Last month, to celebrate the 15th Francophonie Summit, 150 women came together in Dakar, Senegal, to attend a high-level panel event on gender equality and local economic development: a local perspective to a global perspective.
The event, organized by UN Women, the UN Capital Development Fund (UNCDF) and the UN Development Programme (UNDP), brought together elected representatives, senior development practioners, potential beneficiaries and representatives of the civil society, to discuss tools and strategies to encourage women’s economic empowerment and inclusive growth, taking into account local realities and existing policies.
Moreover, the panel served as a platform for the three partnering UN agencies to advocate for their joint programme entitled, “Inclusive and Equitable Local Development” programme (IELD) which will be launched in the first quarter of 2015. This global programme will build on the comparative advantages of each UN agency and its partners to design and promote practical responses and tools to address gender inequalities in local economic development. The programme will take into account the specific needs and priorities of poor women and men, with a particular focus on the removal of barriers to women’s economic participation.
The event was opened by Ms. Bintou Djibo, the UNDP Representative in Senegal, underlining the importance of women’s full and equal participation in the economy, and the urgent need to eliminate barriers to gender equality. Following, Ms. Josephine Odera, UN Women’s Regional Director, emphasized the significance of ensuring the promotion and protection of women's rights, which are essential to economic mobility, as well as access to productive resources, property and credit.
The panel was set up to reflect a multitude of facets on the topic, with the Mayor of the Municipality of Bakata, Burkina Faso, Ms. Marie Hélène Bouda; the Vice President of the National Network of Rural Women of Senegal, Ms. Thérèse Mbaye; the Coordinator of the Women’s Network of African Economists, Ms. Fatoumata Diarra Traoré; UNCDF’s Deputy Director of the Local Development Finance Practice (LDFP), Ms. Christel Alvergne; and one of Senegal’s leading Economists, Mr. Abdourahmane Sarr, leading the discussion.
Most notably, the event’s participants came predominantly from the rural areas of Senegal (Louga and Thies) and underprivileged suburbs of Dakar, to make their voices heard, presenting their views on local needs, bottlenecks and opportunities. In order to facilitate their contributions, a Wolof translator (the most spoken language in Senegal) was available for those who felt more comfortable speaking in their local language.
Discussions focused on the challenges faced by women across LDCs. Ms. Christel Alvergne, Deputy Director of the Local Development Finance Practice at UNCDF, said that “women’s work accounts for 67% of working hours in the world but they only benefit from 10% of the revenues". Additional challenges discussed included the reluctance of banks and financial institutions to support women’s income-generating activities; the high rate of female illiteracy; the lack of adequate infrastructure and the difficulty of cross-border trade between countries.
Drawing on the discussions, the key recommendations from this panel included:
i) Raising awareness of women’s important role in inclusive and sustainable growth of the local economy;
ii) Advocating for the implementation of a gender sensitive planning, budgeting and financial investments, public and private, that takes into consideration the differentiated needs of women and men;
iii) Greater involvement of governments, local authorities and the private sector, as they can play an important role in improving the living conditions of women;
iv) Encouraging the development of alternative solutions in order to reduce the time allocated to unpaid care work, providing more opportunities for women to engage in income -generating activities;
v) Unlocking domestic capital for women entrepreneurs and gender sensitive businesses from national and local commercial banks and institutions;
vi) Providing continuous education and training, including ICT skills, as illiteracy impedes women from accessing information and excludes them from formal trade-related activities and networking opportunities.
All agreeing that growth needs to be inclusive in order to eradicate poverty, Fatoumata Diarra Traore rightly stated that “to invest in women is creating a leveraging effect”.
The session concluded with Yassine Fall, UN Women’s Senior Economic Advisor for Africa, who reminded the audience that “the Beijing Conference was held 20 years ago. 20 years ago, countries made promises. Economic growth has to be inclusive and must be reflected in the lives of people who need it the most."