UN, World Bank Support ‘Call to Action’ for Women’s Health, Girls’ Education in the Sahel

November 6, 2013

Niger’s President: ‘Too Many Children Still Die, Too Many Mothers Die Giving Birth’

NIAMEY, Niger, November 6, 2013 – Responding to Niger’s “Call to Action” for improvements in women’s reproductive health and girls’ education, United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and World Bank Group President Jim Yong Kim pledged today to strongly support the initiative and to invest $200 million in a new regional project aimed at improving the regional response to maternal and reproductive health and adolescent girls’ issues.

“Too many children still die, too many mothers are lost to complications of childbirth, and too few girls are in secondary school,” said Niger’s President Mahamadou Issoufou. “So we need to do much more.”

During an historic trip to the region by leaders from five international organizations – the UN, World Bank, African Union, African Development Bank, and the European Union – Kim announced the $200 million Sahel Women’s Empowerment and Demographics Project. The initiative, which is additional to the Bank’s existing $150 million in commitments over the next two years for maternal and child health programs in the Sahel, will work across the region to improve the availability and affordability of reproductive health commodities, strengthen specialized training centers for rural based midwifery/nursing services, and to pilot and share knowledge on adolescent girls’ initiatives.

While Niger and most of the countries in the Sahel have reduced child mortality significantly in recent years, maternal and child mortality levels remain high, as do fertility rates. If current trends continue, “my children’s generation will be three times as large as my generation,” said President Issoufou.

This call to action on Women's Empowerment and Demographics is not simply about numbers. It is about people. When women and girls have the tools to shape their own future, they will advance development for all,” said Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon.

Financed by IDA, the World Bank Group’s fund for the poorest countries*, the new program will be closely coordinated with United Nations agencies and other development partners, and will build on existing investments and analyses of Africa’s demographic dividend already being supported by the World Bank Group.

As we work towards ending poverty across the developing world, we know that educating adolescent girls and getting health services to women will lead to greater prosperity not just for individual families but also for entire economies,” said World Bank Group President Jim Yong Kim. “This link is even more critical when countries, such as those of the Sahel, have fast-growing youth populations and are trying to make timely investments to reap a major set of economic gains known as the demographic dividend.”

Of the World Bank Group’s $350 million for the women’s empowerment and demographics program – including the $200 million pledge made today – up to $100 million is expected to go to the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA). Much of the funding to the UNFPA will be based on country requests for reproductive health commodities and services.

“High fertility, rapid population growth and a large youth population present unique challenges in the Sahel. Where choices improve for women and girls, fertility declines and opportunities expand. Raising the age of marriage, keeping girls in school, enabling women through family planning to decide the spacing and number of their children, and investing in the health and education of young people, particularly young girls, can unlock a powerful demographic dividend and set countries in the Sahel on the path to sustained, inclusive social and economic growth. The time to act is now," said Babatunde Osotimehin, Executive Director of UNFPA and Under-Secretary-General of the United Nations.

Speaking as both parent and president, President Issoufou highlighted the strong family values shared across the Sahel, and called for urgent coordinated regional action to ensure that children in Burkina Faso, Chad, Mali, Mauritania, Niger, and Senegal have the best possible opportunities for the future.

The heads of the World Bank Group and the United Nations are on their second joint mission to the continent, signaling their deep commitment to peace and economic development in Sub-Saharan Africa.

* The World Bank’s International Development Association (IDA), established in 1960, helps the world’s poorest countries by providing zero-interest loans and grants for projects and programs that boost economic growth, reduce poverty, and improve poor people’s lives. IDA is one of the largest sources of assistance for the world’s 82 poorest countries, 40 of which are in Africa. Resources from IDA bring positive change for 2.5 billion people living on less than $2 a day. Since 1960, IDA has supported development work in 108 countries. Annual commitments have increased steadily and averaged about $16 billion over the last three years, with about 50 percent of commitments going to Africa.


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