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Zambia’s Hidden Gems

"Girls are often the hidden gems in society”, said Keith Hansen, vice president of Human Development at the World Bank during the Unlocking Her Potential: Zambia’s Holistic Empowerment of Rural Girls and Women event at the 62nd Committee on the Status of Women conference held at the United Nations. This is the concept behind the female empowerment program called G.E.W.E.L. It focuses on empowering two different types of rural women in Zambia. Rural women ages 19–64, who are fit to work, are empowered through livelihood support like access to grants to increase productivity, training for adequate life and job skills, mentoring and support (The World Bank Group, 2015). Rural girls ages 14–18 from extremely poor households are empowered through the power of access to secondary education (The World Bank Group, 2015).

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G.E.W.E.L. stands for Girls Empowerment and Women’s Empowerment and Livelihood. It is financed by a $65 million (USD) loan through the World Bank (The World Bank Group, 2018). As stated by Keith Hansen, the World Bank cares about helping implement this program because,“human capital matter tremendously, it leads to wealthier countries”. It focuses on combining Numbers 4 and 5 of the Sustainable Development Goals set by the United Nations. Number 4 is on the quality of education and number 5 is regarding gender equality. The program has successfully reached more than 14,000 girls and women (Ministry of Gender — Zambia, 2018). By the program’s end in 2020, the goal is to reach more than 90,000 girls and women.

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According to the Ministry of Gender, the country is made up of 18 million people, 52% of which are women, 62% of those women are living in rural areas, and in those rural areas, 66.6% are living in poverty. These facts point to women and girls in these rural areas being the focus due to living in poverty because they do not or can not have access to health and education due to lack of infrastructure, information, finance, etc.

The G.E.W.E.L. program provides comprehensive packages to rural areas that include grants and provides tuition and fees for young girls to have access to and complete secondary school education. It directly impacts the reduction in gender equality in education. According to the Deputy Executive Director of UNICEF, Omar Abdi, early marriage and pregnancy are two of the main reasons for young girls dropping out of the school system. First, these girls end up dropping out due to arranged early child marriages and then because they aren’t in school, they end up pregnant. It’s a repetitive cycle that is imminent in Zambia. This cycle is a direct result of lack of economic and educational opportunities, lack of teachers and lack of money for school. One of the ideas behind this program is to break the cycle, by “breaking intergenerational passing poverty, preventing early child marriage”.

To break that cycle for Zambian women, around 200 USD is put in their pocket to build small businesses and take kids to school. According to the Honourable Emerine Kabanshi, Minister of Community Development, this brings “significant economic change in communities because women are able to put money back into the those areas”. One of the main objectives of this program is, “to give access to increased livelihood to women and more education for girls is to decrease poverty,” she said. Because money is put back into the communities, there is less poverty, less need for early child marriages, more economic and educational opportunities. Globally, early marriage is down 15% because of the investment in secondary education, as mentioned by Omar Abdi. In theory, because of the investment in young girls’ education, G.E.W.E.L. will directly impact the child marriage rate in Zambia.

Programs like G.E.W.E.L. that invest in women, invest in the future. As James Aggrey, a scholar, once said: “If you educate a man you simply educate an individual, but if you educate a woman, you educate a whole nation”(Voices, World Bank Group, 2015). Many studies and facts point this to be true. According to USAID, women bring multiple high returns on the investment initially made (U.S. Aid, 2015). When 10% more young girls get education, a country’s GDP increases by 3% (U.S., 2015). Every year of secondary school that is completed, there is a 118% return on the individual girl’s future earning power (Voices, The World Bank Group, 2015). Education has an incredible effect on young girls. They tend to be healthier because they are educated. They also end up earning more: that money ends up going their families and back into their communities. Women participate more in the global market, which gives them the opportunity to earn more money, reducing child marriage, and giving their future children access to more services like education, breaking the cycle of poverty (Voices, The World Bank Group, 2015). Programs like G.E.W.E.L. important to the developing world; they help break the cycle of poverty in rural areas. Implementing these programs are the step to empowering and changing the lives of girls and women and their future children in rural areas, creating great economic and social change.


Works Cited

1. “Girls Education and Womens Empowerment and Livelihood Project.” Projects & Operations, The World Bank Group ,

“Http://” Republic of Zambia: Ministry of Gender, Ministry of Gender — Zambia,

2. Kim, Jim Yong. “To Build a Brighter Future, Invest in Women and Girls.” Voices, The World Bank Group , 13 Mar. 2018,

“Why Invest in Women? | Infographics.” U.S. Agency for International Development, U.S. AID, 29 Oct. 2015,

3. “Why Invest in Women? | Infographics.” U.S. Agency for International Development, U.S. AID,

“World Bank Supports Education of Poor Girls and Livelihoods of Vulnerable Women in Zambia.” World Bank, The World Bank Group, 22 May 2015,

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