Women in Africa make up 58% of the continent’s self-employed population meaning the impact of women in leadership cannot be side-lined.
Throughout the centuries of African history, women have played an integral role in society and shaped the culture of their communities and their larger societies through mentorship, decision making and lifting other women up on the ladder.
The dialogue was graced by key women leaders; the President of the Democratic Republic of Ethiopia, H.E Sahle Work Zewde, Former President of the Republic of Liberia, H.E Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, the former President of Malawi, H.E Dr. Joyce Banda, the Former Vice President of Gambia, H.E Isatou Touray, the African Union Commission’s Special Envoy on Women Peace and Security, Bineta Diop, Mama Gertrude Mongella, President of the Pan-African Republic of Tanzania and the Permanent Observer of the African Union to the United Nations, H.E Fatima Kyari.
The forum converged women of different ages and levels with 70 percent being young women by the Young Women Leaders’ Caucus (YWC) of the African Women Leaders Network (AWLN) in collaboration with the African Union Youth Envoy’s Office, the Women, Gender and Youth Directorate, with the support of the AU Office of the Special Envoy on Women, Peace and Security, OCP and UN Women, themed, “African Young Women Lead-Mobilizing Partnerships and pathways for Economic Empowerment, Sustainability, and Financial Inclusion.”
According to the President of Tanzania, H.E Samia Suluhu Hassan, the voices of women are very important to make catalytic decisions.
One cannot talk about the Sustainable Development Goals without talking about the role women play in this.
She pledged her continuous support to raising young women leaders to be the anchor in the society to ensure the legacy continues.
“We need to transform generals while breaking barriers for women’s leadership and increasing their leadership. It is my wish to see that women are positioned to tap into the economy and overseas markets”.
In her submission, the President of Ethiopia: H.E Sahle-Work Zewde stated that the journey for women empowerment has been a long while, and the milestones are indeed uncountable but there is still more to overcome.
She also indicated that, for women there are so many ladders of opportunities hence we must be bold to climb them to increase our self-confidence.
In firm statement, H.E Sahle Work Zewde called on young women gathered at the retreat to stand on her shoulders to reach the top.
“I offer you all women and girls gathered here my shoulders, stand on them to reach your goal. Don’t be afraid. Dare. Not taking advantage of this, is worse than you climbing the ladder by yourself. You can do it!
Statistics show that women in Africa face disproportionate barriers to financial access and sustainability and more must be done to narrow the gap and aid in the eradication of poverty and existing inequalities.
However, as preceded, viable collective efforts by leaders and other critical actors at decision-making levels are needed to mobilize the financial literacy of women and girls, credit advances, and management of funds.
It has been demonstrated over the years that financially knowledgeable women generally make better financial judgments and more objective assessments of their creditworthiness.
The Deputy Chairperson of the African Union, H.E Monique Nsanzabaganwa cited the Women and Youth financial and economic inclusion initiative which she co-launched with the President of Ghana, H.E Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo-Addo to bridge the financial gap amongst African women and youth.
She called on more support to accelerate this initiative in all African Counties.
“Our continent needs initiatives such as AWLN. A network that seeks to nurture and consolidate women’s participation in decision making process and augment the financial and economic inclusion of women its cornerstone”, she commended.
Some key calls to actions to accelerate women leadership in Africa were to:
- Create a chain of solidarity between women, including young women, women entrepreneurs, vulnerable groups by implementing the AWLN mentorship initiative and programs, and providing in-person and virtual mentoring to inspire and guide young leaders;
- Strengthen action for Women economic empowerment through the inclusion of a gender perspective in national, regional and continental policies and programs;
- Reinforce existing women and youth financial and economic empowerment initiatives at national, regional and international levels and strengthen coordination;
- Train women and young women on trade agreements (COMESA, AfCFTA, etc.), on compliance on regulatory requirements, branding, product standardization, and value addition on their raw materials and build their capacity, particularly in digital technology to support women’s access to e-commerce and information on trade and financial instruments;
- Ensure that investors and financial institutions, such as the Standard Bank and the Mastercard Foundation, facilitate access to information and credit for women and young women by disseminating information at all levels;
- Build Development centers and business incubators to train young women entrepreneurs and small and medium-sized enterprise managers in key tools to access the national, regional and international markets and invest in financing innovation to ensure their growth and market position;
- Strengthen ongoing efforts to combat sexual and gender-based violence and reaffirm the protection of women’s rights by combating discrimination against women traders, particularly in informal cross-border trade, including putting in place corporate women traders;
- Seize the opportunities offered by the African Continental Free Trade Area, a flagship project of Agenda 2063, to not only increase intra-African trade flows, but also to lift African people out of poverty by providing an enabling environment for increased incomes and access to resources on an economically integrated continent;
- Expand opportunities for young women to pursue their leadership ambitions, including documenting and disseminating the experiences of the senior women leaders, and facilitating co-leadership and co-mentorship;
- Set aside a special session at the next AU Heads of State Summit to discuss and propose a clear agenda with a focus on financial and economic inclusion of women, including young women;
- And finally, Ensure the implementation of these actions at the local, national, continental, and global levels, and incorporate them into annual Action Plans and monitor, evaluate and report at the 2023 IGR.
On behalf of young women gathered, the Africa union Youth envoy thanked the leaders and pioneers for creating the path and holding young women hands through it.
“What a time to be alive!!!! When I look in this room, I see faces of resilience, women who have gone before us and paved the way, women who will come after us and have somewhere to start from in building an enabled environment and empowered future generation because of the decisions that have been made by the wonderful people in this room. Ladies, mothers, and sisters. The future of Africa is in our hands.
The Africa Women Leaders Network has held the first, second and third Intergenerational retreat in August 2019, December 2020 and November 2021 under the patronage of the former President of Kenya, H.E. Mr. Uhuru Kenyatta and the Former President of the Republic of Liberia and Patron of AWLN, H.E. Ms. Ellen Johnson Sirleaf.
Strong commitments were made to continue to intentionally unite the leaders of the Network- young and senior women leaders, to be more inclusive in all aspects of leadership and build a sustainable, innovative and cross-generational mentorship structure.
This year, the Retreat gathered key speakers from the public, private and diplomatic circle, including: Mr Zlatan Milisic, UN Resident Coordinator, United Republic of Tanzania Amani Afour, President of African Business council, Ms Lindeka Dzedze, Head of Global Strategy, Standard Bank and over 60 young women from different AWLN National chapters.