Over the past decades, women have been largely excluded from full economic participation in every country in the world, negatively affecting the path of nations towards prosperity. Conversely, gender inequality has carried a steep cost. UNDP’s Africa Human Development Report 2016 estimates that total annual economic losses due to gender inequality in the labour market have averaged $95 billion per year since 2010 in sub-Saharan Africa and may have been as high as $105 billion or 6 percent of the region’s GDP in 2014.
Investing in women pays dividends since women invest 90% of their earnings in food, health and education for the household. Despite this, there exists structural inequities in the systems of finance that have created barriers for women to access finance, training and education, markets, paid employment and in creating sustainable and prosperous livelihoods. As a result, there has been a market failure in acknowledging the participation and leadership of women in fueling transformation and AECF seeks to reverse the practices that devalue the contribution of women. This was a key highlight in a Webinar we organised to mark International Women’s Day on the 5th of March 2021.
Women and men around the world have been dared to “Choose to Challenge’’ to mark this year’s International Women’s Day. AECF chose to shine the spotlight on its portfolio companies that are ‘’choosing to challenge’’ the status quo by allowing women to break barriers whilst deriving business value.
The Webinar, which focused on female leadership and gender-smart solutions driving the bottom line attracted participants from across the sub-Sahara and provided an opportunity for sharing of insights by female entrepreneurs and businesses driving profitability through gender smart approaches in AECF’s portfolio.
Introducing the Webinar, AECF CEO, Victoria Sabula, recognised the great strides that have been achieved since the first International Women’s Day in 1909 and urged participants to continue the fight towards gender equality.
“Although we have made great strides towards reducing gender inequalities, there remains huge gaps that need to be redressed. Gender inequality is only a reality as long as we accept it,” she said.
Female entrepreneurs continue to face barriers to accessing finance due to several factors, which include differences in land tenure rights in most African countries, unequal access to resources, skills, experience, opportunities, and business networks.
“With attention focused on pulling women into economic engagement, however, it has become clear that these barriers must be removed if the benefits are to be achieved.
“The AECF shares this global vision of empowering women and is committed to supporting businesses in a way that sustainably advances gender equality. Our commitment goes beyond headline-grabbing numbers and seeks to reorient the investment process to find, nurture and grow businesses that are providing innovative solutions to increase gender equality in rural communities at the household, business and market levels whilst deriving business value,” Ms Sabula added.
The Webinar included an in-depth discussion of the myths surrounding female leadership and participation in business. Ethel Mupambwa, CEO of Moneymart Zimbabwe, argued that there is no gender in leadership, “There is no female or male leadership style - there are good leaders and bad leaders."
This was affirmed by Elizabeth Swai, CEO of AKM Glitters, Tanzania, who shared her own experience of working with AECF. “AECF believed in me without judging me for my appearance or status but based on the compatibilities and strengths of AKM Glitters.”
A central part of the AECF’s approach to financial development is to support the participation and leadership of women in the development of a prosperous and enterprising rural Africa. Many legitimate business benefits accrue to companies when they engage with women’s economic empowerment. Thus far, however, no real effort has been made to show the private sector what these benefits are. Hence, the second panel session sought to highlight these benefits through an analysis of the business case for gender lens investing in which participants shared their experiences of the financial returns of integrating gender smart solutions – and the subsequent benefits derived through increased profitability. This session’s speakers – including Jordan Sinkende, Head of Finance & Administration at Kazang Solar; Angel Mwage, Business Development Manager at DSM Corridor; and McMillan Nankhonya, General Manager at Fincoop, Malawi – highlighted the financial imperative to integrating gender smart solutions in business. Sharing insight gained in experience as Head of Finance & Administration at Kazang Solar, Jordan Sinkende described how gender smart solutions are driving the bottom line for their company.
"The participation of women improves profitability as they tend to generate more sales than their male counterparts". Moreover, McMillan Nankhonya, General Manager at Fincoop, shared their view that, contrary to common myths, “We find that female customers are more transparent in business. They are gamechangers who practice what they say and deliver on results.” This was at the back of increased profitability at Fincoop due to lower default rates by female customers.
The Webinar forms part of AECF’s broader commitment to the financial and economic inclusion of women in Africa, and gave stakeholders, development finance and investment counterparts the opportunity to celebrate the incredible progress made towards gender equality in Africa and renew their shared determination to further progress the cause of female empowerment across the continent.
The AECF aims to be at the forefront of this drive towards supporting private sector engagement with gender equality and creation of economic opportunities for women through its gender lens investing approach.