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Gender Equality in Eastern and Southern Africa

IWD 2024

Let’s accelerate access to secondary education for girls’ and women’s economic empowerment!

On International Women’s Day 2024, we are spotlighting, through stories and interviews, the urgent need for girls to go -- and #KeepGoing -- to secondary education, so they can reach their full potential and contribute to their countries’ economies.

"When you educate a girl, you do much more than educate just one person. As evidence shows, children of women who are educated tend to do better, their life chances are enhanced. I benefitted from that myself."
Victoria Kwakwa, Vice President, Eastern and Southern Africa
Victoria Kwakwa
Regional Vice President for Eastern and Southern Africa, World Bank


AFE Gender
VIDEO Mar 07, 2024

Unlocking Girls’ and Women’s Potential in Africa

Rewatch our #WomensDay celebration featuring a thought-provoking dialogue between Lesotho Finance Minister Dr. Retselisitsoe Matlanyan and Dr. Victoria Kwakwa. Dive into the recorded session to explore pathways to unleash the full potential of girls in Africa. Don't miss this insightful exchange!

In Eastern and Southern Africa, close to 60% of girls are likely not to be enrolled in secondary school. She has more than a 20% chance of having a child as a teenager, and about a 30% chance of getting married before the age of 18. When she reaches working age, she will most likely work in the informal sector and earn significantly less than her male peers.  

While gender parity has largely been achieved in primary education, the enrollment gaps are wider in secondary education and especially in countries impacted by fragility, conflict, and violence. Even in countries that have adopted a Free Secondary Education Policy, access and enrollment have been stagnant for the last two decades. The time a young person enters secondary education is critical, as decisions taken in adolescence can have lasting effects into adulthood. 

Some of the barriers that prevent girls from completing secondary education include early marriage and childbearing, and restrictive social norms and laws.  Proximity to school and poverty are the two most important determinants of timely enrollment and completion for girls.

Reducing Barriers to Girls’ Secondary Education

In Eastern and Southern Africa, all children and youth should have a chance to pursue their education, acquire skills and contribute to the sustainable development of the region. As a study shows, if all gender gaps in employment globally were to be closed, long-term GDP per capita would be nearly 20% higher on average across countries. To ensure girls enroll and complete secondary education, countries need to reduce barriers by working across multiple sectors and providing incentives. Solutions include:

  • Bringing learning closer to home by minimizing the distance to schools and/or providing digital solutions for homebased learning.
  • Reducing gender-based violence in and on the way to school.
  • Reducing the cost of education through cash transfers and scholarships for girls.
  • Fostering positive attitudes toward girls' education and safe schools.
  • Increasing access to childcare so that adolescent girls can remain in school, rather than taking care of their siblings or own children.

In its investments and research, the World Bank is increasingly focused on empowering adolescent girls and finding innovative ways to improve their chances of reaching economic success in adulthood. For example: 

  • In Mozambique, a program called “Eu Sou Capaz” is helping half a million girls stay in school through incentives, such as providing school uniforms and bicycles to girls in selected primary and secondary grades, and is providing life-skills training for girls who are out of school.
  • In Ethiopia, over 5,000 schools have been equipped with essential Water, Sanitation, and Hygiene (WaSH) facilities and 223 dedicated Menstrual Hygiene Management rooms, improving school attendance due to safer and more reliable sanitation and water supply.
  • In the Democratic Republic of Congo, a project is working to improve safe and equitable access, particularly for girls, and teaching-learning conditions at secondary schools in selected provinces. This includes creating safe and inclusive school environments, strengthening curriculum and teaching-learning materials, as well as equipping girls and boys with digital skills needed to participate in tomorrow’s economy.

Many more examples of successful programs are discussed in the stories below.

Feature Stories and Blogs

Gender Equality

Girls Education

Jobs and Skills

Social Protection

Gender Action Plan for Eastern and Southern Africa

This report focuses on Regional Gender Action Plan implementation across strategic priorities: elimination of gender-based violence; human capital development; boosting economic opportunities.

World Bank - International Women's Day 2024

On International Women’s Day 2024, we celebrate women’s achievements, yet recognize the urgent need to accelerate gender equality and equal opportunity for all. Too many women are still held back, and the cost of inaction is high.

World Bank Gender Strategy 2024 – 2030

A new strategy will be formally launched in 2024, shaped by extensive and inclusive engagement with public and private sector clients, development partners, civil society and other key stakeholders.

Africa Gender Innovation Lab (GIL)

The World Bank’s Africa Region Gender Innovation Lab (GIL) conducts impact evaluations which assess the outcome of development interventions in Sub-Saharan Africa, to generate evidence on how to close the gender gap in earnings, productivity, assets, and agency.