COMESA has successfully launched the 50 Million African Women Speak (50MWS) project, a women economic empowerment initiative, in Malawi. This followed engagement between COMESA and stakeholders conducted in Lilongwe, Malawi.
Over 30 stakeholders from the Government, Private Sector, NGOs and Women Associations in Malawi participated.
The 50MWS is a three-year project funded by the African Development Bank, jointly implemented by three regional economic communities (RECs) i.e. COMESA, East African Community (EAC) and the Economic Community for Western African States (ECOWAS) in 36 countries.
The objective of the project is to empower women entrepreneurs by providing access to financial and non-financial information necessary to grow business.
The project will create a networking platform to connect women entrepreneurs and encourage peer-to-peer learning, mentoring as well as information and knowledge sharing. The platform, will be accessible on ICT gadgets including mobile phones.
It will enable women to access business training, financial services and locally relevant business information, and mentors among other services. This will support the overall goal of enhanced financial inclusion of women, leading ultimately to increased economic activity in Africa.
Addressing stakeholders during the official opening of the three-day program, Director in the Ministry of Industry, Trade and Tourism Ms. Christina Chatima, underscored the commitment by the Government of Malawi to ensure the project is a success.
“We are committed and indeed looking forward to the successful implementation of this project. It is our hope that the project will complement some of our interventions aimed at empowering women such as the establishment of the Women Economic Empowerment Platform (WEEP) and the Women Economic Empowerment Fund (WEEF),” she said.
“We also envisage the platform to assist women entrepreneurs penetrate regional market by exporting products such as cabbages, tomatoes and onions given the opportunities presented by the Free Trade Area,” she added.
The project was conceptualized and designed following a pilot study conducted by the African Development Bank which identified challenges impeding women from growing their business.
“The studies, established that the development of an ICT platform could mitigate some of the gender specific challenges affecting women entrepreneurs, COMESA Director of Gender and Social Affairs, Mrs. Beatrice Hamusonde told the participants.
Similarly, COMESA conducted a study in selected member States on women’s access to finance and related services. The study resulted in the establishment of the Women Economic Empowerment Fund, which will be managed by the Trade and Development Bank, one of the COMESA Institutions.
The COMESA Team, led by Mrs. Hamusonde paid a courtesy call on the Minister of Gender, Children, Disability & Social Welfare, Honourable Dr. Jean Kalirani, who also expressed government commitment to support the project implementation.
The Team also met the Principal Secretary in the Ministry of Industry, Trade and Tourism Dr. Ken Ndala, who described the project as timely and beneficial to women and other SMEs in Malawi.
Currently, COMESA is engaging Member States to introduce the project, outlining the benefits as well as facilitating the establishment of Project Country Teams at nnational level. The Country teams are responsible for gathering information and drafting content to be uploaded on the platform, among other key duties.
During the stakeholder engagement in Malawi, the country team comprising of representatives from the public sector, private sector, women associations, local/international organizations and UN Agencies was established.