ON BEHALF of Dr. Donald Kaberuka, the AfDB President, we are honoured to join Rwandans as we celebrate this year's International Women's Day.
"Real growth has to be about women as much as it is about men, youth, the elderly, rural communities and urban. Economic growth alone is not sufficient: political and practical will is also necessary to achieve gender equality" (Dr. Donald Kaberuka, 2013).
Rwanda is one of those countries globally that have demonstrated this political and practical will to move the gender agenda forward.
The theme of the 2014 International Women's Day is: Equality for women is progress for all", with a particular focus on women's equality with regard to financial inclusion.
Financial inclusion can advance equality for women in a number of ways:
First, having access to resources on their own account and to the tools that help them to earn a living, can increase women's bargaining power within households and their influence over how money and other resources are used.
Second, financial inclusion can help increase women's opportunities to earn or control assets outside the household.
Third, it can reduce women's vulnerability by allowing them to insure against risk or borrow to meet unexpected expenses, such as medical and other emergencies.
These are all key factors for economic empowerment.
On this auspicious occasion of the International Women's Day, the African Development Bank, as the Continent's premier financial development Institution, is honoured to be among those that are at the forefront of supporting the continent's efforts to enhance gender equality.
For more than two decades now, the African Development Bank has promoted gender equality in its operations, moving from a focus on women, to gender (both women and men) mainstreaming.
The Bank's Ten Year Strategy (TYS) 2013-2022 reaffirms its commitment to gender equality as essential for economic progress and sustainable development.
The recently adopted Gender Strategy: Investing in Gender Equality for Africa's Transformation (2014 - 2018), envisions an Africa where African women, and girls, have easy access to knowledge; where women's skills and innovations are optimized, their capacities contribute to greater economic opportunities and where they fully participate in decision-making processes.
The Gender Strategy identifies three mutually reinforcing pillars to tackle the underlying causes of gender inequality: first, women's legal status and property rights; second, women's economic empowerment; and third, capacity development and knowledge management.
To further advance its work on gender equality, the bank appointed a Special Envoy on Gender in September 2013.
The Special Envoy, Ms. Geraldine Fraser-Moleketi, provides strategic leadership to the Bank on gender equality and undertakes advocacy with regional member countries, and in national and international fora.
The African Development Bank's President's Prize for Good Practice in Gender Mainstreaming has also affirmed the Bank's commitment to promoting gender equality in Africa.
The Bank efforts over the years have had notable results:
For instance, from 2011 to 2012, the percentage of newly approved projects, rated as having mainstreamed gender in a satisfactory manner, increased from 38% to 67%.
Furthermore in 2012, the Bank won the US Treasury Award for its commitment to gender equality, inclusion, and fragile states, for a project in Côte d'Ivoire, which holistically addresses the effects of gender-based violence.
In Rwanda, our interventions in water and sanitation, under the Rural Water Supply and Sanitation Programme-II, funded 642,000 new water connections in 15 of the 30 districts between 2011 and 2013, serving 333,840 women and 308,160 men.
Also, 17,000 new individual household and 130 multi-door public sanitation facilities were completed during this period serving 150,000 new beneficiaries (78,000 women and 72,000 men).
These water connections have reduced the average distance to the nearest water point from 2km to less than 500 meters, reducing the time taken to collect water from 1 hour to about 10 minutes. This allows women and girls to devote more time to economic activities and education respectively.
The Bank's support through the Skills, Employability and Entrepreneurship Programme supported the training of 836 female apprentices and 836 female graduates in 2013 under the National Apprenticeship Programme.
These apprentices and graduates also received start-up tool kits such as sewing machines to start their own jobs. The number of TVET graduates increased from 16,523 in 2012 to 21,307 in 2013, 51% of whom were female.
Support under the Skills Development in Science and Technology allowed 190 female students across three national universities to benefit from full scholarships in science and technology for academic year 2013.
This contributed to a 98% retention rate for female students pursuing higher education in science and technology in the three beneficiary national universities.
Drawing on the lessons learnt and guided by its new gender strategy, the Bank will double its efforts to promote women's economic empowerment, strengthen their legal status and property rights, and improve knowledge management and capacity building.
The writer is the African Development Bank Resident Representative in Rwanda