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Women Must Be Placed At The Centre Of Economic Recovery Efforts In Africa

  • 4 min read

The COVID-19 pandemic has exposed and intensified deep inequalities across Africa. Gains in gender equity are under threat as women disproportionately shoulder the burden of the pandemic.

The COVID-19 pandemic has exposed and intensified deep inequalities across Africa. Gains in gender equity are under threat as women disproportionately shoulder the burden of the pandemic. 

Last year, the United Nations Secretary-General, Antonio Guterres, called on African nations to place women and girls at the centre of recovery plans. He noted that the pandemic was not only challenging global health systems but testing our common humanity: “Gender equality and women’s rights are essential to getting through this pandemic together, to recovering faster, and to building a better future for everyone.”

It would not be fair or responsible to expect the public sector to achieve this alone. We must all play our part to create better homes, schools, workplaces and communities for women and girls, where they are encouraged and supported to reach their full potential.

That is why the Standard Bank Group joined forces with the United Nations Women HeForShe movement in 2018. HeForShe invites men and women to stand in solidarity with gender equality and promote women’s empowerment. 

Standard Bank’s purpose is “Africa is our home, we drive her growth”. We recognise that this commitment requires us to play our part in ensuring that women and girls enjoy the same rights as men and boys. In the corporate world, that means that we must create an enabling environment, free from bias, in which women are able to advance and succeed on the basis of merit and ability.

We recognise that it is inequitable and unsustainable to have a gender imbalance in our own leadership at Standard Bank. Standard Bank is therefore committed to reaching parity in executive positions across our operations.

The public commitments we made after joining the HeForShe movement provided us with a very valuable sense of focus and urgency and gave new impetus in our drive to ensure gender equity, especially among senior executives. 

We set ourselves a number of gender targets and we are proud of the progress we are making towards their realisation. One such target was for 33% of our board to be made up of women by the end of 2021. We are pleased to have already achieved this target with women making up 35.3% of the board (up from 20% in 2018). Women now occupy 33.6% of executive positions across the group and we are confident of reaching our target of 40% by 2023. 

Over the past two years, our Africa Regions team developed and implemented a bespoke programme to support some of our most talented colleagues to take the step from executive to chief executive, with a particular focus on increasing the representation of women chief executives at country and regional levels. We have since appointed a number of senior executives out of this programme, including the country chief executives in Uganda and Namibia. Our target is that 20% of chief executives in African regions should be women by the end of this year.

There are many other ways in which the Standard Bank Group is playing its part to support women empowerment across the continent. For instance, working in partnership with UN Women, we have collaborated with stakeholders to empower 50 000 women farmers in Malawi, Uganda, Nigeria and South Africa to adopt modern, climate-smart agricultural practices. We have also collaborated with the UN Economic Commission for Africa to launch the African Women Impact Fund to raise $1 billion over ten years for women-owned and managed asset management firms. They will in turn invest in high-impact businesses and projects across the continent, driving female entrepreneurship.

Achieving gender equity is a moral duty, a business imperative, and just common sense. Africa can emerge out of this pandemic stronger and more united, driving sustainable and inclusive economic growth. To do so, women must be placed at the centre of economic recovery efforts across the continent.