By Megan Sayles,
AFRO Business Writer,
Vice President Kamala Harris rolled out several investments and initiatives to promote economic, political and social empowerment for women in Africa on March 29, just days after she began her tour of Africa.
Together, the initiatives total over $1 billion, and they expand on efforts, like the Digital Transformation with Africa Initiative, that the Biden-Harris Administration launched last year during the U.S.-Africa Leaders Summit.
Harris also reaffirmed her commitment to working with the private sector, philanthropic foundations and multilateral organizations to increase women’s participation in the digital economy.
“Women around the world must be able to fully participate in economic, political and social life, and they must be able to participate equally, including in leadership roles,” said Harris to an audience in Accra, Ghana.
“It is a key to maximizing global growth and opportunity.”
In 2022, nearly 260 million more men than women used the internet, a gap that has increased by 20 million over the last three years, according to a White House press release.
In Africa, the gap is even more stark with 66 percent of women not using the internet, according to the press release.
“Expanding access to the internet drives growth and creates opportunity for innovation,” said Harris.
“Once people are online, they have greater access to education, greater access to information and greater access to financial services, which is why the United States will double down on our efforts to mobilize billions of dollars in public and private capital from the United States, the continent of Africa and around the world in order to expand internet access for the benefit of all people here on the continent.”
Closing the gender digital divide in Africa
The U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) in collaboration with the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation created the $60 million-Women in the Digital Economy Fund to help reduce the gender digital divide.
By 2026, USAID will dedicate $50 million and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation will dedicate $10 million to the fund, half of which will be spent in Africa.
The fund will draw on evidence-based solutions that better women’s financial security and resilience, and it will finance programs that increase digital access and affordability, provide digital literacy education, foster online safety and invest in gender-disaggregated research.
Harris also secured $400 million from entities in the private and philanthropic sectors to support the administration’s efforts to close the gender digital divide.
The investments included an additional $40 million from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation for the digital empowerment of women in Africa and South Asia, $100 million from Delphos International for projects that close the gender digital divide, $5 million from the Visa Foundation to increase women’s participation in the digital economy and $5 million from CARE to promote digital gender equality across Africa.
Promoting women’s economic security in Africa
Several companies responded to Harris’ call for the broader economic development of women in Africa.
The Tony Elumelu Foundation used $500 million to create the Coalition for African Entrepreneurs, which will support 50,000 young women business owners by 2033, while Kuramo Capital Management plans to deploy $140 million in capital to women-led and owned private equity and venture capital funds across sub-Saharan Africa.
Vista Bank Group will invest $100 million to expand women-led enterprises in 25 African countries by 2025, and CARE will underwrite $7.3 million to improve women’s economic security in Africa, of which $6.8 million will be used to support thousands of cocoa producers and to empower 50,000 women farmers.
The Standard Bank Group also donated $25 million to the African Women Impact Fund Initiative (AWIF), which provides resources to women fund managers in Africa who finance high-impact projects and close capital gaps for women entrepreneurs across Africa.
Advancing gender equality across Africa
The Biden-Harris Administration also committed $47 million to support women’s economic participation, environmental stewardship, health and protection from gender-based violence in Africa.
USAID will use $2 million from the Gender Equity and Equality Action Fund (GEEA) to team up with agricultural-processing and apparel firms in Kenya through the Imarisha Women’s Initiative to promote women’s access to leadership and management positions in trade industries.
The agency will also invest $1 million from the GEAA fund to prepare women in Africa to work in the energy sector and to help them afford efficient appliances.
To tackle gender-based violence in Africa, USAID committed $780,000 from the GEAA Fund to finance the Resilient, Inclusive and Sustainable Environments (RISE) grants challenge, which will create local committees in Zambia that help women strengthen their leadership and conflict management skills to address these issues in the fisheries industry.
Megan Sayles is a Report for America Corps member.