Africa’s economic performance over the past decade gives cause for optimism, with the growth rates averaging 4% between 2008 and 2016 (African Economic Outlook). Moreover, 6 of the 10 fastest growing economies in the world are in Africa (Economic Commission for Africa, 2015). While economic opportunities have substantially improved on the continent, women have not benefited in equal terms to their male counterparts. In Africa, women face deeply-rooted obstacles to achieving their potential at work and in other aspects of life. Not only does persistent gender inequality affect women, it impedes economic and social progress in the region. The African Development Bank argued in 2015 that if gender equality and women’s economic empowerment can be achieved, the productive potential of one billion African people will substantially increase and would significantly boost the continent’s development potential.
The NEPAD Spanish Fund for African Women Empowerment facilitated income generating initiatives which directly benefitted more than 149,890 women. Funds disbursed amounted to € 8,289,782, allocated to 52 projects aimed at improving the income generating capacity of women. These measures included, inter alia, the provision of business and vocational skills training; projects to bolster women’s agricultural output, including agricultural production and development programmes; female entrepreneurship and technical support services; stratagems that led to the allocation of start-up capital for women to establish their own businesses; the supply of micro-loans, at low interest rates, to provide women with the necessary resources to put their productive capacities to use; promoting female education, especially among young women and girls; securing access to and ownership of agricultural land for women and reform of customary land management; secured employment for women through the provision of on-the-job training and apprenticeships; influencing policy, research, advocacy and established networks for African businesswomen; the establishment and legal accreditation of agricultural cooperatives; the founding of business incubators for female entrepreneurs; focussing on the elimination of women’s drudgery, thereby reducing the time-poverty women face.
As a whole, the disbursements provided by the NSF improved the income generating capacities of women on the continent by helping to effect equitable and people-centred growth and development; eradicating poverty through the development of human capital, social assets, infrastructure and public goods; and contributing towards enduring peace and security on the continent. Moreover, the project helped to promote the development of participatory and accountable institutions, thereby empowering Africa’s women and youth to contribute towards fulfilling the African dream.
Key lessons learned from the projects:
- Income generating initiatives should consider the needs of the community and the improvement of skills that best target the economic empowerment of women in the community
- Establish partnerships and collaborative efforts for synergistic outcomes to facilitate increased income generation for women
- Promote education and intensify business, vocational skills and entrepreneurship training for women to improve their income generating potential
Income generating initiatives should consider the needs of the community and the improvement of skills that best target the economic empowerment of women in the community
The Aid Association for People Development (ADPP) in Guinea-Bissau, the Association of Girl Guides and Girl Scouts of Niger (AGEN), the Women of Uganda Network, the Graça Machel Trust, the Ministry of Education, Science and Technology (MEST) based in Sierra Leone and the Juba Women’s Self Help Development Organisation (JWSHDO) from South Sudan, all noted that project implementation was hampered by a lack of feasibility studies and that a needs-based approach to funding projects based on the requirements of the women in the community is essential for successful project execution. Feasibility studies ensure that projects are efficiently allocated, maximise women’s economic empowerment and contribution to local economic development. An example of a misalignment of needs occurred during the Juba Women’s Self Help Development Organisation (JWSHDO) project in South Sudan. JWSHDO encountered difficulty in training the local women on the operation and maintenance of an electric brick laying machine. The project further found that the long-term running of the machine and auxiliary equipment was not financially feasible for the community.
Another project, the Aid Association for People Development (ADPP), found it pertinent to conduct a feasibility study prior to the start of the project, the study’s results showed that 54% of the female beneficiaries had not completed any education and only 11% completed secondary school. This motivated the project managers from the ADPP to couple basic educational concepts with the skills training to improve agricultural production processes amongst women. This facilitated the uptake of the skills training provided to the women and improved their income generating potential. Similarly, the project undertaken by the Ministry of Education, Science and Technology (MEST) in Sierra Leone, recommended that projects should conduct a needs assessment in the project area after each milestone is achieved as this would help in revealing reliable baseline data on the status of beneficiaries for subsequent planning of activities in the project. The exercise helped beneficiaries air their views or frustrations over the course of the project, allowing for intra-project optimisation.
Furthermore, the Graça Machel Trust, which focussed on strengthening national networks of African businesswomen, found that a key component of the network capacity building was a mapping exercise to assess the environment in which networks operate, to obtain a better understanding of what is needed to improve the services offered and to ensure that networks engage with their constituencies. These interventions ensured that the project was well aligned with the needs of the women in the communities targeted and that it maximised the project's impact on female businesswomen.
It was found to be critical to correctly align the needs of the beneficiaries in each project to ensure their effective implementation and maximal impact, thereby ensuring the projects addressed the aspirations set out in the African Union’s, Agenda 2063, where African development is people-driven, by unleashing the potential of its women and youth.
Establish partnerships and collaborative efforts for synergistic outcomes to facilitate increased income generation for women
The importance of establishing partnerships and collaborative efforts to facilitate income generation for women has come to the fore in a number of international, continental and country forums and agency policy documents. For example, the African Women in Business Initiative (AWIB) has argued for improved access for women entrepreneurs to national, regional and international business networks and the South African National Development Agency stated in a 2013 policy paper that collaboration between various stakeholders including communities, public, and private organisations are important to ensure the success of income generating interventions. These views resonate with the African Union’s Agenda 2063 aspiration for a prosperous Africa based on inclusive growth and sustainable development.
The Gambia Women’s Finance Association (GAWFA) reported that a valuable lesson learned during their “Empowering Women Through Micro Finance” project was the beneficial effect of forging partnerships and having consultative meetings with partners, development agencies and beneficiaries in the development field. This increased project cost effectiveness and improved the success rate of the project which provided microcredit facilities to low income women from the North Bank region of The Gambia. This helped the women expand and develop their businesses and, thereby, increase their income generating potential. The importance of networking was further also emphasised by the Live-Addis project which focused on the economic and social empowerment of vulnerable, young women living in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. They specifically stressed the need to promote networking and partnership activities, as well as to ensuring buy-in from local stake holders.
Promote education and intensify business, vocational skills and entrepreneurship training for women to improve their income generating potential
Education is one of the key factors in determining women employment outcomes and is highlighted in the AU Agenda 2063 in its aspiration for a prosperous Africa based on inclusive growth and sustainable development. This goal therefore calls for “well-educated and skilled citizens” and the “elimination of gender disparities at all levels of education”. In many countries in Africa, women’s lower education levels and lack of skills limit their access to career opportunities and employment security. More investment is therefore needed in life-skills, vocational skills and entrepreneurship training for women. The importance of education and training to improve women’s income generating capacity surfaced in many of the NSF projects.
The project of the Gambian Women’s Bureau is an example of the important role that education and training can play in improving the income generating capacity of rural women. The Gambian Women’s Bureau established the project to improve the economic outcomes of 100,000 rural Gambian women through education and training, creating employment opportunities, as well as investments in equipment and infrastructure. The training more specifically focused on management and processing techniques applicable to the small vegetable farms and the new agro-processing plant that was implemented by the project.
The Federation of Cameroonian Civil Society Organisations (FOSCAM), likewise, realised that an important mechanism to improve the income generating potential of women in the Republic of Cameroon was to provide business and vocational skills training. The Employment and Vocational Training Institute (IEFP), again, provided business skills training and business support to enhance the employment opportunities of 75 young women from the Republic of Cabo Verde. This training followed the International Labour Organisation’s (ILO) GERME methodology, which focuses on developing small businesses within emerging market economies.
Another example of the need for training interventions was provided by the Teen Challenge project that helped reintegrate rehabilitated female drug addicts from poor areas of Cape Town in South Africa. They facilitated an employment-readiness course that focused on industry-related soft skills geared to assist women to enter the job market and earn an income. Teen Challenge South Africa (TCSA) further noted that there was an urgent need to conduct additional workshops and training programmes to develop and empower more women in poverty-stricken communities.