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Challenging The Gender Divide

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In recent years there has been significant improvements towards empowering women in Africa and the Middle East (AME). Despite these steps towards inclusion, according to the World Economic Forum’s 2018 Global Gender Gap index , it will take more than 150 years to close the gender gap between men and women in Africa and the Middle East.

The effect of gender divide means women often face barriers and end up in insecure, low-wage jobs, and constitute a small minority of those in senior positions.

The divide hasn’t gone unnoticed. Regional governments are increasingly moving ahead with progressive policies and legislation, whilst Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs) have been instrumental in providing women with new skills and spurring attitudinal change.

A solid foundation has been laid for women to maximise their potential, however government legislation and NGOs will not suffice if we are to truly level the playing field. For this to occur, the private sector must be engaged as a key partner to deliver on female equity.

READ MORE | Lack Of Opportunities For Women At Work – Not Talent

To begin with the public sector, governments across the region have moved to increase female participation in the workplace in recent years. In the UAE, the government recently passed a resolution to increase women’s representation in the Federal National Council (FNC) to 50 percent , whilst South Africa President, Cyril Ramaphosa has just announced that government plans and budgets will have to include gender-specific delivery targets.

Governments across the region have also been instrumental in introducing legislation to encourage women both in, and into, the workplace. For instance, Lebanon has increased paid maternity leave from 49 to 70 days.

Progressive policies are not only helping women enter and stay in the workforce, but in the long-term will have a positive impact on the region’s GDP. In the GCC alone, some estimates tout a 50 percent boost to economic output if women participate in the workforce to the same extent as men.

READ MORE | Fight for Gender Equality at UN Faces Tough Internal Resistance, Report Says

International organisations have also contributed to significant advances in female economic empowerment across Africa and the Middle East, with a significant impact on attitudes towards equality. The United Nations (UN) has led this charge, with gender equality high up on its agenda as one of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

In the Middle East, UN Women awarded 200 youth volunteers at HeForShe for reaching 20,000 commitments on women’s empowerment , and in Africa, the organisation aims to empower up to two million women through various initiatives aimed at increasing income, wealth and business leadership skills.

Beyond the UN, a large number of international organisations have also been instrumental in empowering women across the AME region. Oxfam, for example, has launched a global campaign called Raising Her Voice (RHV) which aims to promote women’s rights.

This included a budget in Pakistan of over US$500,000 between the years of 2008-2013 . In South Africa, the RHV campaign received roughly US$50,000 annually for training and workshops that involved feminism and advocacy skills .

Local NGO initiatives have also been key in the advancement of female inclusion throughout the AME region. As an example, five Lebanese NGOs and the Lebanese League for Women in Business (LLWB) teamed up in 2016 to form Girls Got IT, an NGO to provide female students with access to hands-on tech workshops, talks by industry leaders and tutorials on digital innovation.

READ MORE | ‘Gender Parity Will Come Sooner’

To take but one of many examples from Africa, a Tanzanian NGO called ‘Village Enterprise’ works on ending extreme poverty by helping women in rural areas through entrepreneurship and innovation. The group has been working successfully and achieved a milestone of one million lives transformed in May 2019 .

It’s clear that governments and civil society have done much to integrate women into AME economies, positively affecting millions of lives along the way. Nevertheless, much remains to be done. Female labour force participation rates vary widely among African states, with South Africa at 49 percent and Tanzania at 80 percent.

On the other hand, in the GCC, women comprise just 19.2 percent of the workforce according to one study . In this context, the private sector, with all of its economic might, constitutes perhaps the most crucial element in addressing the balance. A recent study by Deloitte showed that Africa’s private sector represents 75 percent of generated wealth and 90 percent of all employment opportunities in the continent .

Fortunately, there are encouraging signs that companies are stepping up across AME and pursuing a concerted effort to empower women with new skills and opportunities. Standard Chartered stands as a case in point.

The Bank has committed to raise USD50 million, between 2019 and 2023 through fundraising and Bank-matching, to empower the next generation to learn, earn and grow via its Futuremakers programme.

By no means is Standard Chartered satisfied to merely provide financial donations – it also actively implements women’s empowerment programmes such as Women in Tech, aimed at promoting the economic and social development of women entrepreneurs.

To date, this programme operates in five countries with entrepreneurial female participants from Pakistan, Nigeria, the US, the UAE and my home country, Kenya. The Bank is also committed to creating a more inclusive environment to help working parents balance work and family responsibilities; its staff can enjoy the benefit of flexible working policy, a parental paid leave of up to 140 calendar days for the mother and two weeks for the spouse.

Achieving gender equality is an important moral principle and acts as a catalyst to other development outcomes such as poverty reduction, well-being and health. Governments and NGO’s have been active in empowering women; however, change will take a collective partnership between government, NGO’s and private enterprise across the region to elevate women to an equal status.

The outcome of maximising women’s potential and achieving gender equality will result in greater contributions being made and benefits to the entire region.

-Olga Arara-Kimani, Regional Head of Corporate Affairs, Brand & Marketing for Standard Chartered in Africa and the Middle East

Current Affairs

With proper investment in youth, Kenya’s potential for progress is unlimited

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By- Ruth Kagia and Siddharth Chatterjee

Africa’s demographic boom has been hailed as its biggest promise for transforming the continent’s economic and social outcomes, but only if the right investments are made to prepare its youthful population for tomorrow’s world.

Consider this. Every 24 hours, nearly 33,000 youth across Africa join the search for employment. About 60% will be joining the army of the unemployed. Africa’s youth population is growing rapidly and is expected to reach over 830 million by 2050. Whether this spells promise or peril depends on how the continent manages its “youth bulge”. 

President Kenyatta once said that “The crisis of mass youth unemployment is a threat to the stability and prosperity of Africa, and it can amount to a fundamental and existential threat”.

Investing in young people especially so that they are prepared for the world of work is the main mission of Generation Unlimited (GenU), a global multi-sector partnership established to meet the urgent need for expanded education, training and employment opportunities for young people aged 10 to 24.

On 05 August 2020, Kenya will launch the Generation Unlimited initiative. This initiative will bring together key actors from the public and private sector as well as development partners to help put into a higher gear this defining agenda of our time to ensure that we have prepared our children for a prosperous future by giving them the education, training and job opportunities that fully harnesses their potential. With a median age of 18, Kenya’s youthful population represents a real potential to reap a demographic dividend and accelerate its economic progress.

Kenya has one of the youngest populations in the world. With the right investment in their talents, skills, and entrepreneurial spirit, young people present an extraordinary opportunity for transformation, growth, and change.

Three quarters Kenya’s population is under the age of 35. Across Africa there are 200 million people between the ages of 15 and 24, a demographic that is expected to double by 2045.

One of the greatest challenges facing governments and policymakers in Africa is how to provide opportunities for the continent’s youth, in order to provide them with decent lives and allow them to contribute to the economic development of their countries. As things stand, around 70% of Africa’s young people live below the poverty line.

In Kenya, the pillars for achieving GenU objectives are in place, with various initiatives for instance to strengthen education system through the recently-launched competency based curriculum and government promotion of programmes to enhance technical and digital skills.

The fruits of such initiatives can be seen through numerous youthful innovations from Kenya that continue to receive international attention.  For instance, inspired by his great urge to communicate with his 6-year-old niece who was born deaf, Roy Allela, a 25-year-old Kenyan invented Sign-10, a pair of smart gloves with flex sensors to aid his cousin’s communication with the other members of the family.

The flex sensors stitched to each finger aid in quantifying the letters formed from the curve of each finger of the glove’s wearer. The gloves are then connected through Bluetooth to a mobile phone application that vocalizes the hand movements.   This innovation won him the Trailblazer Award by the American Society of Mechanical Engineers.

Gen U’s solution is to forge innovative collaborations with young people themselves. Since launching in 2018, the movement has brought onboard leaders from governments, foundations, and the private sector around the world. Its launch in Kenya underscores its government’s commitment to engage young people in pursuit of the Big 4 Development Agenda as well as Vision 2030.

President Uhuru Kenyatta is a global leader for the Generation Unlimited initiative. In Kenya, Gen U’s activities are coordinated by the Office of the President and the United Nations.

President Uhuru Kenyatta with UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres. Kenyatta was on Monday unanimously endorsed by world leaders to champion a new UN intervention on youth education, training and employment.
President Uhuru Kenyatta and the UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres were unanimously endorsed by world leaders to champion a new UN intervention on youth education, training, and employment at the UN General Assembly in 2018. [Photo/PSCU]

Shifts in today’s global economy demand that young people acquire skills aligned with dynamic labour needs, but local education systems have been slow to adapt. In many countries in Africa, school enrolment is up, but learning outcomes for young people remain poor. Most leave school without the skills the contemporary job market needs, and are ill-prepared for a world in which low-skilled jobs are increasingly automated.

A million young people join the workforce every year in Kenya, applying for jobs in a formal sector that can only absorb one in five of them. Some, however, find work at least intermittently in Kenya’s vibrant informal sector, which accounts for more than 80% of the country’s economy according to the World Bank.

Rather than focusing on opportunities in the formal sector, partners in the Gen U movement will look at strategies for supporting the informal sector with better infrastructure and an improved business environment. In doing so, it is hoped that it will be transformed into a recognised and legitimate sector.

Such initiatives have the full support of the recently launched Kenya Youth Development Policy, which seeks to underscore issues affecting young people. Technology will play a central role, and sector-based strategies will be central to the government’s approach.

The Kenya Youth Agribusiness Strategy, for example, will enable Kenya’s youth to access information technology for various value-addition ventures in Africa’s agribusiness sector set to be worth $1 trillion by 2030.

The Coronavirus pandemic has seen countries face changes in entire social and economic systems. Key industries, including manufacturing, healthcare, public services, retail, transportation, food supply, tourism, media and entertainment have been hard hit by the pandemic. The pandemic is an inflection point that is giving the old system a nudge. The post-COVID-19 world will be founded on a tech-savvy workforce that will inevitably comprise young people.

Calling on urgent action for young people, UN Secretary-General António Guterres has called on governments to “do far more to tap their talents as we tackle the pandemic and chart a recovery that leads to a more peaceful, sustainable and equitable future for all”.

In the run-up to the end of the SDGs era, we must ramp up the current level of investment in young people’s economic and social potential. As the vision of Generation Unlimited states, if the largest generation of young people in history is prepared for the transition to work, the potential for global progress is unlimited.

As President Kenyatta has noted, “the current generation of young people has the potential of expanding Africa’s productive workforce, promoting entrepreneurship and becoming genuine instruments of change to reverse the devastation caused by climate change.” 

Ruth Kagia is the Deputy Chief of Staff to President Kenyatta. Siddharth Chatterjee is the United Nations Resident Coordinator to Kenya. Mrs Kagia and Mr Chatterjee co-chair the Generation Unlimited Steering Committee in Kenya.

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Health

Attacking WHO is Unhelpful-Let’s Focus on Defeating The Virus

At the conclusion of the 73rd World Health Assembly on 19 May 2020, the WHO Director-General Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said “COVID-19 has robbed us of people we love. It’s robbed us of lives and livelihoods; it’s shaken the foundations of our world; it threatens to tear at the fabric of international cooperation. But it’s also reminded us that for all our differences, we are one human race, and we are stronger together.”

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Flags fly at the World Health Organization headquarters in Geneva, Switzerland. Photo Eric Bridiers/ U.S. Mission Geneva/ CC BY-ND

The World Health Organization (WHO) has been under attack- efforts being made to defund it, ridicule it, undermine it. The world is fighting a major pandemic which rivals the flu of 1918, which killed over 50 million people.

The Coronavirus pandemic may well be a precursor of what is to come in the future. This for sure is not the last pandemic the world will grapple with, so let’s brace for impact, as the velocity and virulence of the next contagion may be far more fierce and destructive than COVID-19.

A recent remark that “WHO has been bought by China” is painful to hear. Coming from a senior leader of a country which is the beating heart of the UN’s multilateral system, and has been at the vanguard of improving lives and livelihoods of populations all over the world, is puzzling.

Words matter, and by promoting a number of incorrect and insinuating statements, such language may damage the overall pandemic response and undermine an organization that is doing its best – under the extraordinary circumstances – to save lives across the globe. 

I live in Kenya, and on a day to day basis I see the WHO working with countries across the continent to strengthen health systems and tackle health crises. These African countries, like many others especially in Asia, Latin America and the Caribbean, rely on WHO for guidance, expertise and often for human resources, particularly around disease responses like Ebola, Marburg, Zika or the plague. 

I myself have been a beneficiary of the organization’s work, having been immunized as a child through one of the WHO immunization programs, and surviving polio thanks to these efforts. Small pox would not have been eradicated without WHO. Billions more have benefited from WHO’s work, and humanity as a whole stands to gain from a well-funded, highly operational institution not only during this pandemic, but for years to come to prevent the next pandemic and build robust health systems.

Currently, there have been more than 15 million confirmed coronavirus cases and over 600,000 deaths around the world. But this tiny microbe has impacted far more than just the global health system. It has pressure tested our political, economic, social and cultural institutions, attacking not only our bodies but the very threads of humanity that hold us together. What’s clear already is that the virus mercilessly exploits any chinks in national unity or global solidarity, making it an enemy far more formidable the modern world has seen in recent history. 

At a pivotal time for tackling the pandemic, the global response needs solidarity, not politicization. The attacks against WHO threatens to derail global efforts to bring this pandemic under control.

Over the course of the next few months, governments will determine not only how they tackle COVID-19, but they will set a precedent that will guide the world for tackling future global threats. No country can overcome this pandemic on its own, no matter how advanced its economic systems are or how mighty its military is.

This pandemic is threatening lives, livelihoods, social and economic systems that have taken decades to build. It is an enemy that is threatening to reverse the gains the world has made in healthcare, education, poverty reduction, eradicating hunger and strengthening political unity.

For the sake of humanity, we must stand united against it, and this means supporting institutions that are playing a key role in the pandemic response.

From the climate crisis to inequality, antimicrobial resistance to the threat of a meteor hit, global challenges need global solutions, and these solutions cannot be developed if we focus on demonizing institutions rather than addressing the real issues at hand.

In terms of COVID-19, we have seen examples from around the world that clearly show that no matter how bad the outbreak, leaders can get a grip on the virus. By working with a whole of government and whole of society approach, the virus can be brought under control. Countries that have done this successfully, including New Zealand and Vietnam, which stand out as exemplars of how to tackle the pandemic, have shown us that a singular focus on preventing transmission and keeping their populations safe – not engaging in politics, blame games and blatant denial of science – is what is needed to ultimately flatten the curve.

WHO continues to provide valuable leadership in navigating the pandemic, helping the world deal with this crisis by distributing much-needed Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) and diagnostics, providing technical guidance for health workers, leading efforts to find a vaccine and disseminating information that is playing a critical role in keeping people safe. Reducing support for WHO at this time is therefore tantamount to saying that we are all on our own. But we are not.

At the conclusion of the 73rd World Health Assembly on 19 May 2020, the WHO Director-General Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said “COVID-19 has robbed us of people we love. It’s robbed us of lives and livelihoods; it’s shaken the foundations of our world; it threatens to tear at the fabric of international cooperation. But it’s also reminded us that for all our differences, we are one human race, and we are stronger together.”

Let’s take a moment to look at the value WHO brings to the world. It may not be a perfect institution, but it is providing global leadership at a time when it is needed most.

What WHO has achieved in 72 years is remarkable, and undeniable. To accelerate the science, find solutions to the COVID-19 challenges and build global solidarity; now more than ever, the world needs WHO.

Siddharth Chatterjee, is the United Nations resident coordinator to Kenya. He has served with the UN and the Red Cross Movement in various parts of the world affected by conflicts and humanitarian crisis. He is also a decorated Special Forces veteran and a Princeton University alumnus. Follow him on Twitter @sidchat1

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own.​​​​​

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Opinion

Op-Ed: Women Empowerment During The Covid-19 Pandemic

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Looking at Covid-19 through a gender lens

Our world has undoubtedly been changed forever by the Covid-19 pandemic, as all efforts are focused on slowing down the increase and mitigating the impact of this silent enemy that has spread across the world like wildfire. Not only have there been many lives lost, but there have also been many businesses and millions of jobs impacted, which in turn directly affects millions of families. It doesn’t help that most countries around the world were already in distress with high levels of unemployment and devastating droughts as a result of climate change, which were already making it very difficult for families to put food on the table.  As the world tries to deal with this pandemic, I can’t help but think about what will happen to the efforts that have been made to help empower adolescent girls over the past few years.

Empowering girls, empowering communities

What makes this demographic more important than all the others? This is not just about the fight for women’s equal rights or the fight for equal pay, although those are valid and ongoing necessary discussions. This is about giving the adolescent girl a decent and fair start in her life, so she can have a better shot at being successful. So, with the current global crisis we find ourselves in, will the cause to empower young women remain on the world’s agenda or will this slide down to the bottom of the priority list? 

Standard Chartered Bank has been running a young girls’ empowerment programme called Goal, which is our flagship programme under Futuremakers.  Futuremakers by Standard Chartered is our global initiative to tackle inequality and promote greater economic inclusion for young people in our communities, especially those who are disadvantaged. The Goal programme specifically aims to equip young girls with the confidence, knowledge and skills they need to fulfil their economic potential. The programme was launched in New Delhi in 2006 with just 70 girls. I count myself fortunate to have been part of the team that was involved in the launch of the pilot programme, along with my colleagues and a very perceptive NGO partner who believed that together we could make an impact on these young girls and their community.

Developing confidence and vital life skills

Sometimes when the challenge seems insurmountable, what you need are individuals and partners who simply believe that you can still make a difference, regardless of the arduous journey ahead of you. In a country of over a billion people, what impact can you really make by reaching just 70 girls? Fourteen years later, Goal is now active in 24 countries, including South Africa (since 2015), and has impacted nearly 600,000 adolescent girls globally between 2006 and 2019 – and that number is growing.  This means that over half a million families are also impacted, as these girls carry the message back home. When you empower a girl, you empower a community.  

Goal is based on face-to-face interaction with these young women, which presents a challenge during a pandemic. The programme is run by Goal Champions who have graduated from the programme themselves and this is one of the elements that makes Goal sustainable, as it focuses on the ‘train the trainer’ approach. After completing the one-year programme, the girls come out with confidence and skills that they would otherwise have not acquired – our post programme scores have proved that every single time. In 2019, we commissioned a global development think tank called Overseas Development Institute (ODI) to assess Goal’s impact. Over 18,000 girls were surveyed and there were over 300 interviews and focus groups with the young girls, parents, teachers, community leaders and the  boys in those communities. The research found strong evidence of Goal’s positive and lasting impact on the girls, as the results showed a 14 percent increase in self-confidence, a 28 percent increase in knowledge about health and an 18 percent increase in knowledge about savings and finance.

The gender gap and GDP

Then Covid-19 happened to all of us, accompanied by varying levels of lockdowns, and along with that a halt to the valuable regular face-to-face sessions that a lot of these young Goal girls look forward to – an opportunity to be in a safe environment, playing sport with their peers, and learning about their rights, the importance of understanding reproductive health, saving money, and many other life skills.

Data is always important when presenting such arguments. According to one of the Goldman Sachs Global Economic papers, GDP growth rates rise if education pushes more women into the labour force. This makes gender equality not just an imperative but a valid economic argument.  It seems the ‘poorer’ a country, the higher the literacy differential between females and males. 

Apart from the inhumane forced child marriages that are still happening in this modern day and age in some countries, research also tells us that most girls without a secondary education are likely to have their first baby at a younger age, and in turn, there is a higher chance that this child will die before they are five years old. Chances are also higher that these young girls will have many more children than they can afford to raise in a way that they would like to. It becomes an ongoing vicious cycle and we need to do everything in our power to break that cycle – one girl at a time.

Looking toward the future

We need to remember that these adolescent girls are still very much a vulnerable group and we should not divert our attention away from them as we try and manage the ongoing pandemic. The two need not be exclusive.  In fact, we have seen how gender-based violence has escalated during the lockdowns in many countries, including here in South Africa, and I shudder to think how much of this has been directed towards young girls by the very people who are meant to take care of and protect them.

In the last few years, there has been an ongoing debate in some quarters that we mustn’t leave the boys behind as we empower the young girls and this a valid discussion to have. As a mother to a teenage son, I totally agree – my intention is to raise a well-rounded young man who will be a responsible member of society and who respects women.

In fact, in some of our markets where Goal has advanced, we do have boys on the programme, but the reality is we need to double our efforts in uplifting adolescent girls to get them just to be on an ‘equal footing’ with the boys. Research has also proved that in countries where education levels are low, the economic performance of that country is equally impacted.  What is the saying – when you empower and educate a girl, you empower a community.  What’s not to love about that?

– Geraldine Matchaba, Head of Corporate Affairs and Brand & Marketing at Standard Chartered.

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