Today, March 8, 2019, the international community commemorates the 2019 International Women’s Day, IWD 2019.
As always, the commemoration brings to the fore, key development issues especially around gender equality and women empowerment.
The IWD 2019 Theme
The theme for IWD 2019 which is “think equal, build smart, innovate for change” is quite apt.
Apt because equality, smart and sustainable development as well as transformation driven by innovation are very critical to achieving the 2030 SDGs target of eliminating extreme poverty.
Take a look at equality for instance. It is a fact that sidelining women especially in economic and social activities due to gender stereotypes is similar to playing a competitive match with one half of the team. Your guess is as good as mine that victory is absolutely impossible.
Therefore, we must think equal. We must provide equal opportunities for all irrespective of gender.
The next component of the IWD 2019 theme is building smart. And so, the question is: how can we build smart without employing all of our Human Resources?
In fact, if anything, building smart means efficiency in resource management which women are expert at.
That’s why it holds true that improving economic opportunities for women yields greater household incomes, better access to healthcare and improved enrollment in school.
How then can we talk about building smart economies and societies without leveraging the wonderful capabilities of women in this regard?
The last component of the IWD 2019 talks about innovating for change.
How do we create an economic transformation that will effectively lift hundreds of millions of people especially in Africa out of poverty into wealth?
In Africa, poverty almost has a woman’s face. Therefore, programs and innovative projects and policy actions designed to lift people out of poverty must focus on women.
How then can we expect to innovate for change, a change that will engender shared prosperity, if women are not at the center of such innovations?
Barriers to Gender Equality and Women Empowerment In Africa
Women in Africa most especially are marginalized and are unable to participate in economic activities like their male counterparts.
Taking a look at women who dare to become entrepreneurs, the situation is more dire.
From lack of access to land and capital to cultural undertones which inordinately regulate the activities of women, women face tons of barriers to becoming successful wealth creators.
Even access to formal education which is capable of preparing women to take up high skilled jobs remains restricted especially for women.
Across Africa, over 53 million school-aged girls are out of school. Even those who have attained some level of education are discriminated at their workplaces.
There are pay discrepancies for men and women doing the same work. Some organizations even put a ceiling to the height a woman can attain within the organization.
How do we overcome these barriers and foster gender equality and women empowerment
Obviously the way to go is entrepreneurship. This is because entrepreneurship is non-discriminatory. All it needs is creativity, innovation and managerial ability which women as much as men also have.
However, to ensure that women participate fully in entrepreneurship, there are key conditions and facilities that must be put in place.
Which brings us to the big question
How Do We Expand Opportunities for Women Entrepreneurs in Africa
First, we must improve women’s access to education. When women are educated, they will be able to think more creatively and develop marketable solutions that will allow them succeed in business.
It’s the 4th industrial revolution where innovations will majorly be around internet of things, nanotechnology, robotics, 3-D printing, cloud computing, big data etc.
If women are not armed with cutting-edge ICT skills, how can they be innovative in a digital society and knowledge-based economy?
We must therefore prioritize access to quality education for women. That way, we can tap into their creative abilities as we strive to build a competitive African society.
Second, we must improve women’s access to credit. Lack of funding remains top on the list of the challenges women face as they go into business.
Most financial institutions are very reluctant to lend to women entrepreneurs. They believe that women don’t have the independence to make managerial and allocative decisions that will allow them to be successful in business.
Therefore, as we celebrate IWD 2019, we must evolve ways of encouraging financial institutions to lend to women entrepreneurs.
Just take a look at the momentous impact that the Nigerian Incentive-based Risk Sharing in Agricultural Lending had in improving lending to the agricultural sector in Nigeria. Fom 0.7% to over 5.4%, that’s nearly 800% increase in lending to the agricultural sector.
Such innovative facilities should be established across Africa to help derisk lending to women entrepreneurs.
Thirdly, we must improve women’s access to other forms of capital such as land. Across most African communities, women don’t have land titles. This must change if we’re to provide women with the tools that will enable them unleash their entrepreneurial capacities.
In addition, we must connect women entrepreneurs to markets. Most women entrepreneurs in Africa lack access to large competitive markets. Thus, they get robbed of the true value of their commodities by middlemen.
It’s high time we put structures in place that will allow women have direct access to markets. ICT could help deliver on this. If women rice farmers for instance have a website where buyers can connect directly to and buy from them, middlemen will have no place in the value chain.
Besides, we must begin to consider accelerating industrialization in Africa. Our women who constitute the bulk of agricultural commodity producers must begin to participate in regional and global value chains.
This means we must commit to building industries that will create industrial value chains across all the commodities we are currently producing.
Governments must provide the necessary infrastructure as well as other fiscal incentives to attract private capital needed to create these industrial value chains.
Furthermore, to build more women entrepreneurs in Africa, mentoring and coaching programs must be implemented across Africa.
Most women fail in business not because they are women, but because they lack access to sound entrepreneurship mentoring.
We must therefore create and promote more platforms that can allow women obtain proper guidance in decision-making.
Yes, we have mentoring platforms including maramentors, entrepreneur club by Orange, TEF Connect by the Tony Elumelu Foundation etc. However, these are online platforms that can only be accessed by those with internet access.
Considering that most women entrepreneurs especially in the rural areas lack access to internet connectivity, how then do we reach them with proper mentoring?
It therefore means that we must build offline entrepreneurship mentoring hubs even in the rural communities that will cater for women in areas with restricted internet access.
Wrapping it all of for IWD 2019
There are tons of other things women need to excel as entrepreneurs.
However, what’s important is that as we mark IWD 2019, let us commit to lowering the barriers to women’s success in entrepreneurship.
Let’s connect women to all and any opportunity that will allow them optimally explore their entrepreneurial potential and by extension contribute more significantly to building an Africa that is peaceful, secure, intergrated, prosperous and egalitarian.
This is the Africa We want.