SWEDD projectThe Sahel Women’s Empowerment and Demographic Dividend SWEDD) regional initiative was launched in 2015 with its conclusion set for 2018. The call for the initiative came from six African presidents to accelerate the empowerment of women as a transitional power in the region. The Sahel region is reeling from a host of issues like climate issues, terrorism, organized crime and much more. Lack of food, clean water and medicines are prevalent concerns and the region has suffered a set of humanitarian crises in response. The region’s crises garnered the attention of the United Nations and the World Bank Group, which initiated the SWEDD project and its phase two continuation.

Sahel Women’s Empowerment and Demographic Dividend (SWEDD)

The main objective of the SWEDD project is to increase women and adolescent girls’ empowerment and their access to quality reproductive, child and maternal health services. It also seeks to promote social and behavioral change and reinforcement of advocacy at policy development levels to support these objectives.

Nine countries are currently involved in the SWEDD project, creating an inclusive economy that centers on gender equality issues. These countries are Benin, Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Chad, Côte d’Ivoire, Guinea, Mali, Mauritania and Niger.

As of 2014, women made up a majority of the population in every country listed in the program. Based on this fact, the future envisioned by policymakers would have to embrace and empower the female population, driving a new paradigm for the Sahel.

SWEDD’s Impact

Through this initiative, the establishment of improved societal, financial and health structures have developed in the region. The benefits of the program are seen in various key development sectors.

  • The completion rate for girls in secondary schools rose from 35.1% to 40.3% between 2015 and 2018.
  • The program led to increased access and use of contraception, with more than 4,302,000 women using more modern methods.
  • A whole 10,154 midwives have gained training in new technologies, increasing the overall growth of the field by 15.2% in the initiative’s first four years of existence.
  • The completion rate for girls in secondary schools rose from 35.1% to 40.3% between 2015 and 2018.
  • The program created 1,640 clubs for husbands and husband-to-be in the region, which sets its aims on the education and participation of men and boys for gender equality.
  • The average income of women in the region has risen.
  • A notable decrease in the number of child marriages has been linked to educational attendance.

Continuation of SWEDD

The impact of the SWEDD project in the Sahel region is substantial. The changes stemming from the initiative, have begun a societal restructuring of communities throughout the Sahel, at a critical moment in African post-colonial history. The overwhelming success of the initiative has been rewarded by continuing well beyond its initial end in 2018 to 2023. Phase two of the program ensures that even more women in the region are empowered.

– Christopher Millard
Photo: Flickr

Instability in Sahel
The Sahel region is a large transition zone in Africa between the Sahara and Southern Africa. The countries surrounding this belt include Sudan, Niger, Nigeria, Mali and Chad. According to the Permanent Interstate Committee for Drought Control in the Sahel (CILSS), more than 100 million people will inhabit the region by the year 2020, and 200 million will live there by 2050. With such a huge influx of people in this land, the poverty-related problems and instability in the Sahel region need to be addressed.

News outlet Africa Renewal reported that in 2012, 18 million people suffered during a major food crisis in the Sahel region. Just the next year, 11 million were experiencing hunger, more than 10 percent of them being children.

In a press release published by the U.N. in June, U.N. Deputy Secretary-General Amina Mohammed spoke to the joint Economic and Social Council-Peacebuilding Commission on the instability in the Sahel region. He claims that the Sahel region continues to deteriorate due to lack of government and harsh climate conditions; these countries sit right above the equator.

Currently, more than 30 million people in the Sahel region struggle with food insecurity. Terrorism affects many more citizens, driving out law enforcement and government forces. “Efforts to address [this] should be closely coordinated with the work of the United Nations Development Group and the Resident Coordinators of Sahel countries,” stated Mohammed. Not only is he calling for action, but Mohammed explains that action is already being taken.

The U.N. Security Council is deploying a G5 Sahel joint force of 5,000 military and police personnel to collaborate with another military in the area, such as the United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali (MINUSMA). Together, they will continue to protect citizens and suppress terrorist violence.

Mohammed closed his address by stating, “the Secretary-General, his senior management and I, myself, are committed to improving the efficiency and effectiveness of the United Nations response to crises around the world.”

However, the U.N. isn’t the only organization committed to helping the Sahel region. The United States Agency for International Development (USAID) funds CILSS with around $3.4 million annually. Their mission, as stated on the USAID website, is “to devote efforts towards the search for food security and combating the effects of drought and desertification for a new ecological balance in the Sahel.”

The 2030 Sustainable Development Goals and many organizations are working to end instability in the Sahel region. With the objective of government reform, we will hopefully see goals reached before the end of 2030.

Vicente Vera

Photo: Flickr

African Development Bank Embarks on Youth and Women Support in Sahel
The African Development Bank has been ardent in their commitment to support women’s empowerment and employment opportunities for youth in Sahel. Alberic Kacou, vice president for Corporate Services and Human Resources at the African Development Bank, noted that the prevailing global economic challenges were a harbinger for African countries to diversify their economies and reduce poverty during a recent speech.

Affirmative Finance Action for Women in Africa (AFAWA)

The African Development Bank launched the Affirmative Finance Action for Women in Africa (AFAWA). This program will invest $300 million in funded support for women. There is also an additional $3 billion to support African countries with women involved in business. Women will have an opportunity to empower themselves and create an independent path for other young African girls to pursue.

Jobs for Youth in Africa

In collaboration with the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA), the African Development Bank launched the Jobs for Youth in Africa program to put an end to youth unemployment by creating 8 million agribusiness jobs within a five-year span.

The program will stimulate the creation of 25 million jobs within the next ten years. A total of $3 billion will be used to fund young entrepreneurs in Africa and facilitate the enhancement of skills to better network youths with industrial development.

Program Offers Youth Training

The training centers and facilities provided by the African Development Bank and the IITA will assist African youths to tackle work in the agricultural sector. The initiative also seeks to encourage unemployed African youths to become involved in agriculture in order to make it a catalyst for development in Africa.

Second Strategy in Effect

Akinwumi Adesina presented five development priorities for the institution in September 2015. The “Feed Africa” initiative is aimed to amplify job creation and make the agriculture sector a lucrative industry. The African Development Bank plans to reduce Africa’s imported food dependency by 2025.

The Benefit of Farmers

Another solution to improve the agricultural sector in Africa is to support local farmers by forming partnerships in the production of goods and reduce the amount of food being imported. This will enable the country to “feed itself” and decrease the high levels of youth unemployment. The removal of regional trade barriers will help to maximize Africa’s agricultural potential in food production.

These dynamic programs created by the African Development Bank will prove influential towards the welfare and positive development of African communities for youth and women.

Shanique Wright

Photo: Flickr

On April 23, 2015, The World Bank Group granted the Sahel Women’s Empowerment and Demographic Dividend Project (SWEDD) $11.6 million, and an additional $23.2 million credit, to include Burkina Faso into the program.

Due to the political instability in Burkina Faso late October 2014, negotiations to add Burkina Faso to the SWEDD project were delayed. Currently, Burkina Faso is the sixth Sahelian country to be added to the project; others include: Chad, Cote d’Ivoire, Mali, Mauritania and Niger.

The Sahel region would gain a great economic boost from a demographic dividend through a rapid decline in fertility and infant mortality rates; the addition of Burkina Faso expands the effectiveness of SWEDD.

The program aims to increase access to reproductive, child and maternal health services for women and adolescent girls in participating countries in the Sahel region of Africa. SWEDD also intends to educate women on gender and their own reproductive health.

In Burkina Faso, the Total Fertility Rate (TFR) is 5.8. With only 15 percent of married women aged 15-49 using contraception the maternal mortality ratio, per 100,000 live births, is 300. Moreover, the under-5 mortality rate, per 1,000 live births, is 108.

The high fertility rate, which worsens population pressure, coupled with poor health services are preventing Burkina Faso from garnering the benefits from a demographic dividend.

Burkina Faso’s involvement in the Sahel Women’s Empowerment promises great outcomes. The issue of child marriage in Burkina Faso is linked to poverty, the tradition of gender inequality and lack of education.

Involving women in the working age population will accelerate Burkina Faso’s demographic dividend because comparably the number of dependents would be lower.

SWEDD will empower women in Burkina Faso through promoting their academic education, and involving more women in life-skills programs, making women more independent.

This will consequently decrease the child marriage rates, which are at an 86 percent prevalence in the Sahel region of Burkina Faso, and 76 percent in the East region.

World Bank Country Manager for Burkina Faso commented on the addition of Burkina Faso to the Sahel Women’s Empowerment Project saying: “Educating adolescent girls and improving health services for women will certainly reduce poverty and boost shared prosperity in Burkina Faso.”

Marie Helene Ngom

Sources: The World Bank 1, The World Bank 2, Sahel Women Empowerment Outline, Burkina Faso Child Marriage
Photo: Wikimedia

contraception in niger
Considered to be one of the world’s poorest countries with one of the most serious food crises on the planet, Niger is also one of the countries with the highest birthrates. According to The New York Times, if the nation’s birthrate continues at its current rate, “the population will double in the next 15 years, to 35 million from over 17 million.”

Unfortunately, lack of food availability and large family sizes often go hand in hand. Although aid is given to Niger in order to help feed the starving citizens, aid in the form of birth control is not often distributed.

Moreover, even when women have access to contraception in Niger, they are often discouraged from using it by imams who are against “‘Western’ notions like birth control.”

While the Sahel Humanitarian Food Response Plan of 2014-2016 from the U.N. thoroughly discusses how to combat the severe food crisis in Niger, it does not address the topic of contraception.

Jean-Pierre Guengant, a research specialist of the Sahel region, told The New York Times that in a paper by himself and John F. May, another demographer, that “human capital formation investments (for example, education and health) and job creation appear to have been greatly facilitated by a rapid decline in fertility.”

His point is that while addressing the food crisis in Niger is very significant, it is not the only issue that needs to be examined when working to support and reconstruct the lives of the citizens of Niger. Understanding the value of contraception and figuring out a way to incorporate it into the daily lives of a majority of the people living in Niger will enormously enhance the quality of life in the region. Additionally, Guengant claims that one of the keys to fully incorporating contraception into the lives of the people of Niger is to attain a strong level of political commitment to the regular use of contraception.

– Jordyn Horowitz

Sources: The New York Times, OCHA, Guttmacher Institute
Photo: Women Advance

Niger's 3N Initiative to Improve Food Security
The African country of Niger, a landlocked nation in the north-central part of the continent in the Sahel region, has struggled intermittently with food security for the last fifty years. Before the 1960s, Niger was a productive agricultural region that was not only self-sustaining but exported cereal grains. Now, due to a rapidly growing population, recurring droughts and poverty, Niger struggles to grow enough food to feed its people.

The Nigerien government is implementing an ambitious agricultural transformation plan called the 3N Initiative – Nigeriens Feeding Nigeriens. It is estimated to cost $2 billion in the first three years and will address issues and reformations in the agricultural, environmental, industrial, and energy sectors. Initiatives range from providing farmers with technology and seeds to expanding market access and management.

Overcoming obstacles to food and nutrition security in Niger is no small task. Drought is the main impediment to productive agriculture: Niger experiences drought at least once every two years, although droughts have been increasing in the last decade. Only one percent of the country’s land receives more than 23 inches of rain each year, and just 12 percent of the land can sustain agriculture.

In a country where eighty percent of the population depends on agriculture for sustenance and livelihood, addressing agricultural issues is critical. Niger has one of the fastest-growing populations of any country, has doubled from 7 million in 1988 to 15 million in 2010. In addition to population growth and drought, unstable food prices have contributed to food insecurity throughout the Sahel region. The prices of staple cereal grains such as millet are well above the five-year average. For the world’s poor, food accessibility is just as important as agricultural productivity in improving health and quality of life.

Attempts by previous Niger administrations to achieve food security have clearly not been successful in the long run. Current national administrators say that political will, coordination, and centralized leadership set the 3N Initiative apart. The Nigerien government is working to draft legislation that will ensure the existence of the Initiative well into the future.

Both Niger and the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) acknowledge the urgency of addressing food security throughout the Sahel region, which suffered a major drought and resulting famine in 2010. Niger’s FAO representative states that addressing food security is necessary for every country in the region. Niger’s 3N Initiative, if successful, can serve as an example for other African countries seeking to achieve food security through agricultural and political transformation.

– Kat Henrichs

Source: FAO
Photo: AusAID

Why Resilience in the Sahel is CrucialResilience is the ability of a family or community to survive shocks without going into financial ruin or facing hunger. In the case of the Sahel region in Africa, the shock that they must face every few years is drought. After three droughts in seven years, it becomes harder and harder for the citizens of the region to return to normalcy each time. Some of the consequences of these disasters are parents having to pull their children out of school, downgrades in the quality and amount of food they eat and going into debt. Resilience in the Sahel is a necessary part of solving these problems.

The key principle of resilience is to implement structures in the community that will last. There are no quick solutions because temporary cures will not stand up to the scrutiny of traumas over many years. Resilience in the Sahel will not only have to find a way to survive the drought this year but for the next decades to come in order to be truly successful.

As of now, there are two main interventions that organizations attempt to implement. The first, increased agriculture production, consists of assisting the farmers in the area to produce more and better quality stock from what they have. Unfortunately, this tactic only helps the large and medium farmers to stay afloat and not the rest of the community. The second tactic, social safety nets, is believed to help more of the marginalized people in a community. Social safety nets are finances provided to a single household that is in need to get them enough nutritious food.

In order for resilience in the Sahel to work, there needs to be a long commitment to the region. A five-year plan will be insufficient. Ten to twenty years are necessary to implement all of the best tactics and to make sure that they actually help the community to recover enough that they escape from the cycle of shock and bankruptcy.

 – Sean Morales

Source: The Guardian