Countries in the Great Lakes Region should support women entrepreneurs if they hope to recover faster from the COVID-19 pandemic, participants at a recent regional consultative round-table virtual dialogue on economic empowerment of women.
The COVID 19 pandemic has affected the health, the economic and social status of women and girls in more ways than had initially projected. In most of these countries, women and girls are daily falling victims of gender based sexual violence which is recorded to have sharply risen due to lockdowns and dwindling economic opportunities.
However, according to Hon. Clare Akamanzi, the Chief Executive Officer of the Rwanda Development Board (RDB), there are no two ways about the need to support women entrepreneurs.
Hon Akamazi said women entrepreneurs own 78% in cross border trade that contribute 30% to GDP in most of the countries in the Eastern and Central Africa.
She noted that evidence gathered by the RDB prove that the income spending patterns and habits differ greatly between men and women. “It is estimated that men tend to spend only 40-45 per cent of their incomes on their family. Women, on the other hand, dedicate double that amount towards the welfare of their families and ecosystems.
However, during the COVID-19 pandemic, women engaging in informal cross-border trade like in Tanzania-Zambia, Tanzania-Malawi, Tanzania-Kenya and Tanzania-Uganda have faced problems ranging from violence, harassment, bribes, high fines and confiscation of their merchandise if caught by border authorities.
Ambassador Erastus Mwencha, TreadMark East Africa noted that women engaging in cross border trade often remain trapped in informal trade with very limited opportunities and because they lack access to loans, entrepreneurship skills that make it difficult to expand their businesses, and education on border procedures and customs rules.
The UN Special Envoy for the International Conference on the Great Lakes Region (ICGLR), Xia Huang acknowledged that women entrepreneurs are the vector for social change and structural transformation of African Economies and sustainable development.
Huang said the projected economic growth in the region is now a hypothetical scenario across all the countries.
“As Gross Domestic Products (GDPs) fall in some countries is dramatic in 2020, women’s inclusion, empowerment and business developments could serve to compensate for lost livelihood. In many instances where women have been engaged in business, trade and investment, the GDP meltdown tends to be slower and smoother,” he said.
Xia Huang noted that in such a regional scenario, women will be most impacted by the adverse impact of the economic challenges and thus the national, regional and international strategies should place women at the centre of the response mechanisms.
Charity Wallace, Managing Director, Global Women’s Issues & Senior Advisor to the CEO, U.S. International Development Finance The corporation said that the Great Lakes Region would achieve its post-covid19 economic recovery, prosperity and stability faster only if women are empowered, adding that arguably “the biggest missed market opportunity is that of women.
Dr Amany Asfour President of International Federation of Business and Professional Women noted that these responses to COVID 19 need to emphasize on the major challenges that women and girls are facing as professionals in every field; as traders, as businesswomen and entrepreneurs, as women in agriculture and responsible for food security, as women in the informal sector and women owners of Medium and Small Enterprises (MSEs), but also as housewives, mothers and family caretakers and as community leaders.
“Women are suffering the burden of the COVID 19 on multiple dimensions with more social impact more likely than men, including the domestic violence that increased during the lockdown,” noted Dr Asfour.
Organised by the Office of the UN Special Envoy for the Great Lakes Region in coordination with the Regional Member States, the meeting participants said initiatives that respond to the Covid-19 pandemic must aim at reintegration of women as well as granting them livelihood options, equal access to resources and fair entitlement systems.
“That explains why women cannot be left behind in all disciplines and also explains why bolstering economic development of women is at the heart of Rwanda’s National Transformation Strategy,” said Akamanzi.
Nancy Visavilwa, Operations Officer at the World Bank Burundi office noted that the Covid-19 crisis has magnified existing gender disparities and stifled recently gains in promoting women and girl empowerment.
“We need to advocate for equal participation of women in economic recovery schemes, in line with the UN Declaration on women’s economic empowerment for peacebuilding,” she said.
Nancy noted that the World Bank is taking urgent action in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic and is promoting positive gender roles to address gender-based violence. In addition, it is supplying health commodities to mitigate the collapse of the reproductive, maternal, newborn, child and adolescent health and nutrition services.
She added that the World Bank is supplying school kits, food support and other needed supplies such as cash transfers for a safe return to school to enhance distance learning. In addition, it is supporting women´s employment and productivity.
According to the data unveiled at the meeting from the McKinsey Global Institute of The US, eliminating gender disparities in the employment sector, wages and credit would add an additional $12 to $28 trillion to the global GDP by 2025.
The participants noted that the post-COVID-19 scenario would need the inclusion of and consultation with women in the design and implementation process of programmes for recovery and strategies for protection from sexual violence.
For example, according to Alwenyi Catherine Cassidy, ICGLR youth representative and the CEO of Fund Africa Inc, a social enterprise based in Uganda said besides mentorship programmes meant to build the necessary skills and work ethics, women and girls should also be encouraged to form associations and cooperatives which could be used as platforms for Capital mobilization.
She urged states to consider women and youth investors for tax exemptions and not only limit such facilities to foreign investors.
The event was held within the context of the newly adopted UNSC Resolution 2532 (2020), which “acknowledges the critical role that women are playing in COVID-19 response efforts, as well as the disproportionately negative impact of the pandemic, notably the socio-economic impact, on women and girls, children, refugees, internally displaced persons, older persons and persons with disabilities.
The event called for concrete actions to minimize this impact and ensure the full, equal and meaningful participation of women and youth in the development and implementation of an adequate and sustainable response to the pandemic”.
In attendance were women entrepreneurs who against all odds rose to be successful in the business including Dr Theo Mothoa-Frendo, Founder of Uso-South Africa, an advanced facial skincare range aimed at addressing the specific needs of Africans, Monica Musonda CEO & Founder of Java Foods, Zambian based food processing company and Yvette Mwanza a Director of G.C.GEM SARL, a company specializing in assisting and advising mining companies in the identification, analysis and mitigation of risks linked to the mineral supply chain.
The virtual consultation on the economic empowerment of women and their effective participation in peacebuilding within the evolving context of COVID-19 also attracted Guarantors of the PSC Framework (UN, AU, SADC, and ICGLR), the Advisory Board for Women Peace and Security (WPS), and the UN Peace Building Commission (PBC).
The event is part of a series of consultative roundtable dialogues aimed at preserving the gains made in the implementation of the WPS Agenda in the Great Lakes Region (GLR) and Economic Development, with a focus on ‘Women as Agents of Change for Social and Economic Transformation’.
ICGLR Member States include the Republic of Angola, Republic of Burundi, Central African Republic, Republic of Congo, Democratic Republic of Congo, Republic of Kenya, The Republic of Rwanda, Republic of Sudan, Republic of South Sudan, United Republic of Tanzania, the Republic of Uganda and the Republic of Zambia.