Published on Nasikiliza

Investing in Zambia’s women and girls

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In front of a crowd overflowing into the hallways of the UN, Her Honor, Mrs. Wina Inonge, Vice President of the Republic of Zambia, showcased the Girls’ Education and Women’s Empowerment and Livelihoods (GEWEL) Program to the 62nd UN Commission on the Status of Women.

Her personal story of overcoming challenges to become Zambia’s first female Vice President is a powerful one. She’s an inspiration for all working women, like myself, but especially so for the girls and women in Zambia who she works so tirelessly to empower. Born in one of the poorest rural districts in Zambia, she went to school by foot knowing the opportunities an education would afford her.
The GEWEL Program, which Mrs. Inonge has championed since its inception, provides a concrete example of how governments can bring innovation to help other women and girls in Zambia to reach their full potential by investing in human capital. 
As World Bank team leader for GEWEL, what strikes me about the program is the concomitant focus on both working women and school-going girls. The design recognizes the diversity of challenges that people face growing into productive members of society. It also recognizes the gender inequalities inherent in these struggles.  
GEWEL targets women and girls at two critical points in life, helping them transition successfully from:

  • Primary to secondary school by providing secondary school tuition to help increase education outcomes and help delay early marriage and pregnancy; and
  • Subsistence to sustainable livelihoods through skills training, grants, savings support, and mentorship to help women turn piecemeal work into viable microenterprises.
We are thrilled that in its first year of implementation, GEWEL exceeded its targets, benefitting more than 20,000 poor girls and women in rural Zambia by early 2018. By 2020, the government aims to reach close to 100,000 in half of the country’s districts, but the country’s leaders are not content with even that ambitious goal.  Their aim is for a program at national scale.
This is a smart investment for women and girls in Zambia. It promotes not only the well-being of its direct beneficiaries but also the country’s drive toward middle-income status. 
National data confirms the returns to investing in human capital development as critical to national economic growth. In Zambia, accordingly to national household data and World Bank analyses, when girls go to secondary school, they earn almost 100% more than their peers who don’t advance beyond primary. When women work outside of agriculture, their earnings increase by roughly 35%. Helping more girls and women reach this potential could have a major impact on the national economy. 
The global evidence is also clear. The Changing Wealth of Nations report shows human capital—the largest component of global wealth—accounts for an estimated 70% of wealth in rich countries, but only 41% in poorer ones. The World Bank identified that increases in female labor income underpinned 30% of the fall of poverty witnessed in Latin America in the first decade of the 21st century. Newly released UNICEF data that links the 15% global decline in child marriage over the last decade to increasing enrollment of those girls in secondary school, particularly in South Asia.
At the 2018 Annual Meetings in October, the World Bank will launch the Human Capital Project to highlight human capital investment as critical to economic progress. It will frame human capital as one of three main ways – along with sustainable and inclusive growth, and resilience – to achieve the World Bank’s twin goals of ending extreme poverty by 2030 and boosting shared prosperity in the world. The Human Capital Project will aim to accelerate more and better investments in people around the world.
In Zambia, scaling-up the GEWEL program could help unlock these gains there. GEWEL is an apt name for a program that recognizes the potential of girls and women in socioeconomic terms. Without strong human capital, Zambia cannot sustain economic growth, which requires a workforce prepared to take-on better, more productive jobs.


Emily Weedon Chapman

Senior social protection specialist

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