COMESA successfully launched the 50 Million African Women Speak (50MWS) project, a women economic empowerment initiative, in Malawi following the engagement of stakeholders in Lilongwe. Over 30 stakeholders from the Government, Private Sector, NGOs and Women Associations participated in the engagement sessions which were conducted from 12-14 June 2018 in Lilongwe, Malawi.
The 50MWS is a three-year project funded by the African Development Bank, jointly implemented by three regional economic communities (RECs) i.e. COMESA, East African Community (EAC) and the Economic Community for Western African States (ECOWAS) in 36 countries. The objective of the project is to empower women entrepreneurs through providing access to financial and non-financial information relevant to develop and grow business.
The project will create a networking platform to connect women entrepreneurs and encourage peer-to-peer learning, mentoring as well as information and knowledge sharing. The platform, which will be accessible on ICT gadgets including mobile phones, will enable women to access business training, financial services and locally relevant business information, and mentors among other services to support the overall goal of enhanced financial inclusion of women, leading ultimately to increased economic activity in Africa.
Addressing stakeholders during the official opening of the three-day program, Director in the Ministry of Industry, Trade and Tourism Ms. Christina Chatima, underscored the commitment by the Government of Malawi to ensure the project is a success.
“We are committed and indeed looking forward to the successful implementation of this project. It is our hope that the project will complement some of our interventions aimed at empowering women such as the establishment of the Women Economic Empowerment Platform (WEEP) and the Women Economic Empowerment Fund (WEEF)”, she said.
“We also envisage the platform to assist women entrepreneurs penetrate regional market by exporting products such as cabbages, tomatoes and onions given the opportunities presented by the Free Trade Area”, she added.
COMESA Director for Gender and Social Affairs, Mrs. Beatrice Hamusonde outlined the project background and explained factors which led to the conceptualization and designing of the project. She highlighted that the African Development Bank conducted pilot studies which identified challenges impeding women from growing their business. The studies, therefore, established that the development of an ICT platform could mitigate some of the gender specific challenges affecting women entrepreneurs.
Similarly, COMESA conducted a study in selected member States on women’s access to finance and related services. The study resulted in the establishment of the Women Economic Empowerment Fund, which will be managed by the Trade and Development Bank, one of the COMESA Institutions. COMESA explained to the participants how the platform would work and assist women entrepreneur to establish their own digital identity (online market place) through the creation of profiles.
COMESA applauded Malawi for being active during the engagement process. “It is pleasing to note that the engagement was a tremendous success. Active participation by all participants attest to your commitment to fully implement this project. I encourage you to remain with the same spirit during the process of information gathering and content development”
The COMESA Team, led by Mrs. Hamusonde paid a courtesy call to the Minister of Gender, Children, Disability & Social Welfare, Honourable Dr. Jean Kalirani, who also expressed government commitment to support the project implementation. The COMESA Team also had a meeting with Dr. Ken Ndala, Principle Secretary in the Ministry of Industry, Trade and Tourism, who said that the project was timely and will benefit women and other SMEs in Malawi.