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A linchpin of France’s feminist diplomacy, gender equality is a driver of AFD Group’s development policies and its benefits. More than simply taking a stand, AFD has translated this position into its strategy for 2018-2022 and produced results on the ground. More than half of its financial commitments have been devoted to projects that have gender equality as a principal or significant objective.

Contrary to what some believe, the 2022 SDG Gender Index indicates little progress in gender equality has been made around the world between 2015 and 2020. The score of the Global Gender Equality Index for 2020 reached 67.8 – a small improvement of less than two points since 2015. Worse still, the combined effects of Covid-19 and recent international crises have resulted in a number of reversals.

This is especially the case for girls’ education, but also for gender-based violence, women’s employment and sexual and reproductive health and rights. Lost learning and the surge in school dropouts could lead to a loss in earnings for an entire generation, estimated at $10 trillion. There could be ten million additional early marriages by the end of the decade, the effect of which can range from a premature end to education, to a form of domestic bondage. UNESCO estimates that over 11 million girls may not return to school after the pandemic.

Further reading: Gender-Based Violence on the Rise with the Coronavirus Crisis

Gender domination and discrimination undermine resilience and poverty reduction, and limits growth and social cohesion. So, to be more effective, AFD Group now includes an analysis of gender inequalities in the many investment programs and policies it is involved in.

“Whatever the project being executed, development has repercussions for gender equality,” says Mar Merita Blat, an expert in gender issues at AFD. “This approach makes it possible to work simultaneously on specific problems (such as gender-based violence) and transversal aspects that require treatment of several issues at a time (such as the link between gender and climate).”

Further reading: How AFD is Stepping up its Action on Gender Issues

A transport infrastructure project for example, may appear to have nothing to do with gender, but wide-ranging work on gender in Morocco has delivered major benefits for social justice. In addition to an improved public transport service, women have also gained better access to education and the job market.

Conversely, a World Bank study shows that women are hesitant to work in Mexico due to insecurity while using public transport. So, spending to improve transport facilities, while taking gender equality into account, can both facilitate mobility and create favorable conditions to help women integrate the formal labor market. 

Any analysis of gender equality in the wider context of sustainable development naturally turns to education. According to the World Bank, girls’ lack of access to secondary education costs countries between $15 trillion and $30 trillion in lost lifetime productivity and earnings. Not to mention the lost benefits for health, citizenship, social cohesion and the environment. “Gender equality is not only about economic gain,” says Mar Merita Blat. “It arguably acts as an accelerator for the effects of development policies. It opens up new possibilities based on human rights and helps optimize all the impacts of intervention strategies.”  

Further reading: Evaluations Report 2019-2020: Gender Focus 

Focus on girls’ education

For example, it has been determined that better access to education for young girls reduces maternal mortality in adulthood, infant mortality, exposure to domestic violence and the number of unwanted pregnancies. Perhaps more surprisingly, one study shows the number of deaths caused by weather events could be reduced by 60% by 2050 if 70% of women reach lower secondary education. The reflection of an unjust reality: the vast majority of victims during natural disasters are women and their young children.

This is why education for young girls is central to AFD’s work, says Virginie Delisée-Pizzo, Head of AFD’s Education, Training and Employment Department. “Between 2018 and 2020, our operations supported schooling for about a million girls a year. We target secondary education due to the major role secondary schooling plays in the empowerment of young girls, especially in rural areas where there is a risk of early marriages and pregnancies.” 

AFD Group is also involved in initiatives like the Support Fund for Feminist Organizations (FSOF), co-managed by the Ministry for Europe and Foreign Affairs and AFD. It falls within the framework of French feminist diplomacy and France’s International Strategy for Gender Equality 2018-2022. With an endowment of €120 million covering three years (2020 to 2022), this fund finances all the areas of action of feminist associations, including education and the empowerment of girls and adolescent girls.

Further reading: Transforming Education: AFD Group has Solutions in its Satchel

“The fund’s objective is to develop the activities of feminist organizations so that we can work on the barriers and social norms that hold back girls’ education,” says Delisée-Pizzo. “This allows AFD to diversify its partners, with an approach complementary to those of public actors, via transformative action on gender and by increasing equality through education in order to give women a greater voice.”