The work of women empowerment not done and dusted

08 Mar 2024, 12:00 am
Omobolanle Victor-Laniyan

Summary

Access Bank remains committed to creating opportunities for women to thrive and succeed in all aspects of life, as women still face systemic barriers that hinder their full inclusion and empowerment in society, despite the progress already made towards gender equality.

IWD 2024

The United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (UN SDGs) provide a comprehensive framework for addressing global challenges and promoting sustainable development. Among the 17 SDGs is Goal 5, which focuses specifically on achieving gender equality and empowering all women and girls. This goal reflects a recognition of the pervasive gender disparities that persist worldwide, despite progress in various areas. In Africa, these disparities are particularly pronounced, with women and girls facing multiple forms of discrimination and marginalisation in various spheres of life.

 Across the African continent, women and girls encounter numerous barriers to their full inclusion and empowerment, stemming from deeply entrenched gender norms, cultural practices, and socio-economic inequalities. These discriminatory practices manifest in various ways, and they affect women's access to education, healthcare, economic opportunities, and political representation.

One prominent example of gender discrimination is the widespread prevalence of child marriage, particularly in sub-Saharan Africa. According to UNICEF, West and Central Africa have some of the highest rates of child marriage globally, with approximately 4 in 10 girls married before the age of 18. This practice not only deprives girls of their childhood and education but also exposes them to increased risks of exploitation, violence, and early pregnancy, perpetuating a cycle of poverty and inequality.

Another example is the gender gap in education, where girls are often disadvantaged compared to boys in terms of access to quality schooling and opportunities for higher learning. In many African countries, cultural norms and traditional roles assign domestic responsibilities to girls, leading to higher dropout rates and lower educational attainment among female students. This disparity limits girls' prospects and perpetuates gender inequalities across generations.

Furthermore, women in Africa face significant challenges in accessing healthcare services, particularly reproductive and maternal health services. In many rural and marginalised communities, women lack access to essential healthcare facilities, skilled birth attendants, and family planning resources, leading to high maternal mortality rates and preventable health complications. Discriminatory attitudes and practices also contribute to stigma and barriers to accessing sexual and reproductive health services, further exacerbating gender disparities in health outcomes.

In the economic sphere, women in Africa are disproportionately affected by poverty, unemployment, and limited access to income opportunities. Despite their significant contributions to agriculture and informal economies, women often face barriers to land ownership, credit, and entrepreneurship, hindering their ability to generate income and achieve economic independence. Gender-based discrimination in the workplace, including unequal pay, limited career advancement opportunities, and sexual harassment, further marginalises women and perpetuates economic inequalities.

Additionally, women in Africa are underrepresented in decision-making processes and political leadership roles, both at the national and local levels. Structural barriers, discriminatory laws, and cultural norms often restrict women's participation in politics and governance, limiting their ability to advocate for their rights and influence policy decisions that affect their lives.

Despite the significant strides made towards gender equality, women still face systemic barriers that hinder their full inclusion and empowerment in society. While progress has been made, there remains a pressing need to address these challenges comprehensively to ensure that women worldwide can thrive and contribute meaningfully to their communities and economies.

Access Bank has made significant progress in the fight for gender equality and women's empowerment across Africa. As one of the leading financial institutions on the continent, the bank has made many strides in promoting gender inclusivity within the organisation and in the communities we serve. Access Bank has implemented various initiatives and programmes aimed at addressing the unique needs and challenges faced by women and girls across Africa. Our commitment aligns with the theme of this year's International Women's Day (IWD), "Inspire Inclusion."

At the heart of Access Bank's commitment to empowering women in its workforce lies the Access Women Network (AWN). Established as one of the bank's three-pronged approaches to promote gender equality and women’s economic empowerment, AWN stands as one of Nigeria's largest female networks, with members across 18 African countries. The network is dedicated to supporting, developing, empowering, promoting, and retaining women within Access Bank. Since the signing of the Female Network Charter in 2010, AWN has seen a positive trend in female representation within the bank, particularly in senior leadership roles, which has increased to 37%, surpassing industry standards.

AWN provides a nurturing environment where women can access mentorship, professional development opportunities, and advocacy resources to propel their careers forward. It fosters inclusivity and support, empowering women to break barriers, surpass glass ceilings, and realise their full potential both within the workplace and beyond. AWN facilitates networking opportunities for career advancement, encourages collaborative thinking among women within Access Bank and across various industries, and provides a platform for inspiration and mentorship from role models. Additionally, AWN equips women with tools to navigate job stressors and develop personally and as leaders.

Beyond the workplace, AWN actively engages women across the Access Bank Group in community-focused programmes aimed at supporting the less privileged. Initiatives include fundraising for families impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic, free breast cancer screenings, partnerships to support vulnerable young women, and various empowerment seminars, webinars, and workshops. Other notable initiatives include the W Health Awareness Month, Orange Lecture, and AWN Toastmasters Club.

Access Bank's commitment to gender equality in the marketplace is evident through its W Initiative. Launched in July 2014, the "W" initiative aims to accelerate the emergence of female entrepreneurs in Africa by providing a comprehensive suite of empowerment offerings. This initiative delivers tailored support and resources to women-owned and managed businesses, aiding them in overcoming the diverse challenges inherent in launching and expanding their enterprises. By facilitating access to finance, delivering business training, offering mentorship, and fostering networking opportunities, the W Initiative effectively empowers women entrepreneurs to thrive and succeed in the competitive business landscape, driving economic growth and social development across Africa.

In alignment with its vision to be the premier choice for women in Nigeria, Access Bank initiated the Womenpreneur Pitch-a-ton in 2019, marking a significant milestone in its commitment. Over the past four years, the initiative has garnered an impressive 150,000 applications, with 300 women awarded Mini-MBA training and over N45 million in grants disbursed. The programme spans a three-month period, comprising eight weeks of Mini-MBA training conducted in collaboration with the International Finance Corporation (IFC), followed by pitching sessions to a Pan-African jury panel. Finalists leverage insights gained from the Mini-MBA training to pitch their businesses, vying for financial grants and other consolation prizes. This holistic approach not only equips women entrepreneurs with essential skills but also provides a platform for them to showcase their innovative ideas and contribute to the economic advancement of the continent.

The W initiative also hosts the Maternal Health Support Scheme (MHSS), providing support for fertility treatments, antenatal and postnatal care, and various medical procedures such as hysterectomy and myomectomy. Access Bank ensures quick access to the MHSS within 48 hours of request.

The W Initiative serves as a hub for all of Access Bank's offerings for women, reinforcing its position as the preferred bank for women in the markets and communities it serves. In line with its commitment to women's economic empowerment, Access Bank has deployed additional programmes such as the W Academy, W Power Loan, Ladies Let’s Drive, Better Mama Better Pikin, BETA Proposition, Lagos State Employment Trust Fund (LSETF), W Initiative Financing Scheme, and The W Card, catering to different aspects of women's professional and personal development.

As part of its dedication to gender equality within communities, Access Bank has launched numerous programmes focused on empowering women and girls across various sectors such as education, healthcare, and economic empowerment. These initiatives provide immediate support while also creating lasting impact by fostering capacity building, self-reliance, and social inclusion.

Access Bank's Corporate Social Investment (CSI) initiatives include vocational training, skills development programmes, and community-based microfinance schemes tailored to support women entrepreneurs. Additionally, the bank sponsors educational scholarships and mentorship programms for female students, aiming to invest in their future and contribute to society's overall development and prosperity.

Moreover, Access Bank supports initiatives aimed at enhancing the financial literacy and digital skills of women entrepreneurs. Some of these initiatives include the Back on Track Program, International Day of the Girl Child Commemoration, SheEnabled, Code4Impact, Solar Installation Training for Girls, Women Traditional Textile Design project, Green Social Entrepreneurship Program (GSEP), and Girls Talk show. These programmes not only equip women with valuable skills and resources but also contribute to preserving cultural heritage and promoting sustainable livelihoods.

Access Bank remains committed to gender equality and inclusion. It will continue to drive positive change, making a meaningful difference in the lives of women and girls across Africa. By leveraging its resources, expertise, and influence, Access Bank will continue to advocate and support women's empowerment. The bank remains committed to creating opportunities for women to thrive and succeed in all aspects of life. Through collaborative partnerships, innovative initiatives, and sustained efforts, Access Bank aims to inspire inclusion, advance gender equality, and build a more equitable and prosperous future for all.

Omobolanle Victor-Laniyan is Head, Group Sustainability, Access Holdings Plc.


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