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World Bank Group Launches Initiatives Supporting Women Entrepreneurs

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women gender equality

The World Bank Group announced two new initiatives to improve access to start-up financing and e-commerce markets for women entrepreneurs, at the Women Entrepreneurs Finance Initiative (We-Fi) Middle East and North Africa (MENA) Summit.

“Starting and growing a business is one of the most powerful tools for women to overcome poverty and build better lives for themselves, their families, and their communities,” said David Malpass, World Bank Group President. “Removing regulatory barriers along with obstacles to access to finance and markets can give women-led businesses the opportunity to succeed.”

We-Fi, housed at the World Bank, has so far allocated close to US$250 million to tackle challenges women entrepreneurs face in developing countries. The allocations aim to reach 114,000 women entrepreneurs. We-Fi is a powerful catalyst for additional investment, helping mobilize more than US$2.6 billion in additional public and private sector funds.

At the We-Fi MENA Regional Summit, held during the Global Women’s Forum Dubai 2020, the International Finance Corporation (IFC) and We-Fi launched the ScaleX program to incentivize accelerators to support start-up businesses led by women. IFC research shows that women entrepreneurs in emerging markets face a daunting gender finance gap with only 11% of enterprises that actually attain seed funding being female-led.  New research shows that despite women leading half the start-ups that participate in accelerators—entities designed to train and support the development of start-ups to become investment ready—they continue to face greatly unequal access to capital.

The program will incentivize emerging markets accelerators to work with women-led businesses by providing performance-based payments of US$25,000 for every woman entrepreneur that raises US$1 million from investors in start-up funding. 

“We are launching the ScaleX program to help women entrepreneurs in emerging markets to access funding at a crucial stage to grow their businesses,” said Sérgio Pimenta, IFC Regional Vice President for the Middle East and Africa. “This is a win-win for accelerators, investors, and women entrepreneurs.”

The World Bank and UPS also announced today a new partnership to help women entrepreneurs in the Middle East and North Africa region to grow their businesses by assisting them in successfully leveraging e-commerce platforms.

“By making e-commerce platforms more accessible, this partnership addresses a key constraint faced by women business leaders in reaching new markets,” said Ferid Belhaj, World Bank MENA Vice President. “E-commerce platforms create opportunities, and we must ensure these opportunities are open to women-owned businesses across the region.”

UPS will provide e-learning modules on different e-commerce topics to help women-owned and women-led small and medium enterprises seeking to expand their businesses across borders. The project will support an estimated 750 women entrepreneurs and will train a cadre of e-commerce advisors in each country who can provide tailored assistance and coaching to businesses. The partnership will work with entrepreneurs in Algeria, Djibouti, Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon, Morocco, and Tunisia.

We-Fi has made allocations to programs being implemented by the African Development Bank, the Asian Development Bank, the European Bank of Reconstruction and Development, the Inter-American Development Bank. the Islamic Development Bank, and the World Bank Group. The World Bank and IFC We-Fi programs (US$75 million in allocations) are working with private and public partners in 24 countries via 27 investment and advisory projects to enable women entrepreneurs to access finance and markets and amplify those efforts with global research, partnerships, and policy advocacy.

For more information about IFC’s ScaleX initiative

The Women Entrepreneurs Finance Initiative (We-Fi) is a groundbreaking partnership that aims to unlock financing for women-led businesses in developing countries. We-Fi’s partners include 14 donor governments, six multilateral development banks as implementing partners, and numerous other stakeholders in the public and private sector around the world. We-Fi takes an ecosystem approach to removing barriers to women’s economic empowerment, addressing constraints and opportunities related to finance, market access, capacity and the enabling environment.

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Finance

New Data: 2020 PPI Saw Huge Drop, Stabilizing as Year Ended

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New data from the World Bank shows that private participation in infrastructure (PPI) in developing countries, while taking an historic plunge in the first half of 2020 due to COVID-19, saw a very modest uptick in the second half of the year. The 56 percent drop in PPI in H1 from the previous year moderated to 52 percent for the full year. Infrastructure investment commitments in 2020 stood at $45.7 billion across 252 projects in developing countries.

“Hopefully, this data signals that the worst effects of COVID-19 on private sector infrastructure finance are now behind most developing countries,” said Imad Fakhoury, the World Bank’s Global Director for Infrastructure Finance, PPPs & Guarantees. “While this situation remains in flux as the pandemic’s trajectory changes, we’re keen on scaling up private investment in sustainable and quality infrastructure in these countries going forward—but need more resilient frameworks and enabling environments.

Fakhoury emphasized, “This is critical for building back better post-pandemic, restoring progress towards the 2030 Sustainabe Development Goals, and delivering on climate commitments to ensure green, resilient and inclusive development.”

COVID-19’s global impact on infrastructure was widespread and swift. Since the start of 2020, existing infrastructure projects were delayed or cancelled due to supply-chain disruptions, travel and shipping restrictions, and other obstacles. Decreased demand or required renegotiations also prevented or delayed many projects already in pipelines from achieving financial closure. Moreover, as public debt globally has risen to record levels and sovereign credit ratings have been downgraded across the developing world, the private sector reacted with caution.

Private investment commitments fell in all regions except Sub-Saharan Africa and the Middle East and North Africa, where development finance institutions played a strong role. The pandemic’s impact was most severe in East Asia and Pacific, followed by Latin America and the Caribbean, Europe and Central Asia, and South Asia.

Sectorally, transport investment commitments were the lowest in the past decadedue to lockdowns, mass transit services and toll roads were hugely affected. Ports and railways were affected as well, with decreased volumes of cargo. A bright spot is that the disruption caused by the pandemic has not affected the longer-term shift towards renewable energy: of the 129 electricity-generation projects tracked in PPI’s data,117 were in renewables.

Brazil, China, India, and Mexico retained their positions among countries with the top five investment commitments, with Brazil moving to first place, at $7.7 billion. Bangladesh is a new entrant to the top five, with financial closure of seven projects, including one megaproject. Burundi, the Democratic Republic of Congo, and Togo had the first PPI transactions recorded in the past five years.

Twenty-one percent of all PPI projects received support from development finance institutions through loans, equity, guarantees, insurance, interest rate swaps, and transaction advisory services. This underlines the importance of these actors in providing resources, instruments, and de-risking comfort to investors in developing countries, especially in the most difficult contexts.

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Africa Today

Tanzania helpline calls time on child marriage and abuse

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Women and girls in Tanzania who are threatened with abuse and child marriage are increasingly able to access the help they need. FAO Tanzania

Child marriage continues to affect many young girls across Tanzania, in East Africa, but now a series of interventions supported by the UN Population Fund (UNFPA) are allowing children to get the support they need to avoid unwanted and potentially damaging relationships.

It was 3 o’clock on a Friday afternoon when Grace*, a counsellor at the National Child Helpline in Tanzania, received a call from a concerned teacher in Msalala, a small town in the remote Shinyanga region in the north-west of the East African country.

One of her brightest students Eliza*, aged 13, had not gone to school that day following worrying rumours that her parents intended to marry her off. She learned that they had accepted a payment in the form of a bride dowry from the family of the intended groom. The man chosen for Eliza was at 35-years-old, more than 22 years her senior.

 On a recent two-day visit to Tanzania, UNFPA’s Executive Director, Dr. Natalia Kanem, met with counsellors at the National Child Helpline, in the commercial capital, Dar es Salaam. The helpline is run by C-Sema, a national NGO, in collaboration with the Government.

The #116 toll-free service, available across all mobile networks in Tanzania mainland and Zanzibar, responds to around 3,500 calls a day from women and children who are at risk of violence, and from family and community members who report abuses.

The helpline has reported an increase in calls during the COVID pandemic as school closures made children more vulnerable to abuse and exploitation.

Trained volunteer counsellors like Grace give women and young people support, 24 hours a day, seven days a week. The counsellors also liaise with support networks and protection systems in the callers’ locality to provide further assistance.

Eliza’s story has a happy ending. As a result of Grace’s coordination with local government authorities and district social welfare officers in Msalala, officers from the Police Gender and Children’s Desk visited Eliza’s parents and the marriage did not take place.

A whole-of-community effort

Dr. Kanem expressed gratitude to C-Sema and counsellors for their dedication to advancing gender equality and the health, rights and well-being of women and young people, including through the use of digital platforms and new technologies. 

Despite progress and the commitment by the Government to tackle gender inequalities and discrimination, as articulated in the Five-year National Plans of Action to End Violence Against Women and Children, violence remains a daily reality for many women and adolescent girls.

UNFPA Tanzania is supporting efforts to eradicate gender-based violence and to strengthen protection systems across the country In addition to supporting the National Child Helpline, it is also working with police officers who staff specialized gender and children’s investigation units which meet the needs of women and girls, and other one-stop support services that provide holistic care all in one place to ensure that victims of abuse do not have to go from one place to another to get medical care, psychosocial support or legal assistance.

Community centres, where women support each other and take the lead in ending violence in their communities, have also been set up.

Empowering men and boys as agents of change

Efforts to end violence are not only focused on empowering women and girls. Men and boys, and traditional and community leaders, are also included in conversations in recognition of their role and contribution to gender equality. Through extensive community outreach, UNFPA’s partners are encouraging discussions around harmful stereotypes of masculinity and positive ways to support the rights of women and girls.

Engaging men in holding other men accountable is critical to creating the basis for greater equality and they must not be left out or left behind, stressed Dr Kanem.  “Every girl and boy should be valued and should be taught that the expression of their right and empowerment should not be centred on overpowering others.”

Supporting government-led efforts

During her visit to Tanzania, Dr. Kanem met with the country’s first female President, Samia Suluhu Hassan, who expressed Tanzania’s commitment to eliminate preventable maternal and child deaths, gender-based violence and harmful practices, including female genital mutilation.

Dr. Kanem commended the government’s leadership and reaffirmed UNFPA’s support to Tanzania to realize development targets and stronger, more inclusive socioeconomic growth with the goal of leaving no one behind.

*name changed to protect identity.

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Human Rights

Myanmar coup: ‘No sign’ of end to brutal crackdown on all fronts

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Unsplash/Gayatri Malhotra

One hundred days since the Myanmar military seized power, the “brutal” repression of protesters has continued, despite all international efforts to end the violence, the UN rights office (OHCHR) said on Tuesday.

“The military authorities are showing no sign of letting up in their brutal crackdown on opponents in a bid to consolidate their hold on power”, spokesperson Rupert Colville told journalists at a media briefing.

According to credible reports, as of 10 May, at least 782 people have been killed as security forces used unnecessary, disproportionate and lethal force, to suppress demonstrations and other forms of public participation, since the military coup on 1 February.

“While much of the world’s attention has been on the number of peaceful protesters and bystanders killed by the security forces, the authorities continue to commit other gross human rights violations against the people of Myanmar”, added Mr. Colville.

The OHCHR spokesperson called for greater international involvement to prevent the human rights situation there from deteriorating further.

In particular, he urged the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) to “react quickly and to intensify its actions” to ensure Myanmar’s military leadership adheres to the commitments it made in the five-point plan agreed at the regional bloc’s meeting of leaders on 24 April, in Jakarta.

The five-point consensus agreed to an immediate cessation of violence in Myanmar and that dialogue should be held among all parties to seek a peaceful solution in the interests of the people.

‘Daily raids’ on homes and offices

Mr. Colville went on to note that there are daily raids on private homes and offices, with more than 3,740 people currently in detention, including many in situations that may amount to enforced disappearances.

“Of those in custody, the vast majority have not been brought before a judge, while most of the 86 people prosecuted thus far have been tried in secret, with limited or no access to any form of legal counsel”, he said.

“Military tribunals and courts martial have been established in several townships in which martial law was declared. At least 25 individuals have received the death sentence to date – some 20 of whom were tried in absentia.”

Military ‘taking relatives’

Over the past month, the military leadership has issued more than 1,561 arrest warrants against civil society activists, trade unionists, journalists, academics, public personalities and online voices, driving the vast majority of them underground.

“To intensify pressure, the military authorities have resorted to taking relatives of wanted people into custody to force them to turn themselves in to the police”, Mr. Colville said, adding that there is also increasing pressure on civil servants to go back to work.

In recent weeks, more than 3,000 civil servants – nearly 70 per cent women – have been dismissed, removed, or suspended by the coup leadership. Those suspended also include 990 university professors, researchers and assistants.

In addition, there are reports that up to 11,000 more workers in the education sector were suspended on Monday.

‘Deeply concerned’ for those fleeing persecution

The OHCHR spokesperson also voiced “deep concerns” for the people fleeing persecution, especially human rights defenders and journalists.

According to the UN refugee agency (UNHCR), several hundred people from Myanmar have crossed into Thailand and India in recent weeks.

The people seeking safety outside Myanmar must receive such protection and support from Myanmar’s neighbours, Mr. Colville urged, adding that while it can take time to decide whether an individual fleeing the country is a refugee or not, “at the very least they should be treated as an asylum seeker and not forced to go back”.

“This is particularly important for people with jobs as sensitive as journalists and those active in the civil disobedience movement, opposing the Tatmadaw (Myanmar’s military).”

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