Women have been advised to capitalise on the upcoming East African Community conference on the role of women in socio-economic development in order to share and exploit business opportunities in the region.
The call was made yestareday by Oda Gasinzigwa, Chief Gender Monitor, who said that it was a great chance for Rwandan women to derive benefits from the forum by virtue of hosting it.
The first ever women conference organised under the theme 'Unlocking Business Opportunities for Women within an EAC Common Market' will take place in Kigali this week.
"This is an opportunity for Rwandan women to share experiences with others who have been in business longer. They should take the forum seriously because it will help us to go to another level in terms of business opportunities," she said.
The two-day conference will bring together business women from all five partner states to discuss regional business opportunities, showcase their products, as well as identify challenges faced by women entrepreneurs vis-a-vis the current stage of integration.
Gasinzigwa noted that Rwandan women have achieved a lot in terms of political participation, adding that they should instead venture into economic activities as a way of developing the country.
"We have achieved a lot in politics and legal framework; it's now high time our women diverted to business. We want to see more of our women exporting products to the international market; we need to see chief executive officers who are women" she said.
As part of the conference schedule, several female entrepreneurs from the region will narrate their success stories.
Participants will also be involved in tabling a proposal for the creation of an EAC Women Entrepreneurs' Association that will champion the cause and interests of regional women in business.
Robert Ssali, the Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of EAC Affairs, also described the meeting as a big chance for regional women to come together and appreciate the role of women in the region's growth.
"This comes at a time when Rwanda recently hosted a high level UN conference on gender-budgeting; we will learn from our sister countries but they also have a lot to learn from us," he said
"For example, Rwanda has the highest number of women parliamentarians and this has positively impacted on the lives of our people, especially women in the rural areas, through special legislation and economic solutions such as women micro-finance and special development funds among others".
Participants are also expected to discuss ways to improve financial inclusion of women entrepreneurs through the creation of a regional microfinance scheme for women.
The proprietor of Kigali's Africa Bite restaurant, Annet Gakwerere, acknowledged that the conference would personally help her acquire experience from women who have been in business longer to develop her business.
"Empowering women is empowering the region. We also need to participate in the regional integration as women. I will learn from my colleagues in other countries, especially in business and customer management to develop my restaurant," she observed.