West Africa: "Women's Empowerment as an Integrated Strategy for COVID-19 Response Plans - Opportunities for the SWEDD Project"

press release

Dakar, 8 June 2020- An extraordinary meeting of the Regional Steering Committee (RSC) of the Sahel Women’s Empowerment and Demographic Dividend (SWEDD) Project is planned for this Monday, 8 June 2020 from 11:30 to 13:55 GMT, under the chairmanship of Côte d'Ivoire.

During this virtual meeting, ministers of the SWEDD project member countries, representatives from the World Bank, the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), the West African Health Organization (WAHO) - the health branch of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) - the African Union (AU), civil society and the private sector, such as McKinsey, Population Council, and Promundo US will discuss the theme : "Empowering women as an integrated strategy for COVID-19 response plans: Opportunities for the SWEDD Project".

As is the case in other countries, all SWEDD project countries are affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. As of June 2, 2020, Burkina Faso had 881 confirmed cases, including 53 deaths. Niger had 958 cases, including 65 deaths. Côte d'Ivoire had 2951 cases, including 33 deaths. In Mali, there were 1315 infected persons, including 78 deaths.  Chad had 790 confirmed cases and 66 deaths and Cameroon had 6397 confirmed cases with 199 deaths.[1]

Apart from the worrying health and human toll, COVID-19 has further weakened the economies of the SWEDD countries, mainly due to movement restriction measures, including the suspension of air and land links between countries, social distancing, curfews and declared states of emergency.

Women are particularly hard hit by the negative impact of the crisis as the majority of them work in severely affected sectors, such as the informal economy. The closure of schools is also impacting women who have to take care of children at home, as they struggle to provide for their families.

In addition to the cultural fragility of legal remedies in the event of domestic violence, given the psychological consequences of the crisis on families in the most affected countries, the COVID-19 crisis reduces women's access to sexual health services, reproductive and maternal as all services move to focus on essential medical needs related to the pandemic.

In view of the constraints imposed by the ongoing COVID-19 situation, the Regional Steering Committee (RSC) virtual meeting provides a platform for exchange between countries and project partners. This exchange framework will make it possible to evaluate the efforts to be undertaken in support of reopening schools and restarting economic activity in poor communities, where the prevalence of child marriage and other gender-based violence, and teenage pregnancies is highest.

The meeting will also promote the sharing of good practices and strategic partnerships with civil society organizations and the private sector to scale up, intensify and replicate successful experiences in combating the pandemic, addressing the vulnerability of girls and young women, and economic reconstruction and women's empowerment.

Finally, this meeting will serve as a framework for the launch of the campaign: #StrongerTogether: My Empowerment, My Future. Even in times of crisis! This campaign aims to raise awareness among communities, parents, teachers and all stakeholders about the specific situation of adolescent girls, the urgent need for continuity of education services, the establishment of safe spaces for young girls, and for the prevention and management of cases of gender-based violence. Virtual press conferences with Ministers will be held following the annual meeting in all countries.  Click on the link to access the campaign page.

About the SWEDD project:

Launched in November 2015 with the financial support of the World Bank, the technical support of the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) and the West African Health Organization (WAHO), the SWEDD Project aims to accelerate the demographic transition, trigger the demographic dividend and reduce gender inequalities in the Sahel region.  It aims to (i) increase demand for reproductive, maternal, newborn, child and nutritional health (RNCH) products and services by promoting social and behavioral change, including the abandonment of socio-cultural practices harmful to the expression of adolescent girls' potential, and the empowerment of women and girls; (ii) strengthening regional capacities. This project aims to improve the supply of reproductive, maternal, neonatal, child and nutritional health commodities and skilled personnel and to strengthen advocacy, high-level policy dialogue and capacities for policy development and project implementation.

On June 28, 2020, the World Bank Board of Executive Directors provided additional funding of US$376 million to support the implementation of Phase 2 of the SWEDD Project. This funding brings the World Bank's overall support to $680 million to strengthen human capital and drive development in African countries through the empowerment of women.

Contact : Céline Adotevi, Communications Specialist : adotevi@unfpa.org

[1] Bilan de la COVID-19 dans le monde (06 juin 2020) : https://information.tv5monde.com/afrique/coronavirus-en-afrique-quels-sont-les-pays-impactes-350968

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