Today the African continent is the world’s fastest growing region. For World Population Day, we shine a light on key interventions that influence population dynamics and the demographic transition in Africa. Above all, gender equality plays a decisive role in advancing sustainable development. This is also one of the key takeaways of our new report on #The4DSeries – a series of policy dialogues on demographic diversity and dividends.
Currently, about 1.4 billion people live on the African continent. By 2050, the United Nations estimates Africa’s population will reach 2.5 billion. In many countries, governments are already struggling to provide basic services for the growing number of people. That said, population growth has already started slowing down across Africa’s 54 countries – albeit at different speeds in different countries. While women in countries like Cameroon, Mauritania and Zambia still have an average of just over four children, in Tunisia and South Africa women typically have only two children. Our new report Unlocking the Power of Demographic Dividends shows how gender equality is a precondition to achieving sustainable development and unlocking a demographic dividend that comes within reach as families become smaller.
Gender equality is necessary to address demographic challenges
Alongside better health care and education, greater gender equality and self-determination are typically key factors that lead couples to decide to have fewer children. In turn, lower fertility rates help governments in the Global South that are already struggling with limited resources. In addition, they lead to a favourable long-term shift in a population’s age distribution with an increasing number of working-age people and a decreasing number of dependents. Under the right conditions this can lead to economic growth. The resulting boost in socio-economic development and growth is called a demographic dividend. To achieve such a demographic dividend, however, governments must make greater and sustained investments in education, health care and job creation.
These investments must focus on creating equal opportunities for women and girls. Indeed, the economic growth potential of a demographic dividend only becomes possible when women have greater financial independence, sexual and reproductive autonomy, and access to modern methods of family planning.
Last but not least, women and girls are particularly exposed to the risks of the climate crisis, food insecurity, and political conflicts and war. Their needs must therefore be prioritised in initiatives to counter these risks. To this end, women and girls must be given the opportunity to bring their perspectives into policymaking. Only through their empowerment and political participation can demographic challenges be overcome.
Cross-sectoral approaches are key to success
#The4DSeries highlights innovative best practice examples that pave the way to a demographic dividend. The programme "Women in the Driving Seat” has been providing women in Ghana with vocational training in mechanised agriculture since 2018, with a focus on food security and gender equality. Women in the programme learn to drive and maintain tractors and how to manage a farm. While agriculture is one of the few sectors in Africa that employs more women than men, mechanised agriculture has traditionally been accessible only to men. Women are mainly employed in labour-intensive areas that are less mechanised and require intensive physical labour.
Enabling women to train in a traditionally male-dominated field of work such as mechanised agriculture breaks down gender norms. At the same time, women gain access to jobs that give them more financial security and take less of a toll on their bodies. As a result, women’s incomes increase, they have greater independence, and last but not least, they gain more decision-making power within their families.
The initiative is a good example of how women’s access to vocational training improves food security, livelihoods and opportunities for women and their families – and advances gender equality. This benefits society as a whole: when women have access to jobs in mechanised agriculture this contributes to economic growth. In this way, gender equality also contributes to sustainable agricultural transformation on the African continent.
Gender equality is key
One issue recurring in every single dialogue of #The4DSeries is gender equality. No matter how much progress is made in individual sectors — demographic dividends will remain out of reach as long as gender inequality persists. Advancing gender equality in area of life is therefore key to achieving sustainable population development.
About the Dialogue Series
Recognising the potential for carefully targeted population policies to deliver demographic dividends, the German Federal Foreign Office (AA), German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ), United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) and the African Union Commission (AUC) launched #The4DSeries policy dialogue on demographic dividends and diversity in 2020. Six dialogues were convened through 2023, creating a platform for exchange, where participants learned from one another and developed key points for action to inform policy planning and guide governments in finding country specific solutions. The Berlin Institute provided technical and scientific inputs for each dialogue, which focused on topics including data, food security and nutrition, education, adolescent sexual and reproductive health and rights, urbanisation and climate resilience.