Empowering women entrepreneurs for economic recovery

There is need to improve the business climate in order to unleash the full potential of women’s engagement in small and medium sized businesses. / Net photos

The coronavirus pandemic has had an enormous effect on global economies. This is evidenced in the reduced economic and social activities as well as affected revenues.

Countering this disastrous impact requires a coordinated and balanced set of interventions. And among these, is women entrepreneurship as suggested by delegates (regional women leaders, women entrepreneurs and business leaders, among other civil society representatives) as they convened in a virtual dialogue about women as agents of economic transformation that was held last week.


Organised by the special envoy of the Secretary-General for the Great Lakes region, the dialogue highlighted the need to consider the gender dimension in the Covid-19 pandemic response plans-underscoring the importance of the pivotal role that women are able to play as key agents of change. 


This led to the resolution to improve the business climate in order to unleash the full potential of women’s engagement in small and medium sized businesses in the region.


Dr Amany Asfour, world president of International Federation of Business and Professional Women, said that since the Covid-19 pandemic affects the health, economic and social status of women and girls, response to this needs to emphasise on the major challenges that women and girls are facing as professionals in every field, such as trade and agriculture.

In addressing the challenges faced by women entrepreneurs, Asfour notes that economic empowerment of women is crucial to create jobs and economic growth that leads to peace and security in the region.

“Women are suffering the burden of Covid-19 on multiple dimensions with more social impact more likely than men. So, the response of BPW International to the impact of how the pandemic is affecting women has to take into consideration the solutions to embrace the concerns, requirements and needs of women and girls in their fight against Covid-19 and the mitigation of risks of the complications of Covid-19,” he says.

“Our main objective is women empowerment and to advocate for a gender sensitive response towards facing the challenges of the pandemic. This will be through addressing the multiple effects of Covid-19 on the economies, on the social status and the health care systems,” he adds. 

Why women entrepreneurship matters 

Clare Akamanzi, CEO of Rwanda Development Board, stresses the importance of recognising the value of women in sustainable development and peace building.

“In Rwanda, we subscribed to the idea that the benefits of empowering women are not exclusive for women. Empowering women is a pathway for achieving all of the sustainable development goals,” she says.

Globally, evidence proves that the income spending patterns and habits differ greatly between men and women. It is estimated that men tend to spend only 40 to 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. 

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, Akamanzi notes.

In business, the CEO points out that equipping women with entrepreneurship and innovative skills to absorb underutilised labour force is a priority for Rwanda Development Board.

Women with sound and innovative business projects are supported to acquire start-up capital in financial institutions through guarantee and grant facilities. In fact, today, women entrepreneurs head more than 42 per cent of enterprises. They contribute 78 per cent in cross border trade, and cross border trade contributes 30 per cent to GDP, she says.

She reveals that support is also given in form of training, market linkages, and in the area of technology where young women are provided with grants to implement and market their ICT projects according to the innovation aspects in each project.

“We have re-aligned our focus and priorities and re-positioned the institution to capably formulate and deliver the required interventions to ensure inclusive growth with a special focus on women. As an example, we have a target of connecting 5,000 women to the market in the next 12 months.”

Nancy Visavilwa, operations officer at the World Bank, says small scale trade is quite important for the region and especially women, in terms of balance of trade and more importantly, livelihoods.

With this, she says they are committed to promoting women and girl empowerment through education, employment, enhanced access to health services and creating enabling environment for girls and women empowerment. 

“This agenda is even more important in the Covid-19 context as the crisis magnifies existing disparities and stifle recent gains. As such urgent action is needed to safeguard girls’ education, address gender-based violence and protect women’s livelihoods. Economic empowerment of women and girls is a cost effective and high return investment in response to the pandemic,” she notes.


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