The purpose of our Gender Mainstreaming Programme, and how it empowers women

The concept of women empowerment can be defined differently by individuals and organisations. In its core, women empowerment is about redressing centuries of discriminatory and oppressive systems, institutions and school of thought against women. It’s about bridging the gap between genders to establish a balance of social and economic opportunities through the prioritisation of women-led ideologies, projects and organisations. 

By redressing this issue, the Women’s Charter was established and adopted into the South African constitution. The women of 1954 who took a stand and demanded change have since become the blueprint for all policies and projects aimed at fighting against gender inequalities. The Development Bank of Southern Africa (DBSA) has, since inception, understood the important role of women empowerment; not only for individual development and success but also for economic development and growth. 

We have, over the years, engaged in various projects designed specifically for supporting women in the quest to achieve gender equality in the workplace. Our Gender Mainstreaming Programme is a clear example of such women empowerment programmes aimed at supporting women and making development impact and social change.

What is the Gender Mainstreaming Programme?

The Gender Mainstreaming Programme is a programme established to procure funds, funnelling these funds towards women-led large scale infrastructure projects in the energy, information and communications technology (ICT), transport and water and sanitation sectors. 

The programme is a result of a partnership with the African Development Bank, government departments linked to our mandated sectors of energy, transport, ICT and water and sanitation, international development finance institutions such as Agence Française de Développement (AFD), KfW, Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) and UN Women. We also have partnered with women-focused investment companies such as the Bertha Centre (UCT), NGOs, the Industrial Development Corporation SA (IDC) and the Land Bank.

Gender mainstreaming pillars

The Gender Mainstreaming Programme focuses on these following four pillars:

  • Promoting investments in women-owned projects.
  • Adapting strategies, policies and procedures to enable gender mainstreaming across the DBSA.
  • Providing capacity building and knowledge sharing.
  • Building partnerships with public and private partners who share our vision for gender equality. 

The departments in charge of the programme

In order to achieve our objective of financing women-owned projects, a cross-functional team has been working on redefining the DBSA’s lending and technical assistance processes for smaller projects. What this means is that our key performance indicators (KPIs) are shifting from focusing on the size of the project to focusing more on the number of projects. The reason for this is to ensure sufficient finance distribution across the DBSA’s value chain. 

Furthermore, in the fourth quarter of 2019 to 2020 financial year, the board approved a performance mandate that requires a specific number of projects to be financed. The response to this mandate indicates that our project preparation, coverage and transaction departments will collectively be working towards attaining those goals going forward. 

How it empowers the programme women

The strategies, policies and procedures in place are gender-neutral; however, the bank always examines these to find opportunities which will ensure that women-owned businesses within the infrastructure space are granted entry into our value-chain. The programme also ensures that these women-owned businesses obtain finance and technical support that they need. 

In addition to that, our Infrastructure Delivery Division has successfully forged a partnership with the Unemployment Insurance Fund (UIF) to obtain funds, which will help in the development of women service providers along the infrastructure value-chain. This will ensure that women engineers, quantity surveyors, lawyers, architects and other industry-related professionals have access to municipal projects financed through the DBSA.

Notable success

Thus far, the bank has reaped the rewards for the work we’ve done, specifically with regards to this programme. In 2019, we received recognition for the Gender Mainstreaming Programme at the annual Business Engage Gender Mainstreaming Awards. 

Our nominations were in the following categories: Mainstreaming Gender and Disability, and Investing in Young Women, and were a result of the synergised efforts of the DBSA’s Learning and Development team. 

The work we’ve done with this programme has cemented us as a thought-leader in this particular project. The Development Bank of Namibia and that of Zambia have both reached out to us to assist them with their strategies and processes of their respective gender mainstreaming approach. 

Moreover, we aim to extend our experience and knowledge about gender mainstreaming in the workplace to other member institutions through the Southern African Development Community (SADC) and Development Finance Resource Centre (DFRC). This, in turn, will ensure these banks will support organisations which empower women in each of their respective countries.