Empower women to help lift African economies

The World Bank has recently reported that Mzansi could boost its growth to 5.4% and double people's incomes between now and 2030 - if we can overcome the huge obstacle of under-employment and make the most of the growing working-age population.

Getting basic education and post-school vocation training right is vital. Educating, empowering and employing more women is a strong route to economic growth and to a more resilient and balanced nation.

Throughout the continent, there can be no sustainable progress without progress for girls and women; they are half of the population, and the change agents of our future.

Now is the time for real action.

The United Nations is getting closer to adopting a new post-2015 development agenda that recognises the importance of gender equality and women's empowerment in creating a more peaceful, equal and sustainable planet. It contains an historic, stand-alone goal on gender equality and women's empowerment as well as gender equality targets across all other goals.

The African Union has also placed women at the centre of its 50-year vision: Agenda 2063. The declaration of 2015 as the year of gender equality and women's empowerment on the continent is a clear sign of the AU's intention to fully involve the women of Africa in achieving this vision.

The partnership between UN Women and the AU has flourished over the course of this important year, promoting gender equality and women's empowerment in key sectors such as health, education, peace and security, governance, agriculture and trade.

We will continue to work actively with the AU through our African regional, multi-country and local country offices towards the achievement of Agenda 2063.

Like many women's organisations, UN Women is working urgently to speed up progress. Across the continent, we implement programmes in close collaboration with civil society, national governments, regional economic communities and the AU. These initiatives have far-reaching effects on women's lives across Africa.

Although UN Women's primary focus is on the most marginalised women and girls, by supporting policy dialogues on decent work and social protection, we have also established partnerships with national banks to expand women's access to finance. And our collaboration with major international companies is galvanising support for women as leaders in trade.

In South Africa, 40-year-old Noko Maganyele is a single woman caring for five children of her two late sisters. When she lost her job as a waitress in 2010, she started an eatery in her front yard in Diepsloot, Johannesburg.

Today, after attending a training organised by UN Women in partnership with Coca-Cola and Hand in Hand, she has three employees.

"I believe women were made to be strong and to never give up," she said. "As a mother you need to ensure that you are doing everything in your power so that your children go far in life.

"This is what motivates me every day. Sometimes when I look around my business, I see how far I have grown and I am filled with so much pride I could cry."

In Zimbabwe, UN Women has provided new equipment and training to women from the Kariba and Binga districts so that they can break into the male-dominated fishing industry. Their sales have doubled and they are now organising collectives and supplying markets in larger towns and cities.

In Rwanda, UN Women works with New Faces New Voices, a Pan-African movement, which draws in women from all backgrounds, to advocate for women's participation in finance, focusing on access to financial services, influence in decision-making positions in financial institutions, and increased capabilities of women in finance, as investors and entrepreneurs.

With our support, the Sirleaf Market Women's Fund supports at least 13000 women traders in Liberia, including literacy training and rebuilding destroyed markets. In Cameroon, we have helped the government to create policies that offer information and services to women cross-border traders.

In Kenya, UN Women has partnered with Kenyatta University to establish the African Centre for Transformational and Inclusive Leadership, which has trained over 550 political leaders (including parliamentarians), policy makers and business leaders from Benin, Burkina Faso, Burundi, Cameroon, Cote d'Ivoire, Democratic Republic of Congo, Ethiopia, Ghana, Kenya, Malawi, Mali, Niger, Nigeria, Somaliland, South Sudan, Sudan, Swaziland, Uganda and Zimbabwe.

This is the kind of transformative change we need. From cross-border traders to fisherwomen along the Zambezi, to newly fledged politicians and confident, well-informed entrepreneurs, African women are defining the Africa they want.

This is an Africa where gender equality and women's empowerment are recognised as being important for all people; women and girls, men and boys. When women are empowered, their families and children are empowered. Their communities are empowered. Their country is empowered, and their continent can flourish.

This is the year for action to make this happen. This is our focus and our drive as we look ahead to achieving globally agreed goals for sustainable development by 2030, spreading transformative change year on year. Every step counts, and we are counting.

lMlambo-Ngcuka is United Nations under-secretary-general and executive director of UN Women

X