The plan sets out specific targets and financial commitments as part of the Human Capital Project, a global effort to accelerate more and better investments in people for greater equity and economic growth. One year after the launch of the Plan, there has not only been a significant scale-up, but also a shift in World Bank support to African countries. The Bank has committed close to $7.5 billion in financing specifically for human development projects over the past year (a more than doubling compared to the previous year), while also enhancing support to human capital across agriculture, social inclusion, water, sanitation and other sectors.
Investing in women’s empowerment and demographic change
, and women and girls are bearing the brunt of these impacts. Behind the unsettling numbers, however, there is also a story of hope and a powerful message for the world and its policymakers: investments in empowering women—through access to quality education, pathways to jobs and sexual and reproductive health care—are now more important than ever before.
“Investing in women and girls is essential to deliver on the promise of development. It’s that simple,” said Hafez Ghanem, World Bank Vice President for Africa. “That’s why we have helped our clients with over $2.2 billion of new World Bank-financed projects investing in women’s health, education, and job opportunities.
These projects are addressing multiple constraints that women and girls face, including by combatting child marriage by strengthening girls’ education, focusing on family-planning services and ensuring stronger legal frameworks for the protection of women and children. All of this can support African countries in accelerating their demographic transition— a shift from high birth and infant mortality rates, to low birth and death rates.
Map: Women’s empowerment projects approved since the 2019 launch of the Africa Human Capital Plan.
One such project is the flagship Sahel Women’s Empowerment and Demographic Dividend (SWEDD) project. By mobilizing religious leaders, SWEDD is helping change social norms and behaviors toward women and girls like Lemeima mint El Hadrami, who lives in the Sahel.
Lemeima is from Mauritania and got married when she was 13. She dropped out of school immediately because her pregnancy was difficult. She would go on to have two daughters. Her husband would leave her.
“I refused to marry off my daughter for a simple, good reason: I want my daughter to be empowered,” Lemeima said. “I don’t want her to go through the same difficulties that I did. I would like her to have a good job. She could become a minister, a doctor or a midwife.”
The $680 million SWEDD project is helping countries empower women and adolescent girls; increase their access to quality reproductive, child, and maternal health services; and build policy agendas that put demography and gender at the center of growth.
The $680 million SWEDD project is helping countries empower women and adolescent girls. Photo: Vincent Tremeau/World Bank
Addressing fragility and conflict
Human capital challenges and poverty are increasingly concentrated in fragile contexts. This means that just . For example, Liberia is in the midst of recovering from a decade-long conflict, and more recently, the Ebola crisis which took nearly 5,000 lives.
With more than 60 percent of the population under the age of 24, the need for more wage employment is in the spotlight. A small-business program is changing the odds for young Liberian women impacted by Ebola, by providing income generation support and training on how to create their own self-employment and learn from each other.
“We teach them about business, how to keep records and save their money,” said Rebecca Totimeh, one of the mentors of the program. “I decided to help because I want to see young girls at work and promoting themselves.”