KIGALI-President Paul Kagame has called upon the East African Community (EAC) member states to invest in programmes and institutions that improve the livelihoods and incomes of women, if they are to succeed in empowering them.
The President made the call, yesterday, while officially opening the first ever East African Community (EAC) Women in Business Conference in Kigali.
Addressing the two-day conference attended by delegations representing women entrepreneurs from the EAC partner states and Southern Sudan, President Kagame said that while there is no doubt that women play a critical role in society today, they remain the majority of the region’s poor and vulnerable.
“Despite many good efforts, women remain on the fringe of our formal economies. The question that begs an urgent answer today is how can we progress on this critical issue as fast and as effectively as possible?” Kagame said
“Women’s productive capacity is staggering. In Africa today, women constitute 70 percent to 80 percent of the total agriculture force, a third of the global manufacturing labour force and a third of the micro and small scale enterprises business population,” he added.
The Head of State further said that women constitute the majority in the informal sector but ironically, still struggle with low incomes, unemployment, unequal access to financial resources, as well as legal obstacles to their potential as entrepreneurs.
“It is clear, therefore, that the EAC needs to properly harness this energy and talent as an important contribution to the region’s socio-economic transformation,” he said.
In order to achieve that, President Kagame said the EAC states need to consider a number of key interventions including investing in training and equipping women, especially those in the informal sector, with the skills necessary to manage their businesses.
“It is our responsibility as governments and regional bodies to mobilise more resources and ensure that institutions to support women in business exist and work well,”
“Similarly, we must continue to invest in programmes that have a direct positive impact on family livelihoods and women’s economic security,” Kagame said.
The President noted that women leaders have a crucial role to play in such areas as trade transformation and facilitation as well as other business related policies.
The Head of State highlighted the need for countries to formulate policies that are critical in empowering women financially, citing the example of Rwanda where initiatives such as gender responsive budgeting, women cooperatives and financial products targeting women have already taken root.
President Kagame called on women to move into more lucrative areas such as mining, banking and financial services, as they are areas of high potential which have remained male dominated.
He hailed the EAC for organising the conference, which he said came at an opportune moment when the bloc enters a critical phase, following the consolidation of the Customs Union and the launching of the Common Market.
The President said the implementation of the two protocols and the imminent Monetary Union are expected to spur opportunities in trade, industry, agriculture, manufacturing and other activities in the socio-economic areas.
The Chairperson of the EAC Council of Ministers, Hafsa Mossi, said that for many years, women have played a vital role in agriculture, economic development, family and other aspects of life but their role has been taken for granted, noting, however, that advocacy for women empowerment has since paid off.
“Today we can see the light at the end of the tunnel. The global advocacy for women emancipation and empowerment which picked up in the 1970’s and 80’s is beginning to yield signs of hope and progress,” Mossi said.
She, however, emphasised the need to refocus as there is a danger of systematic malfunctioning given the tendency of the elite to overlook the plight of women, especially in the informal sector and rural areas.
“Leaders make things happen, institutions make things last,” Mossi said, calling for the need to build and empower institutions which emphasise women emancipation.
The EAC Secretary General, Dr. Richard Sezibera, commended Rwanda for hosting the first ever EAC Conference on the Role of Women in Socio-Economic Development and Women in Business’, noting that the conference is “historic”.