Women in the ECOWAS Region must take advantage of the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) to promote their businesses and connect for business opportunities in other African countries, the Treasurer Federation of West African Chambers of Commerce and Industry (FEWACCI) and 1st Deputy President, Nigerian Association of Chambers of Commerce, Industry, Mines and Agriculture (NACCIMA), Otunba Dele Kelvin Oye has said.
AfCFTA is an initiative to create a single continental market for goods and services, with free movement of business persons and investments, paving the way for accelerating the establishment of the Continental Customs Union.
Otunba Oye who was speaking at the opening of a two-day workshop Wednesday organized by the Federation of West African Chambers of Commerce and Industry (FEWACCI), Abuja Chamber of Commerce and Industry (ACCI), with support of the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa (UNECA) and the European Union said if women have enough information on AfCFTA they would leverage on it to market their products across the region and in the global market.
He said the workshop was aimed to empower women in business and build their capacities to trade by understanding their roles in the deepening of regional and continental economic integration.
Otunba Oye also said, FEWACCI has made women economic empowerment a priority because they are the major actors in the drive to achieve regional and continental integration and by virtue of their population and skills adding that they also aim to address Gender imbalance with respect to the SDG 5, which strives to empower women by formulating inclusive policies and involving them in the economic transformation of Africa.
“We prioritized women economic empowerment because we observed that the area has been ignored over the years: although developing countries are working on ‘women educational empowerment but only a few have come to realize the immense importance of women economic empowerment and the subsequent impact it has on a country’s economy.”
He said the Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs) play an important role in the development of the economy of a country by providing productive employment particularly for women, low skill workers, and youths, generating income and reducing poverty adding that women in Africa make up about 58% of business owners within the region, according to a world bank report but Profiting from Parity, women entrepreneurs across sub-Saharan Africa continue to earn lower profits than men (34% less on average).
“Investing in women is not only a moral imperative, but it is also good for business. Promoting gender equality can add $13 trillion to Global Domestic Product (GDP) by 2030 However, women are less likely than men to own formal micro, small or medium enterprises. Also, women-owned businesses are less likely to grow or have employees and have been more heavily affected by the Covid-19 outbreak. In Sub-Saharan Africa, about 41% of female micro and small firms have closed. The barriers to women-owned businesses are multidimensional and often interlinked.”
According to him, women in business have faced challenges especially with access to credits and funding, lack of Investors, which can sometimes be attributed to lack of education and knowledge needed to understand financial services available to them.
Otunba Dele also said the Social, Economic, and Financial barriers that women face in business should spur us to come up with strategic and effective solutions that will create ease of doing business for them adding that in recognition of women’s role in Economic Integration, FEWACCI works with ECOWAS, National Chambers of Commerce, regional and continental institutions to organize programs and initiatives that will promote the ease of doing business for women and build their capacities to trade.
He assured stakeholders of FEWACCI’s commitment and readiness to work with any other organization to promote regional and continental economic integration.
The President ACCI, Dr. Al-Mujtaba Abubakar said there is an urgent need for Africa to invest in its women and youth as they are key factors to the development of our economies.
Dr. Abubakar, represented by the Vice President, Women Development ACCI, Barr. Oby Nwosu also said investing in women and youth cannot be achieved with business as usual adding that Africa needs to ambitiously focus on investing in its women to leverage their potentials as the most productive agents of our growing economies.
“Beyond policy, there is need for a close collaboration between government, the organized private sector, multilateral organizations, and civil society organizations to scale up the programs that harness the potentials of women businesses.”
He revealed that the women in Abuja Chamber of Commerce feature significantly in trade while saying over 60 percent of the membership base are businesses either owned or led by women.
“However, these women often face specific constraints that undermine their business activities. These limitations or barriers include, but are not limited to lack of adequate information and capacity building, lack of appropriate business support network opportunities, poor access to finance, poor access to market and market information and other services that could facilitate their businesses, hence allowing them to compete better in both local and international markets.
“At ACCI, we are supporting our women by providing discounted and free services that will help boost their businesses. We provide capacity building in the areas of new business strategies and other business-related topics.”
He further revealed that the Chamber has also established a hybrid platform for women to sell their goods through the Arahah Hybrid Market Place where women can access information, network, sell and buy goods.
The President added further that with the recent signing of the AfCFTA agreement which seeks to create a single market for goods and services, in order to deepen the economic integration on the African Continent, the essence of the Arahah Farmers Market is to prepare our women MSMEs for the global market.
The President of the Egyptian Business Women Association (EBWA), Dr. Amany Asfour who participated virtually said, we must continue to talk about how women all over can trade with each other in the spirit of AfCFTA and how we can increase our inter-Africa trade.
Dr. Asfour who lauded the efforts of ACCI in its support for Nigeria women in business also said African women must promote their commodities in the Africa market by adding value and making Africa products strong in the global world adding that we all have raw materials but how to transform them is an issue we must address to promote what we have.
“We need to increase awareness on our women to make sure they know what AfCFTA is all about and the trade agreement and information about themselves. We are not really utilizing our products and raw materials. We must continue to encourage our women. Let the government and the private sector promote our women. It is time for us to work together for Africa’s progress and empowerment because we must be competitive and stand out in the global market.”
The Director-General ACCI, Victoria Akai in her closing remark expressed deep appreciation to the leadership of UNECA, European Union, FEWACCI, ECOWAS, the presenters, and panelists at the two-day sensitization workshop
Speaking on behalf of the President ACCI, NACCIMA, FEWACCI and the entire women of the organized private sector in Nigerian the DG said, this is the beginning of a vibrant and beneficial relationship that will go a long way for women to benefits from AfCFTA.
“Women are the ones who make things happen and until the women come everything remains a plan on paper. We are the ones who birth the plans and I strongly believe that women are a major factor for the success of AfCFTA.”
According to her, if women have enough information on AfCFTA they would leverage it to market their products across the region and in the global market while urging them to be active in ACCI and its activities.
While clarifying the essence of the Arahah market she said, “we are building up the market to be a unique place of transacting for both local and international trade. We will continue to advocate for support with international trade experts like we are doing with UNECA and other agencies. Please, continue to follow the market because we are going somewhere. The market is very close to the heart of the President of the Chamber because of his special interest in women issue.”
ACCI Media/Strategy Officer