Overcoming Africa’s Infrastructure Deficit

Research shows that addressing the infrastructure gap remains critical to facilitate sustainable economic growth on the continent, with gender equality chief among concerns

To maintain the recent economic growth rates in Africa, it is necessary to address inequality, and in particular inequality associated with gender.

Research indicates that overcoming gender inequality and gender-related legal restrictions would increase annual GDP growth in sub-Saharan Africa by 0.75 percent.

Research also shows that addressing the infrastructure gap remains critical to facilitate sustainable economic growth across Africa. The OECD, for instance, highlights that infrastructure investment contributes as much as two percent to the GDP, with particularly positive effects in East and Central Africa. In absolute terms this means that for every dollar spent on public infrastructure development, the GDP of a country rises up to US$0.25.

“By investing in infrastructure, African countries can boost economic growth and provide their citizens with essential services,” says Geraldine J. Fraser-Moleketi, Special Envoy on Gender at the African Development Bank (AfDB). “However, from experience, intrinsic gender inequalities mean that women and men often don’t benefit equally from infrastructure investment.

Women and girl children from African households face disproportionate challenges in access to infrastructure and participation in economic activities,” explains Fraser-Moleketi.

Global data shows that women and men travel by different modes of transport, at different times and for different purposes. Poor access to transport for women has major implications on development, adversely affecting their education, health and economic activities. Understanding the specific needs of women is crucial to addressing their demand for transport and ensuring equitable access to mobility.

The African Development Bank Group (AfDB) identified gender equality as a core aspect of inclusive growth in its 10-year strategy, and in January, 2014 launched its “Gender Strategy (2014-2018): Investing in Gender Equality for Africa’s Transformation”. In line with this strategic approach, the AfDB is sponsoring the upcoming fifth Infrastructure Africa Summit.

This two-day June conference and exhibition in Johannesburg, South Africa, provides African companies with the platform to focus on the continent’s growth hotspots, discuss infrastructure trends, meet project developers and relevant Government authorities, while exploring infrastructure business opportunities.

Infrastructure Africa 2016 will also host the inaugural Africa Inclusive Infrastructure Forum (AIIF) from 9-10 June, 2016 at the Sandton Convention Centre. This stream will address the question of how to strengthen women’s economic inclusivity in African Infrastructure as a strategy to boost growth and ensure its sustainability.

“Although, we have always designed projects with users in mind, it is only now that we are refocusing our approach to understand the different needs that women have, stemming from cultural pressure, gender role norms, resources and rights. The Africa Inclusive Infrastructure Forum will help us to systematically examine how we involve women in transport projects at all levels,” says Michelle Tutt, Senior Transport Engineer, AfDB. “It’s crucial to implement a gender mainstreamed approach at the project level, but also in our national strategic plans, sensitising our politicians and governments.

“Africa will benefit exponentially when women are no longer seen as passive beneficiaries but are integrated into every phase of infrastructure roll-out including design phase, capacity building, and forming part of transport programme teams as contractors, engineers and decision-makers.”