Skip to Main Navigation
FEATURE STORY June 12, 2018

Project Empowers Zambia’s Women, Helps Girl’s Stay in School


  • GEWEL, a girl’s education and women’s empowerment project, offers direct support to 89,000 vulnerable girls and women in rural Zambia
  • The project is supported through three government ministries, allowing a comprehensive approach to empowering women and girls
  • Nearly 20,000 women and girls were helped through the project in 2017, with a goal to reach more than 50,000 in 2018

LUSAKA, June 12, 2018 – Mary Maliti lives in Nkana Chiefdom in Lufwanyama District of Zambia, which is located more than 100 kilometers from the nearest urban center, Kitwe in the Copperbelt province.  Like many other people in her community, Maliti is a peasant farmer. She grows peanuts, corn and vegetables on her one hectare of land.

Every year, Maliti struggled to grow food for her family’s survival with sometimes little or nothing left to sell and earn a bit of income for her other needs. But following a business and life skills training and a cash grant last year, the 50-year-old mother of five is now able to grow enough to feed her family and to bring to the market in her community and surrounding villages.

Matili is one of thousands of Zambian women and girls who has benefitted from the Girls Education and Women’s Empowerment and Livelihood Project (GEWEL). Funded by the International Development Association (IDA), the World Bank’s fund for the poorest countries, GEWEL supports the Zambian government’s goal of ending child marriage and women’s empowerment.

The GEWEL Project works toward these goals by helping expand access to secondary school for adolescent girls from poor households through the Keep Girls in School (KGS) bursary. For working-age women, such as Maliti, the Supporting Women’s Livelihood (SWL) program offers training and startup capital, as well as savings and mentoring support.

With SWL support, Maliti made enough money to buy seeds, pay for labor to till the land, and a bicycle to deliver crops to her customers. She also bought a pesticide sprayer to help her grow healthy vegetables.

“I am now able to move farm produce from my farm to my home and later sell them to people in this community and beyond,” said Maliti. “In the past years, I made losses in my vegetable business because pests evaded my garden and some vegetables wilted before they could reach my customers because of the long distance from my farm.”

Maliti has also learned how to save money and make a budget. Every Friday, she joins 41 other members of her saving club to make weekly savings of at least ZMW 12.50 per individual (roughly US$1.25). This money is used to lend members of the saving club on loan basis to maintain their businesses and later paid back with interest.

“I am now able to save money firstly during our Friday meetings in my mobile money wallet, and a little at home for emergencies,” she said.

GEWEL also addresses challenges faced by younger women, specifically adolescent girls. The KGS bursary helped 14-year-old Eunice Sichone return to school. Her father – after losing his wife and business – couldn’t afford secondary school fees. Indeed, according to the 2010 Zambia Living Condition Monitoring Survey, most of the girls who dropped out of school reported that it was because of a lack of financial support. KGS aims to alleviate this constraint.

“These programs are specifically designed to help alleviate the challenges faced by vulnerable women and girls in rural areas, by promoting empowerment of women through longer–term investment, as well as enhancing government capacity to manage such interventions,” said Ina-Marlene Ruthenberg, World Bank Zambia country manager.

In Zambia, about 60% of the country’s population is in rural areas, where women and girls are particularly vulnerable compared to men, despite both living in poverty.

“In 2017, nearly 20,000 women and girls were reached through the GEWEL project,” said Emily Weedon, World Bank task team leader for the GEWEL project.  “In 2018, the government plans to reach over 50,000 through both programs.”

With the government’s commitment, the project is being implemented across three ministries; the Ministry of Gender, General Education and, Community Development and Social Welfare. The coordinated, cross-ministerial approach is a comprehensive method to tackle the challenge of women’s and girls’ empowerment.

Through these ministries, the Zambian government is also targeting 14,000 girls aged 14 to 18 to return to school, while empowering 75,000 poor and vulnerable women to increase productivity of their livelihood activities through training and a one-time grant of US$200.