Countries’ capacity to build human capital – improve learning and productivity – and accelerate the demographic transition depends on their ability to reach and change the potential of their youth, including the most vulnerable segments of that population. Across 10 countries in the Sahel region, recent analysis suggests that more than 14 million adolescent girls are at risk of child marriage, teenage pregnancy and early school drop-out. That amounts to 80 percent of all girls 10-19 years old in those countries.
High adolescent fertility in the Sahel is accompanied by high maternal mortality and malnutrition, low level of education and productivity, and low prevalence of modern contraceptive methods. Expanding adolescent girls’ and women’s learning and earning prospects, and ability to effectively achieve their desired fertility, is key for addressing demographic challenges and achieving human development goals.
There has been a strong rationale for addressing the demographic challenges through a multisectoral approach and at the regional level, complementing national level efforts (that are mainly focused on strengthening service delivery). Countries of the Sahel region share similar vulnerabilities and challenges. The Sahel Women Empowerment and Demographic Dividend (SWEDD) project’s regional platform helped address sensitive issues, allowed for peer-to-peer learning and sharing of good practices, collective action among a wide range of stakeholders, cross-border coordination and healthy competition.
The SWEDD is a regional flagship initiative that is helping to improve life skills, sexual and reproductive health knowledge among adolescent girls and young women, keep girls in school, expand economic opportunities for adolescents and young women, and prevent gender-based violence by addressing its root causes. The SWEDD project currently operates in Benin, Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Chad, Côte d’Ivoire, Guinea, Mali, Mauritania and Niger, and invests in strengthening the capacity of strategic regional partners including West African Health Organization (WAHO) and the African Union.
Between 2015 and 2020:
- About 160,000 girls and adolescents have received a scholarship or other support to go to school. In Mali’s project areas, drop-out rates among girls were reduced from 53 percent in 2016 to 2 percent in 2019. In Côte d'Ivoire, 82 percent of the beneficiaries receiving a hot school meal a day improved their grades and 85 percent successfully graduated their school year, qualifying them to move up to the next class in school.
- Over 3,400 safe spaces have been established where about 120,000 out-of-school girls are taught life skills and essential sexual reproductive health knowledge, and in some cases literacy and numeracy.
- Over 20,000 young women benefitted from trainings in non-traditional professions that bring them into higher income earning opportunities. In Mali, economic empowerment activities led to a dramatic increase in revenues earned by women (from about $5 in 2014 to $110 per month in 2020). In Chad, thousands of adolescents and women have entered into non-traditional higher-paid work markets such as the installation of solar panels.
- Over 4 million people have been reached by social and behavior change campaigns through local radios, religious leaders and women’s associations speaking on issues related to positive gender roles, girls’ schooling, child marriage, teenage pregnancy and female genital mutilation between 2015 and 2020.
- More than 6,400 religious leaders have engaged in community dialogues in favor of girls’ secondary education, delayed childbearing, birth spacing, family planning, and against gender-based violence in rural communities between 2015 and 2020.
- Over 24,000 husbands and future husbands were enrolled in “(future) husband schools” between 2015 and 2020, where the curriculum helped increase male participation in household task-sharing and healthy sexual and reproductive health behaviors, and in reducing violence against women and children.
Bank Group Contribution
The International Development Association (IDA) is providing loans and credits to the participating countries and regional organizations in the amount of $680 million during the period of 2014 – 2024, to increase women and adolescent girls’ empowerment and their access to quality reproductive, child and maternal health services in selected areas of the participating countries. Further expansion of the program is expected in 2021-2022.
There is a strong engagement in the project from ministries of planning, economy and finance, education, health, social affairs, women’s affairs, and various decision makers at national and decentralized levels. The project also invests in the capacity building of regional bodies such as the WAHO and through the strategic partnership with the African Union. The United Nations Population Fund provides regional coordination, and the Government of France is providing parallel financing in Mali. Country-level exchanges and regional alignments with other development actors such as the United States Agency for International Development, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, specialized Non-Governmental Organizations, and the Ouagadougou Partnership have helped the emergence of a common vision for girls and women’s empowerment.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, all countries in the Sahel region are focusing on helping adolescents return to school and preventing gender-based violence. In Benin, 23,000 adolescent schoolgirls will receive a backpack with an integrated solar panel that illuminates households without electricity, to facilitate study after dark. Focus will be on girls transitioning from the two last years of the primary cycle and the first two years of the secondary cycle, as these are the years during which girls drop out in much greater number than boys.
At the community level, successful interventions include sustained, ongoing dialogue with leaders and community members. Impact evaluations and rigorous qualitative studies will capture much needed evidence on what works to inform adolescent girls’ programs going forward. One of the emerging accomplishments of the SWEDD is the shift in viewing investments in girls and young women as an essential driver of equitable and sustainable economic growth. At national, regional and continental levels, the vision is to extend and deepen SWEDD objectives through additional activities, continued peer dialogue to encourage south-south learning, healthy competition and extension of SWEDD objectives into other Bank-financed projects, and into the work of regional institutions and development partners.
SWEDD’s main beneficiaries are adolescent girls 10-19 years old in rural communities with high prevalence of child marriage, teenage pregnancies, gender-based violence and early-school drop-out. Secondary beneficiaries are the communities surrounding the girls, including parents, boys, men, religious and traditional leaders – and by aggregation, their countries and region.