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An IDRC initiative advances women’s economic empowerment in West Africa


Strengthening women’s economic empowerment in Africa is key to sustainable and inclusive economic growth and to achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) on the continent.

However, in West Africa, traditions and socio-cultural norms affect women’s participation in the labour market and partially explain the discrimination they experience. As a result, male-dominated industries and occupations are significantly more supported and highly paid than those occupied by women. In addition, the bulk of unpaid work falls on women, whose bargaining power within the household is very often limited.

In this context, achieving women’s economic empowerment requires sound public policy reforms and gender-related social norms and practices that influence women’s power of self-determination, including from an economic perspective. This evidence-based transformation requires a long-term commitment from all development stakeholders.

A first for women’s economic empowerment in West Africa

With the support of IDRC’s “Growth and Economic Opportunities for Women (GrOW) – West Africa” initiative, six projects are underway in Benin, Burkina Faso, Côte d’Ivoire and Senegal. The objective of these projects is to support the generation of reliable evidence anchored in the local context and to facilitate the reconstruction of post-COVID-19 socio-economic systems in a way that contributes to women’s empowerment and gender equality while preparing for the transition to a low-carbon economy.

As part of this initiative, the Consortium pour la recherche économique et sociale — in partnership with Senegal’s Ministry for Women, UN Women and IDRC — organized an international multi-stakeholder symposium on women’s economic empowerment in West Africa in October 2022 in Dakar, Senegal.

The symposium brought together policymakers, researchers, practitioners, development partners and civil society organizations to share knowledge and experiences and to develop synergies between stakeholders to promote women’s economic empowerment in West Africa.

Technologies and services to support gender equality

The preliminary results of the GrOW–West Africa initiative presented at the symposium highlight the transformative potential of reducing the drudgery of women’s paid and unpaid work — provided that the design, implementation and marketing of these technologies are aligned with the local socio-cultural context.

In Benin, for example, analyses show that improved technologies to smoke fish and produce salt also help to conserve mangroves that are often plundered for firewood. These technologies significantly reduce mangrove destruction and CO2 emissions while empowering women to improve their income and better preserve their health. Based on these encouraging analyses, the Benin government is considering the possibility of promoting the technologies beyond the experimental sites to several municipalities across the country.

In Senegal, surveys of parents nationwide indicate a willingness to pay for high-quality childcare. Although the level of willingness to pay varies with household characteristics, this challenges the preconceived idea of interest in childcare services funded only by the government.

In a Senegalese village, a woman surrounded by three children holds  a baby, while villagers go about their business.
Dominic Chavez/Global Financing Facility
Most unpaid work is done by women.

Creating a permanent forum

This first edition of the symposium was supported by international, regional, national and local organizations — such as the regional office of the UN Economic Commission for Africa, the African Development Bank and the Economic Community of West African States — to promote women’s empowerment through various initiatives.

The symposium is part of the vision of the Forum pour l’autonomisation économique des femmes en Afrique de l’Ouest, launched during the meeting's opening ceremony. The forum’s objective is to generate a critical mass of evidence to improve support for decision-makers in developing or revising policies to reduce gender inequalities and promote women’s development in West Africa.

The forum’s supporters hope that it will serve as a catalyst for increased development efforts and accelerated reforms to support women’s economic empowerment in West Africa.