Comesa calls for women empowerment

HARARE - The Common Markets for Eastern and Southern Africa (Comesa) says there is need for Zimbabwe to implement policies that empower women.

The regional bloc’s director for gender and social services Beatrice Hamusonde this week said the recent launch of the long-awaited Women Microfinance Bank, with many products and linkages that will enhance economic empowerment of women in the country.

“Women play a critical role in the development of our economies. It is widely recognised that the economic growth of Africa in general and Comesa region will be led by a diversified and vibrant private sector, including women and youth operating micro, small and medium enterprises. Women entrepreneurs have the passion to develop and expand their businesses,” she said.

“However, they continue to face gender-specific barriers such as limited access to information and networking opportunities, lower levels of education and business training, weak property rights that deprive them of collateral and tangible assets, and social barriers that discourage them from thriving as entrepreneurs.”

These challenges were highlighted in the pilot studies conducted by Comesa in Burundi, Kenya, and Ethiopia in 2011, and the African Development Bank in Kenya and Senegal in 2014.

The 2014 study by the African Development Bank revealed that the use of Information Communication Technology (ICTs) as an enabler will contribute in lessening some of the challenges affecting women to start or grow their businesses.

Hamusonde noted that in September 2016, three regional economic communities Comesa, East African Community (EAC) and the Economic Community for Western African States (Ecowas), signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) to jointly implement the 50 Million African Women Speak Project — a Digital Networking Platform for women in business.

The three-year project is supported by the African Development Bank and covers 36 of the 54 countries in Africa. These are Member States of Comesa, EAC and Ecowas.

The 50 Million Women Speak Digital Networking Platform will be accessed through electronic gadgets such as mobile phones, iPads, laptops and others.

“Women entrepreneurs in Zimbabwe and the region will use the platform to access information and linkages to business services, training and market opportunities.  The Platform is unique and will build a community of existing and potential women entrepreneurs who will act as peers, mentors and advisors to each other.

“This social network will allow women to share lessons, success stories as well as conduct business online. Furthermore, it will provide interface between women and financial service providers thus promoting easy access to financial services,” she added.

The platform will enable women entrepreneurs to network with one another and with mentors to support the overall goal of enhanced financial inclusion of women, leading ultimately to increased economic activity in the region. 

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