Southern Times Correspondent
COMESA has launched the women economic empowerment initiative called the 50 Million African Women Speak (50MWS) project in Zimbabwe.
The launch followed the successful engagement of stakeholders in Harare during a two-day mission from 26-27 June 2018. The engagement workshop was attended by over 40 participants who were drawn from the Government, the private sector, NGOs and women associations. Zimbabwe is the fifth country COMESA has engaged to launch the 50MWS project, after Ethiopia, Sudan, Zambia and Malawi.
The 50MWS is a three-year project funded by the African Development Bank, jointly implemented by three regional economic communities -- COMESA, East African Community (EAC) and the Economic Community for Western African States (ECOWAS) in 36 countries. The objective of the project is to empower women entrepreneurs through providing a digital platform that enables access to financial and non-financial information needed to develop or grow businesses.
The 50MWS is in line with provisions for women empowerment in the COMESA Treaty and Gender Policy; EAC Treaty; ECOWAS Gender Policy; African Union Agenda 2063 and the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), especially goal 5: Achieve Gender Equality and Empower all women and girls. It is expected that this platform will impact millions of African women and create jobs for youth from the increased business activities, and capital flow.
The project will create a networking platform to connect women entrepreneurs and encourage peer-to-peer learning, mentoring as well as information and knowledge sharing. The platform, which will be accessible on ICT gadgets including mobile phones, will enable women to access business training, financial services, and locally relevant business information, and mentors among other services, to support the overall goal of financial inclusion.
Speaking during the project launch on behalf of the Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Women Affairs, Gender and Community Development, S Zembe; the principal director, Air Commodore I.G. Dumba, affirmed Zimbabwe’s readiness to successfully implement the project. Furthermore, he underscored the need to acknowledge and support the role of women entrepreneurs in the development of economies.
“Women play a critical role in the economic development of our communities despite the challenges, mainly marginalisation, they encounter. I have no doubt that the conception of this project was motivated by the realisation that Africa has a thriving start-up community with dynamic women entrepreneurs,” he said.
“With adequate finance, access to technology, markets and skills development, women in the COMESA, EAC and ECOWAS will no doubt be able to contribute significantly to the rapid economic transformation of societies,” he added.
Air Commodore Dumba also highlighted that by creating effective linkages through the platform, women from the three regions will be able to contribute to ending food insecurity, youth unemployment, and mass migration while safeguarding the environment.
The COMESA head of delegation, Beatrice Hamusonde, explained factors which led to the designing of the project. She highlighted that the African Development Bank conducted pilot studies which identified challenges impeding women from growing their businesses. The studies, therefore, established that the development of an ICT platform could mitigate some of the challenges affecting women entrepreneurs.
Similarly, COMESA conducted a study in selected member states on women’s access to finance and related services. The study resulted in the establishment of the Women Economic Empowerment Fund, which will be managed by the Trade and Development Bank, one of the COMESA Institutions.
She also commended the government of Zimbabwe for launching the Women’s Microfinance Bank, which is expected to provide affordable finance to women entrepreneurs at concessionary rates, among other services.
Anita Maketo from the Professional Women Executives and Business Women’s Forum in Zimbabwe applauded the project and expressed optimism that the platform will transform the way women entrepreneurs conduct business.
“The project presents the much-needed opportunity for women across the continent to be recognized as meaningful contributors to the economy. It comes as an enabler for women to fully express their business growth potential and the missing link for the participation of a high potential businesswoman, particularly those in the grassroots, in regional and continental trade”, she said.
She added that the sharing of business and trade-related information on the platform will not only result in rich empowerment but will unite the women of Africa.
Katherine Ichoya, the FEMCOM chief executive officer urged the women entrepreneurs in Zimbabwe to fully participate in the project and to support one another to ensure the success of the project.
During the stakeholder engagement, the project Country Team comprising of organisations from the public sector, the private sector, women associations, local and international non-governmental organisations as well as financial services group was successfully set up. To ensure sustainability of the platform and continuous uploading of content, the organisations on the project country teams were urged to mainstream the responsibilities of content development and management for the platform in their programmes.
COMESA will continue to engage member states to launch the project. From 24-26 July 2018, COMESA will undertake a mission to the Kingdom of Eswatini to engage the relevant stakeholders and initiate the project implementation.