By Eric Enosesiase

The Africa Women Innovation and Entrepreneurship Forum (AWIEF), has since its inception made great strides in advancing the cause of woman in Africa, particularly as innovators and entrepreneurs.

The 2019 edition of the AWIEF annual conference which was held in Cape Town, South Africa, under the theme, “Enhancing Impact: Digitalisation, Investment and Intra-African Trade”, lived up to its bidding as expected by its stakeholders and promoters.

Moreover, far reaching resolutions were reached at the two-day event, attended by more than 60 African and global thought leaders across business and politics.

AWIEF Founder and Chief Executive Officer (CEO), Irene Ochem, lauded the occasion as indeed momentous for women on the continent of Africa.

In addition, this year’s event was aimed at promoting and accelerating the growth of women-owned and women-led businesses for Africa’s inclusive economic growth; share entrepreneurship trends; connects and network with trailblazers from all over Africa and beyond.

Interestingly, a prestigious publication, AWIEF Insights, was launched at the conference as another platform to celebrate and acknowledge the contribution made by women leaders, businesswomen and entrepreneurs across the Pan-African continent.

Most importantly, the forum in its landmark and historic resolution harped on the need for the economic empowerment of women to be linked to the Africa Continental Free Trade Agreement (AfCFTA).

The resolution states that: “The AfCFTA, is a monumental milestone on Africa’s developmental roadmap that must be exploited to the full for intra-Africa trade. It will unleash almost unlimited opportunities, new economies of scale, and income and employment generation through greater market and economic integration”.

The forum therefore solicited the unconditional support of the Chair of the African Union (AU), through the resolution to ensure that women are involved in Committees that will draft the AfCFTA implementation protocols and be involved in the Committee of Ministers responsible for trade.

“We are concerned that if women are not involved in finalising the details of the Agreement, women will be excluded from the opportunities that will be unleashed. We need to have a few seats at the table and we can propose a list of women to be considered”, the forum added.

Speakers at the event reiterated the need for women to move from having conversations about economic empowerment to radical action, adding that in Africa women need to claim the entire continent as their market place.

Lending credence to this, the keynote speaker, Dr Vera Songwe, United Nations Undersecretary General and Executive Secretary, UN Economic Commission for Africa (ECA), said there cannot be talk about Africa’s growth without talking about the economic empowerment of Africa’s women in the same breath.

Dr. Songwe noted that women had to have access to structures in order to access economic empowerment, adding that women needed to connect as a collective to raise each other up.

“There is a new economic Pan-Africanism on the continent, we have fought for our rights, we now need to move to the economic space. This is the promise: Africa needs skill. In many of our countries, we don’t have the skill required to grow. You need to claim the continent as your marketplace, the $1.2 billion market. We can do more, we can do better.

“We must ensure we can do that together. Can we take these women and make them global businesses? These events help us to connect. We need to ask, did that help me raise another woman somewhere else? That is the power of African women.

“When we meet as leaders, when we meet in these groups, we need to remember that connecting is the basic human factor. We need to connect with success. There is 500 million of us African women, we need to be collectively connected,” she further explained. .

Speaking in a similar vein, an economic activist and social entrepreneur, Wendy Luhabe, called on women to look at how they can use the AfCFTA to put pressure on countries to include the emancipation of women in reducing trade barriers across the continent and reducing trade tariffs.

“As women we need to move beyond conversations to radical action. We demand to be involved in the discussion around AfCFTA. There is still a window of opportunity for us to be involved”, she stressed.

Barbara Makhubedu, Chief Financial Officer, Shell Downstream South Africa, said women must be deliberate on pulling the “levers” as a collective and work hard to grind down the barriers to economic empowerment for women.

Those strong levers, according to her, include the strength and wisdom inherent in women and consolidating efforts and liberating technology to shape a more inclusive financial system in Africa to include women.

Nirmala Reddy, Senior Manager, Enterprise Development, Nedbank, urged women to nurture themselves too, and balance the needs of the heart, family and self. She quoted her favourite poet, Rumi: “Don’t be afraid to give yourself everything you ever wanted”.

While declaring the conference open, Dan Plato, Executive Mayor of Cape Town, congratulated AWIEF on its five-year anniversary. The Mayor noted that entrepreneurship should be supported, particularly women entrepreneurs who were in many instances their main breadwinners, adding that entrepreneurship allows people the chance to forge their own economic futures.

“Entrepreneurship should be seen as one of the solutions to unemployment and it is crucial that they should be given support to get their businesses up and running. In South Africa, nearly 7 million people are unemployed, 29 percent of the population,” he further stated.

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