“It’s not about women – but about job creation and poverty reduction.”
— Mahlapane Fana ILO/WEDGE
THERE is a definite push for the advancement of African women, this being the second year of the African Women’s Decade 2010-2020 as declared by the African Union.
This is a window of opportunity for us women to “leverage on global and regional political goodwill” while it lasts.
The Africa Gender Policy
adopted by member states guides the process of gender mainstreaming at regional
and sub-regional levels and provides assistance to member states for mainstreaming gender in their policies and programmes.
There is going to be a hive of activity in Lesotho this August, being women’s month and these contribute to those changes we want to see by 2020.
The International Labour Organisation (ILO) has a lot planned for women entrepreneurs, whose development it focuses on through its Women’s Entrepreneurship Development and Gender Equality (WEDGE) housed in the Ministry of Gender, Youth, Sport and Recreation.
Mahlapane Fana who heads the ILO/WEDGE office in Lesotho noted the following as some of the challenges which women entrepreneurs face in their businesses:
Inadequate market access; lack of access to credit mainly due to unavailability of collateral; competition from imports due to global trade liberalisation; technological limitations; and lack of competitiveness in terms of quality, costs and on-time delivery.
“However our policy responses also take into account women with disabilities,” says Fana.
She explains that women with disabilities face more challenges in starting their businesses, as a result of factors such as lack of physical access to business premises, access to information and discrimination due to social stigma.
It is with the needs of all women in mind that the ILO dedicates one month to women entrepreneurs and this year’s “Month of the Woman Entrepreneur” is promising to be an exciting one.
ILO has partnered with a number of organisations who will host events in Maseru and surrounding districts.
In keeping with the theme “Empowering women to transform their communities” many of these events will be training workshops.
These include training for Women Entrepreneurs Associations to be held during the first week of August in Maseru.
The Millennium Challenge Account will be reaching out to women in the districts with various training programmes.
An opportunity is also available for businesswomen to display and sell their products and services at the Pioneer Mall in the second week of August.
Fana emphasises the need for a collaborative effort by all stakeholders to consider the following initiatives:
Financial assistance – inadequate start up and working capital appears to be the biggest hurdle for women in business.
Small grants or soft loans could go a long way in providing the buffer women need as they establish markets.
Technology – the use of computers and the internet still remains out of reach for many in Lesotho.
This deprives women of a cost-effective way of communicating with potential suppliers/customers and keeping up-to-date with trends in their industry.
International Trade – Exposure to export markets is critical but there is a learning curve involved. Training and creation of international linkages through trade fairs and trade missions will go a long way towards helping women export their products and services.
Industry trends and market intelligence – Successful business people keep abreast of industry trends and the latest ideas in their line of business.
They do this by travelling, reading business magazines, networking and accessing information online.
This is something women may not have the time, money or skills to do hence the need for assistance.
In my view, the challenges are many and some of them require private sector involvement in order to address them.
Even with business training women still face a myriad of constraints.
Women entrepreneurship development will not achieve the desired outcomes if it’s all left to the already stretched public sector to deal with.
Financial and other resources are in short supply and Lesotho has to compete with other countries as a destination for donor funds. The challenge I see in all this is keeping the momentum even after the month of August has passed.