No Women Empowerment: No Sustainable Growth

Published on 15th April 2008

The economic empowerment of African women is very important to the development of our nations. Women constitute the majority of the population in most African countries. In fact, 52% of the African population are women.  Yet, women play a key but unrecognized role in all important aspects of life.  Their roles and activities impact directly on Africa’s development.  They do take care of the household by ensuring the availability of the basic needs of life on daily basis. If a woman is economically empowered, the nation is assured of healthy households which would contribute to the socio-economic development processes.

The gender-specific constraints women face, notably limited access to the productive resources has serious implications for socio-economic development in Africa.  There is now full universal recognition to mainstream and increase the role of women in the development process worldwide. It is within this framework that the World Bank in its drive to combat poverty in developing countries has taken considerable interest in the last two decades to promote gender equality as a way of enhancing economic development. African governments ought to create a conducive environment for women to engage in economically viable businesses. Indeed much action is needed now at continental, regional and national levels to promote women participation in social and economic development.

The persistent and increasing burden of poverty on women is a critical concern in the Beijing Platform for Action, the MDGs and the African Union flagship program of NEPAD. It is now clear from the on-going MDG implementation monitoring, including the “Global Monitoring Report 2007” that many African countries are lagging behind in the implementation of MDGs 3, 4, 5 and 6 relating to the empowerment of women and may not attain these objectives by 2015 unless there are renewed efforts to effectively implement the related actions. Despite this discouraging status, gender equality and empowerment of women remain vital component for economic growth and development and poverty reduction. Furthermore, we, in Africa, have progressive legal and policy frameworks that need to be comprehensively implemented. Some of these instruments are as follows: the Protocol to the African Charter on Human and Peoples Rights on the Rights of Women in Africa to which most African governments are accredited to and the Solemn Declaration on Gender Equality, to mention but a few. These instruments strongly advocate for attainment of social and economic rights of African women.

It is indeed high time to translate these commitments and provisions into reality. In Malawi, under the leadership of His Excellency the President, Dr. Bingu wa Mutharika, the Government is committed to increase participation of women in decision making positions. For example, the Attorney General, the Chairperson of the Electoral Commission, the Clerk of Parliament, the Deputy Governor of the Reserve Bank of Malawi, the General Manager of Toyota Malawi are women. Also important to note, we have Five women High Court Judges, Four Women Cabinet Ministers and three Deputy Ministers which is the highest number ever attained. Further, we have three Women Ambassadors.

Gender equality can only be achieved if women are economically empowered. Continued poverty among women will reverse the gains that we have made in the reduction of Gender Based Violence, trafficking in women and children and HIV/AIDS. We need to transform Africa from exporting raw products to producing and exporting processed products. This can be effectively done by engaging women, who constitute more than half of the continental population, in the production of value added commodities. Further, we need to be proud of our own produced and processed commodities. Let’s have a motto “locally produced, locally processed  and locally consumed for the well being of Africa”.

In view of this, in Malawi through the overarching goal, the Malawi Growth and Development strategy, we are working towards transforming Malawi from a predominantly importing and consuming country to a predominantly manufacturing and exporting country. One of the themes through which this is to be achieved is “Sustainable Economic Growth” whose sub-theme 5 is “economic empowerment Some of the key strategies for this sub-theme are: strengthening the policy environment for micro-finance; targeting women’s participation in economic growth activities; targeting infrastructure development to ensure that rural communities are linked to markets; offering training for small businesses; and developing rural cooperatives to lower transaction costs and helping communities with collective bargaining.

No single country can achieve sustainable economic growth and economic empowerment of its population without regional integration. In order to promote regional integration of business women, Malawi has facilitated participation of women in international trade fairs such as Women in Business SADC fairs, COMESA’s Federation of the Associations of Women in Business (FEMCOM) and participation of women in international meetings such as the World Congress on Rural Women which was held in Durban in April 2007. All this is done to create a conducive environment for Malawian women to learn and share their experiences with other women in Africa.

There is a great need for all African countries to unite and work together and put these good frameworks, policies and interventions into action.  In addition, it is important that the African Union should facilitate and strengthen networking between and among women of Africa.

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