More than 100 African business women converged in Lagos recently to lend their voices on the need for more women participation in politics, entrepreneurship and poverty alleviation as tools for nation building. The women who came from four African countries:Nigeria, Kenya, Uganda and South Africa advocated for women participation, especially in politics.
Lamenting poor access to training, quality education and self-improvement as the major reason for women's lack of empowerment, they noted that if this is addressed, the country will be a better place.
The event, with the theme: "Why Africa is Rising" was organised by Vital Voices Global Partnership and Women in Management, Business, and Public Service, WIMBIZ. It has as conveners leaders representing business, government, civil society and the media.
Guest Speaker, Mrs. Obiageli Oby Ezekwesili, who spoke on "Africa's Women are the continent's most visible secret weapon" explained that the African continent can grow even faster if policies that allow for equal participation of women and men are in place.
According to her, women constitute half of the population in Africa and their under-representation in social, political and economic spheres must be addressed if Africa is to leverage fully of the promise and potential that it holds, adding that about 30 percent of women participate in economic activities, often in very limited ways.
She stressed that any development process that ignores the life-chances of half the population cannot address the problem of poverty and the crisis of sustainability. She added that in a global change, it is a necessity for the development process to fully incorporate an agenda for women's empowerment by including women's realities in the fullest sense.
Said she : "According to the United Nations Population Fund, women are still much more likely than men to be poor and illiterate. They usually have less access than men to medical care, property ownership, credit, training and employment. They are far less likely than men to be politically active and far more likely to be victims of domestic violence. When women are empowered, whole families benefit, and these benefits often have ripple effects to future generations."
She further stated that economic empowerment of women is an important issue and should be taken seriously by families, communities, organisations and nations that are ready to make progress, adding that women empowerment only brings about smart economics. Continuing, she observed that: "Most women across the globe rely on the informal work sector for an income. If women were empowered to do more, the possibility for economic growth and development will be enhanced.
"Women must have access to training, higher education and self-improvement in order to aspire to higher-paying jobs. It is never too late to acquire an education. It is believed that continuous academic improvement by women significantly determines how far they can rise even much more than their male counterparts.
Empowering women provides more choices for women and creates female role models and mentors in places where economic opportunities have historically been limited. By investing in the success of women, we invest in our own success and in the success of communities around the world," she added.
Mrs. Adeola Azeez, Chairperson of WINBIZ, contributing to the debate, stated that African women must no longer allow themselves to be relegated to the background. "It is time to step out from behind middle-management roles and widen our scope to encompass more than just daily roles of womanhood. Today, we must begin to take a lead role in changing the global view of Africa.
"However, we must also take measures to address the fact that more than any of our female counterparts across the globe, the African woman still faces unique barriers created by tradition, poverty and illiteracy. We are rising but pace is slow. We are working towards change but acceptance of our views is lacking.
"So today, as we come together, we must do so, not just as women, but as key influencers, who through our actions have the ability to begin to create channels of change for women within Africa. It is our job to ensure that our voices and priorities are not only heard, but acted upon to help and continue to change the economic landscape of our continent," she said.
An entrepreneur and Chairperson, Kenya Association of Women business Owners, Eva Muraya, said the forum is an avenue to enable women use their businesses not only as sustenance but also as instruments of creation of employment, wealth, and advancement of global best practice within the continent.
She said that African countries have similar commonality in the area of inclusion as far as the issue is concerned. She, therefore, called on government to see the benefits of including women in participating in governance and leadership in different government parastatals.
She called on the private sector to see the potential that resides in women's managerial capability.
Also, President and CEO, Vital Voices Global Partnership, Alyse Nelson, said women need to set up and be part of shaping and building stronger economy and society in Nigeria and Africa in general. Her words: "The world is waking up to the reality that women are stronger economic force.
We have been working with women for the past 15 years. And in Africa, we have realised that women are not just economic force but also tremendous global leadership force. We identify, invest in and bring visibility to extraordinary women around the world by unleashing their leadership potential to transform lives and accelerate peace and prosperity in their communities.
"Vital Voices recognises that women are powerful engines of economic growth and social change. Through SPARC, Vital Voices and partner businesswomen's associations are working together to enable women to fully participate in their economies".