A Q&A with Oulimata Sarr – Women Deliver

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Produced by Women Deliver January 10, 2018

A Q&A with Oulimata Sarr


Oulimata Sarr is currently a regional economic empowerment advisor of UN Women for West and Central Africa. UN Women is the United Nations entity mandated for gender equality and empowerment of women. Prior to the UN, she spent 10 years at the International Finance Corporation (IFC), a member institution of the World Bank Group.

Oulimata is a founding member and gender champion of Africa2.0, a Pan-African civil society organization that consists of young and emerging leaders from Africa and the diaspora who share a collective vision for Africa and a commitment to finding and implementing sustainable solutions that will in turn leapfrog the development of the continent.

As part of the Deliver for Good monthly themes, campaign Partners had the opportunity to speak with Oulimata about the importance of boosting women's economic empowerment to achieve development goals.

Deliver for Good: How is economic and financial inclusion linked to other areas of development including gender equality and women’s health?

Oulimata: In every corner of the globe, women continue to face discrimination in the economic realm. As UN Women’s flagship report Progress of the World’s Women 2015-2016 report has shown, women’s labour force participation has stagnated over the past 25 years. Gender gaps are wide and persistent. Women provide many care services without any financial compensation. This makes them even more vulnerable to discrimination and lack of financial inclusion. 

When women are not economically empowered, their rights are not protected.  They have restricted options to work, or build businesses.  Adequate education and health services may lie out of reach.  Some end up forced into sexual exploitation as part of a basic struggle to survive. This results in deprivation in their own lives and losses for the broader society and economy, as women’s productivity and potential can be one of the greatest generators of economic dynamism.  

Deliver for Good: What are some of the barriers to boosting women’s economic empowerment and equality in the workforce -- generally and more specifically in Central and West Africa?

Oulimata: Achieving women’s economic empowerment in Central and West Africa is faced with several constraints:

  • Lack of support from Governments in developing plans, policies and strategies that recognize women’s contribution to growth and social well-being and place a special focus on women’s economic empowerment.
  • Lack of inclusiveness of the private sector towards making market more responsive to women as entrepreneurs and workers.
  • Lack of support for the agency and voice of gender equality advocates and gender-sensitive economists in influencing the formulation, implementation and monitoring of economic policies and programs.

When it comes to gender equality and the economic empowerment of women and girls, we are also all “data-poor” - from the complete lack of statistics on how many women and girls live in poverty, to biased measures of women’s engagement in economic activities that are based on sexist assumptions about women’s roles in the household. Only 13 percent of countries have a dedicated gender statistics budget. Based on the latest data from OECD-DAC, only two per cent of funds for statistical capacity building are dedicated to projects whose principal objectives are to strengthen gender statistics.

We need to close this gender-data gap if we want to be serious about implementing the Agenda 2030 on Sustainable Development.  Investing in gender statistics will enable the creation of evidence that is essential to inform more effective and targeted decision-making to reach those furthest behind first, and make meaningful and lasting changes in the lives of women and girls everywhere. In order to advance towards that goal, UN Women’s new programme “Making Every Woman and Girl Count” launched in September 2017. The programme seeks to address the urgent need to increase availability of gender data, in order to inform policy and decision making.

Deliver for Good: What role do men play/should they play in promoting women’s economic empowerment?

Oulimata: Working with men and boys, a section of the population who are traditionally not that involved in gender equality has been a big priority at UN Women. We have to speak to the unconverted, along with strengthening our alliances with our traditional allies. This is an ambitious movement launched in September 2014; the role of men in the women’s movement is critical. This movement is about challenging the status quo and supporting transformative change for women, men, boys and girls. Since its launch, over 1.3 million men and boys all over the world have committed to gender equality through the HeForShe website. Through the IMPACT 10X10X10 initiative, 30 male visionaries including Heads of State, global CEOs and university presidents have committed to becoming IMPACT Champions and to advance the achievement of gender equality.

Their commitments are tangible, time-bound and measurable: corporate commitments range from achieving equal pay to reaching gender parity in leadership by 2020; university commitments include increasing the representation of women across academia—from undergraduates in ‘traditionally male’ subjects to women in Dean- and Chancellor-level positions. Men can convince other men and be their role models. It is also essential to enhance our work with young men, across the world, and that is why we have set up a youth strategy. Youth make up almost 25% percent of the world population today. And we expect to see a youth bulge over the next 10-20 years. Our youth strategy aims to strengthen initiatives for the empowerment of young women and develop young men as partners in gender equality, women’s empowerment, and women’s rights. It is young people who can decisively tilt our future toward greater sustainable development, peace, and security.  

Deliver for Good: Based on your experience working as the Regional Adviser for Women Economic Empowerment West and Central Africa at UN Women, is there a particular experience or story that stands out and demonstrates the importance of boosting women’s economic empowerment to promote development?

Oulimata: Achieving women economic empowerment through climate resilient agriculture is one of the most important flagship programs of UN Women. I was able to witness in countries such as Rwanda and Cote d’Ivoire that closing the gender gap in agriculture could have a transformational impact on women’s lives and can unleash substantial development co-benefits between gender equality and climate action. In West and Central Africa, agriculture remains one of the most important areas of women’s work with more than a third of employed women in the agricultural sector. Yet women farmers face a number of key structural barriers that limit their access to land, information, finance, infrastructure, technologies and markets.

In Rwanda, our mobile-based enterprise platform named “buyfromwomen” linked women farmers to customers, suppliers and financiers, built their economic identity and enabled a rigorous assessment of the value for money of the programme. The rural women doubled their revenue in one year. The pilot demonstrated that technology as an enabler would help us reach scale in Africa.

Deliver for Good: What is private sector’s role in ensuring women’s economic empowerment?

Oulimata: The private sector is a crucial partner in our goal to increase women’s economic empowerment and to create equal policies, as well as to achieve Agenda 2030. Private companies have a lot of expertise, financial resources and innovation that can be put to good use to advance gender equality and women’s empowerment. We intend to fully leverage this expertise for the benefit of women and girls. The business case for advancing gender equality is particularly strong, with recent research indicating that advancing gender equality can add $12 trillion to global growth (McKinsey, 2015) and that companies with higher female representation in top management outperform those that don’t (Catalyst, 2015).

UN Women already has some very strong partnerships with corporations at the international and national levels and also partners with hundreds of companies that have signed onto the Women’s Empowerment Principles. These 7 principles are a tool to engage CEOs and companies to advance women’s leadership and equal opportunity in the workplace, marketplace, and the community. More than 1500 business leaders around the world have demonstrated leadership on gender equality through the Women's Empowerment Principles (WEPs).  In January 2016, at the World Economic Forum the champion CEOs worked with us to release previously undisclosed data on the current state of gender parity in their companies.

Deliver for Good: As world leaders and private sector executives convene for the World Economic Forum in Davos, what is your call to action?

Oulimata: Now is the time to act to turn risks into opportunities, implement global goals through local business, and set a new universal standard for development where men and women can work and live in equality with the same opportunities so no one is left behind. As the global CEO’s convene at the World Economic Forum in Davos, we would like to see progress made on  IMPACT Parity Report, which highlights the representation of women across their companies. We would like to see private sector commit to closing the gender pay gap in their companies.

For more stories and solutions about boosting women's economic empowerment, view our investment page.

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