Women’s economic empowerment is one of the most promising areas of investment. As Africa looks to meet the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) by 2030 the full participation of women as producers, consumers, business owners and key decision-makers is a potent force for change.
Accounting for more than half the population in Africa and offering a diverse pool of talent, women directly and indirectly contribute to economic growth and development. The most direct route is via workforce participation, which boosts production, incomes and savings at the household, community, and national levels. The extent of the contribution depends on how many women enter the paid workforce, how many hours they work and how productive they are.
A walk through any village in sub-Saharan Africa quickly reveals that women dominate the vibrant and robust village economies, selling fruits and vegetables in the market place, tailoring at the door steps of shops, selling in Agro-dealer shops, or hawking snacks and food by the road side. Most of these small-medium sized businesses are the key contributors to employment creation despite having lower revenues, profits and productivity. Despite the significant role played by these entities, they are still amongst the hardest hit with regards to access to credit and business development services, with women entrepreneurs being affected the most due to structural inequities that limit their ability to own land which they can use as collateral.
Consequently, this limits the effective participation of female entrepreneurs in the market place, thus hindering economic growth and poverty reduction in Africa.
Drawing from our wealth of experience over the past 10 years, the AECF recognises that women’s economic empowerment must be supported by opening up access to credit and finance. Women represent a disproportionate percentage among the poor in Africa and in order to effectively tackle poverty reduction, we cannot ignore the fact that women also bear the burden of time, choice and opportunity poverty. In light of this, AECF does not only have an opportunity to positively influence gender equality, but has a responsibility to do so. Going forward we are adopting a gender transformative approach in all our work and we anticipate that we shall generate transformational dividends.
The transformation we seek can only happen if we make deliberate efforts to invest in women. It is on this premise that AECF is launching the Women Economic Empowerment Initiative with a target funding of US $50 million. The program seeks to address rural poverty, food insecurity and gender inequality by increasing the proportion of women generating income as well as the number and quality of jobs for women working in the agribusiness sector. The program is being piloted in Ethiopia, Sierra Leone, Burkina Faso and Cote d’ivoire.
At AECF we recognise that entrepreneurship and decent work are the bedrocks of economic empowerment. We also believe that our success is pegged to market-based approaches that level the playing field by deliberately creating an enabling ecosystem for women to have equal opportunities to effectively participate in the economy. I urge development partners and investors to join us on this journey to transform families, communities, markets and societies by recognizing women as equal and powerful economic agents of change.