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Examples to accelerate gender equality in Africa abound: We could apply them to Somalia

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Women farming onions in Dollow, Gedo region. Photo: Mohamed Abihakim / World Bank Women farming onions in Dollow, Gedo region. Photo: Mohamed Abihakim / World Bank

In Somalia, the challenges to gender equality are complex and daunting. Only 28% of women over 15-years old are literate, and 72% of rural women older than 24-years-old have never attended school. A full 50% of young women are unemployed, with no education or training. Poor reproductive health, early marriage, and high adolescent fertility contribute to high maternal mortality rates. These factors shape the lived experiences of Somali women and can limit their true potential. Yet we still see women entrepreneurs owning more than half of all Somalia’s household enterprises.

Given this complexity, where do we start? As part of the Somalia Women’s Empowerment Platform, we reviewed the World Bank Somalia portfolio and found many examples of progress and achievement. For example, the Somalia Education for Human Capital Development Project, "Rajo Kaaba", aims to increase access to primary education in underserved areas, with a strong focus on girls, and to improve the literacy and numeracy skills of women and prepare them for leadership roles.

Adolescent girl students at school in Mogadishu. Photo: Mohamed Abihakim / World Bank Adolescent girl students at school in Mogadishu. Photo: Mohamed Abihakim / World Bank

In addition, improving women’s health and training female community health workers in services designed to address impacts of gender-based violence (GBV) have been integrated into the “Damal Caafimaad” health project. Somalia’s SCALED-UP Program introduced quotas for lending to women through a micro, small, and medium enterprises (MSMEs) Financing Facility and required participating banks to demonstrate they could target female-owned MSMEs for lending. The Shock Responsive Safety Net for Human Capital Project prioritizes women as direct recipients of cash transfers, improving women’s access to predictable income, while the Somalia Crisis Response Project ensures women’s inclusion and participation in decision-making bodies on community preparedness, adaptation, and response plans. These projects are critical drivers for change in addressing gender gaps in Somalia.

Other examples in Africa

We also looked for relevant regional lessons learned around human capital, economic opportunities, voice, agency, and climate change to accelerate gender equality and transformation in Somalia, and for the potential adaptation of evidence-based interventions to country context. The priorities and recommendations that emerged are aligned with a gender policy note presented to the new Somali government in 2022.

To tackle challenges to accumulating human capital, programs in the Sahel, Malawi, and Nigeria highlight linking conditional cash transfers, scholarships, or cash vouchers with incentives to enroll girls in school. Zambia’s School Case-Management system devises comprehensive care plans for each case with school and community stakeholders. Uganda’s good school toolkit has proven to reduce school violence. Safe spaces can be provided, with tailored implementation modalities and curriculum, as demonstrated in Sierra Leone. In the Liberia EPAG project, transitioning out-of-school girls into training necessitates targeting barriers, such as financial, social norms, and childcare constraints. Finally, the CHOICES program in Somalia delivered training to young adolescents challenging restrictive gender norms, which resulted in both boys and girls reporting more egalitarian gender attitudes.

Towards better livelihoods—and lives

To strengthen economic opportunities, evidence from the Nigeria for Women Project highlighted the impact of using a group-based model to address women’s weaker access to business networks and connect women to finance, information, and enabling services. The Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) GBV Prevention and Response Project highlights innovation around combining livelihood interventions with GBV prevention and response programming, and integrates village savings and loans associations (VSLAs), training, and livelihoods support as a way of addressing the potential drivers of GBV. Lastly, Personal Initiative Training, a psychology-based entrepreneurship training that delivers targeted guidance to encourage a proactive mindset and build up self-starting, future-oriented, persistent behavior, led to an increase in profits for microentrepreneurs and was particularly effective for female entrepreneurs in Togo.

We also reviewed initiatives on voice and agency, with a focus on GBV services. Additional Financing for the Kenya Covid Emergency Health Response Project strengthens health service delivery as an entry point for accessing comprehensive care. Prevention interventions address norms underpinning violence and can increase survivors’ uptake of GBV services and lead to enhanced community-level support for survivors. The DRC GBV Prevention and Response Project also invests heavily in prevention and behavior change activities at the community level.

Finally, we looked at climate change adaptation and response, as Somalia has endured over 30 climate-related crises since 1990, all amid conflict, pervasive insecurity, disease outbreaks, and poverty. As we know, women and girls bear the brunt of climate-related shocks and stresses. To address these, examples from Kenya illustrate the inclusion of women as important agents of climate leadership, adaptation, and mitigation. The integration of traditionally marginalized groups in climate action is critical. As evident in Ghana, they are often a critical resource, endowed with some of the world’s richest traditional knowledge and practices, and capable of building the resilience of their communities to climate shocks.

Additional details and examples are available in our forthcoming note. The interventions highlighted within the note and in the link below present a menu of evidence-based interventions that have the potential to empower Somali women and girls and to accelerate growth and equality in their country.

Helena Hwang

Social development and livelihoods specialist

Verena Phipps

Social Development Specialist

Tanya D'Lima

Social development specialist

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