If Africa’s green economy takes off, it will be thanks to its women. This is a deep-seated belief that I share with my fellow African first ladies, whom I had the pleasure of meeting with at the 5th African Union – European Union Summit, held in Abidjan on November 29.
On the agenda: ‘the role women can take in the green economy’. While no country is spared the the ravages of climate change, the first victims of this worldwide phenomenon are also the most vulnerable – women. According to estimates by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), gender inequality alone costs the African continent nearly $100 billion each year.
“Women’s full and equal participation in Africa’s economic development benefits not only women themselves, but also their families, communities, and countries,” suggests Helen Clark, the UNDP administrator. Though 61% of African women are employed, more often than not, they are severely underpaid. And while they make up 70% of the continent’s agricultural labour force and produce 90% of its food, in certain countries women are still barred from inheriting or owning land as well as obtaining financing. No wonder that, as Helen Clark concludes, “Even though they work hard, women still produce less.”
But it doesn’t have to be this way. Not only would gender equality be a powerful economic lever for Africa, but women’s full involvement in the green economy could be one of the answers to global warming. This would pave the way for a new economic model designed to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and preserve the planet’s natural resources.
Three main tasks remain essential if African women are to assume a greater role in this green economy: bolstering their skills and capacity building, accelerating technology transfer, and project financing – this last is the backbone of any sustainable development activity, since it will allow women to actually implement their projects.
This is why I was pleased to accept the African presidency of the R20 Green Fund for Women and strive to speedily put it into place. Founded by Arnold Schwarzenegger, the former governor of California, this fund must be become operational as quickly as possible in order to support our sisters’ initiatives on the continent. As its president, Ms. Michèle Sabban, declared, the goal of this fund is to “generate employment, provide hope and create opportunities.”
The economic role of women is undeniable: they must be placed at the heart of policies and strategies in order to achieve effective and sustainable development. The R20 Green Fund will help our sisters better understand the economic and social implications of their activities, will finance the empowerment of women, and will provide them with innovative tools to improve their productivity – all while protecting the environment.
This is precisely the work that Fathia Bennis has been doing in Morocco. The head of Maroclear, the country’s central depository of securities, she has joined the R20 Green Fund and is now offering microloans to Moroccan women. So far, five innovative projects have been chosen, including one to develop pesticide-free seeds, and another aimed at improving waste recycling in Mali. “These projects must generate employment and provide training,” explains Fathia Bennis. “We also aim to give them visibility in order to inspire other women.”
From “pink gold” to “green gold”
In the Ivory Coast, women have never shown a greater desire to become entrepreneurs and stand at the heart of this new green economy. Anne Désirée Ouloto, the Ivorian minister of Urban Hygiene and Sanitation, calls this energy “Africa’s pink gold”. As she recently reminded us, women stand to benefit in many ways from this energy transition: from the easing of household chores, to their empowerment and emancipation.
While responsible for merely 4% of greenhouse gas emissions, Africa is the continent that will, nonetheless, “pay the heaviest toll” for global warming—a fact the former General Secretary of the UN, Kofi Annan, is fond of repeating. As such, the continent must innovate in order to adapt to the future. Unique challenges require unique solutions: we must find a different model of development, one that is not based on the incessant exploitation of our natural resources. Beyond being just a threat, climate change is an opportunity ripe for the picking. Now more than ever, green growth is a solution for the future of the continent’s women. So, as the R20 Green Fund’s Twitter hashtag encourages us, #GoGreenWomen!
Dominique Nouvian Ouattara is the First Lady of the Ivory Coast