The Transformative Power of Gender Equality in a Time of Crisis

When Nigerian entrepreneur Yetunde Adeyemi opened Active Foods, a commercial bakery in 2015, success to her was to produce 1,000 loaves per day.

Seven years later, Yetunde stood on the stage at the World Bank, proudly announcing to policymakers, development workers, and civil society leaders that her bakery now employs over 300 staff—and produces over 25,000 loaves each day. These accomplishments have been transformative for Yetunde’s family and community—with benefits to societies and economies.

On October 13, along with Yetunde, government ministers, CEOs, bankers and civil society activists spoke to the power of investing in gender equality and the empowerment of women and girls during the 2022 IMF and World Bank Group Annual Meetings event “Empowering women to unleash green, resilient, and inclusive development: Should development policy be feminist?”

The speakers answered the event title question with a resounding, “Yes.”
Yetunde Adeyemi of Nigeria and founder of Active Foods Limited tells her story. With support from We-Fi the company she found

Yetunde Adeyemi of Nigeria and founder of Active Foods Limited tells her story. With support from We-Fi the company she founded in 2015 grew to produce about 25,000 loaves of bread per day.
Fatimetou Mint MohamedWhen women participate as policymakers, entrepreneurs, workers and community leaders, societies prosper.

David Malpass
President, World Bank Group

In his opening remarks, World Bank Group President David Malpass highlighted that societies prosper when women participate as policymakers, entrepreneurs, workers and community leaders. Two dynamic women entrepreneurs embodied this and shared their inspiring stories.

Yetunde, together with Dr. Saira Siddique, Founder of medIQ Smart Healthcare in Pakistan, told their stories of overcoming adversity as they founded and grew their businesses leveraging financing and mentoring from the Women Entrepreneurs Finance Initiative (We-Fi).  Since 2018, We-Fi has worked with hundreds of partners in over 60 countries to support women entrepreneurs by catalyzing billions in funding to provide finance and training, while addressing systemic data and policy gaps.

Policies that advance gender equality can help achieve development goals

Indeed, feminist policies and policies that advance gender equality have intrinsic value and can accelerate progress towards other development goals, including addressing food insecurity, climate change, and conflict and fragility. A ministerial panel chaired by World Bank Managing Director Mari Pangestu demonstrated how policymakers can create an enabling environment for gender equality.

H.E. Ernesto Max Elias Tonela, Minister of Economy and Finance of Mozambique shared how Mozambique is investing in empowerment throughout women’s lives by strengthening foundational learning for both boys and girls, increasing the availability of distance learning, targeting out-of-school girls and girls at risk of dropping out and expanding access to sexual and reproductive health education.

H.E. Svenja Schulze, Germany’s Minister for Economic Cooperation and Development, shared that Germany is currently launching its Feminist Development Policy, signaling an ambitious level of commitment to the idea of equality and the empowerment of all people.
Saira Siddique founded medIQ Smart Healthcare, Pakistan’s first virtual hospital.

Saira Siddique founded medIQ Smart Healthcare, Pakistan’s first virtual hospital.

Investing in women is good for business.
Afsane Jetha
Managing Partner and CEO of Alta Semper Capital

A dynamic discussion among private sector and civil society leaders revealed the complementary roles played by each in ensuring that societies and economies benefit from the contributions and leadership of women.

Afsane Jetha, Managing Partner and CEO of Alta Semper Capital, explained that investing in women is good for business: gender balanced teams are more likely to invest in women entrepreneurs and see better returns. Yet, she continued, “The market is underpricing women,” and suggested that intervention from the public sector may even be needed to address “deeply rooted unconscious bias steeped in cultural norms.”

Parwati Surjaudaja, CEO of Bank OCBC NISP, which recently launched a gender bond with We-Fi and IFC support, further leveraged data to highlight that 60 percent of the economy are supported by SMEs, many run by women who need critical support beyond just investment, including through digital and technological solutions.

Memory Kachambwa, Executive Director of The African Women’s Development and Communication Network (FEMNET), expanded on the role of civil society in ensuring that feminist policies are adopted and implemented, reminding the audience that these efforts have spanned decades. The importance of gender data once again featured in how civil society can make the case for investment across areas that are not always typically seen to have gender dimensions, such as illicit financial flows, trade and subsidies.

Mercedes d’Alessandro, Feminist Economist and Writer, former Director of Economy, Equality and Gender of the Ministry of Economy of Argentina, shared insights from feminist movements in Latin America which have been instrumental in pushing forward the agenda on the triple challenges for women in the region: unpaid care work, the disproportionate impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic on women and girls and economic crisis. She challenged governments to ensure that gender equality and the empowerment of women and girls are central to ministries of finance and economy.

All panelists highlighted the necessity of more and better gender data to make the case for prioritizing gender equality, for more effective evidence-informed policies and actions, and for ensuring accountability and learning. The broad array of voices speaking to the same priorities cemented the need for diverse partnerships across sectors to meet development challenges by fostering the potential of women and girls as agents of positive change.

Closing the event, Mamta Murthi, World Bank Vice President for Human Development, noted that policy frameworks and financial flows need to advance women’s empowerment. Civil society, she said, is a key partner to push for investments in and accountability for policies aimed at empowering women and girls and fostering a more equal future.  The private sector can demonstrate how gender equality is smart economics.

“Empowering women empowers families, societies, and countries,” said Murthi. “Partnerships across government, civil society, and the private sector are more crucial than ever, with everyone lending their weight to change mindsets and norms.”

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