ms. Genevieve Inagosi, Minister of Gender, Family and Child of the Democratic Republic of Congo
  • Ms. Jeni Klugman, Director of Gender and Development, the World Bank Group
  • Dr. Babatunde Osotimehin, Executive Director of the United Nations Population Fund