Call to Conserve the Environment for Future Generations
31 May 2000
by Tinashe Madava
Five years after the Fourth World Conference on Women in Beijing, China, women in southern
Africa are intensifying their struggle for economic recognition as they seek to tackle the root
causes of gender inequality.
Opportunities for southern African women to diversify their economic roles beyond
semi-subsistence food production, casual employment and small-scale marketing have not been
readily available. Historically, low levels of educational attainment have provided the
background to limited female involvement in formal sector job markets. But for the few who
have been accorded the opportunity, they have proved to be as competent as their male
counterparts, both in business and management.
During the preparations for the Beijing Conference, as well as afterwards, many Southern
African Development Community (SADC) states undertook initiatives to bridge gender
inequalities in economic structures and policies in all forms of productive activities.
However, within the region, efforts to mainstream gender into development strategies and
activities have yet to make wide impact.
“Women are in the majority in Africa, slightly above 52 percent, yet they are in the minority
when it comes to meaningful participation in the economic development of the national
economies,” according to the SADC Gender Programme Report 2000.
Although women’s economic concerns are increasing in the region, their economic status has not
improved. Women are employed in lower status and lower-paying jobs due to lack of confidence
by males with regard to female skills, expertise and abilities to manage.
However, women play key roles in the economies of all SADC member states. According to Beyond
Inequalities Women in Southern Africa, a forthcoming book by the Women in Development Southern
Africa Awareness (WIDSAA) project, statistical data indicate that in Zambia, women contribute
80 percent of the labour force in food crop production, more than 50 percent in cash crop
production and 95 percent to household and family maintenance. The trend is similar to the
other southern African countries.
However, the majority of these women lack access to, ownership and control over productive
Having realised the problems faced by women, the SADC Gender Department through governments,
has initiated training programmes throughout the region, to enable women to acquire the skills
and expertise needed to start income-generating projects.
In Mauritius for example, a women’s entrepreneurship unit was established to provide support
and guidance to women and to respond to their needs. Mauritius is also in the process of
starting a micro credit programme, to help poor women set up businesses.
Initiatives in Zambia include the Small Industries Development Organisation (SIDO), the Small
Enterprise Promotion (SEP) and Village Industries Services (VIS), which are government
initiatives supporting micro enterprises.
Similar programmes have also been established by other countries such as Swaziland, Malawi and
Women in Business organisations also play a major role in the economic empowerment of women.
The last decade has seen the emergence of a number of women organisations in the region.
The main purpose of these organisations is to foster entrepreneurial activities among women
such as lobbying and advocacy for an enabling business environment and training for business
For these organizations to succeed, members need to make sacrifices and make extra efforts.
“It appears that many members do not fully realise that each organisation needs their efforts
and devotion in order for it to grow, thrive and render service to them,” says Lydia
Kellogetswe of the Women in Business Association in Botswana.
It was through such organisations that women entrepreneurs in the region realised the
necessity of working together and formed a network called the Women In Business-SADC Network
The WIB-SADC Network is a concept which was started by Women in Business and Skills Development
from Zimbabwe and adopted in 1996 by WIB organisations within the SADC region.
The main purpose of the network is to ensure economic empowerment of women in business in
order to alleviate poverty through productivity.
“Lamenting about marginalisation of women and demanding equal opportunities does not help.
Women should design programmes and activities that will lead to creating equal opportunities
and meaningful participation in national economic development,” says Phides Mazhawidza,
It was during the third WIB-Network conference that the idea to host the first-ever
gender-focused Investment Forum was adopted. Delegates elected Namibia to host the fair and
President Sam Nujoma was elected as the Patron.
The trade fair which took place from 3-5 May 2000 and was attended by 240 exhibitors from
southern Africa, “was a demonstration of breaking the isolation of small-scale women producers
by giving their products commercial exposure and providing a forum for discussion on
constraints faced by women in the informal sector,” said Mazhawidza. Women, who are often
denied commercial access, demonstrated through their produce that there can be no sustainable
development if they are isolated from key economic activities.
The fair focused on small and medium-scale women entrepreneurs. Products exhibited included
textile and clothing, crafts and arts, building materials, hair and skin products, processed
food and many others.
The organisers of the fair realised that women in the region do not know the products and raw
materials available within the SADC region and Africa. As a result they source goods from
elsewhere, creating employment outside Africa.
“The Trade Fair aimed at ensuring economic empowerment of SADC women through creation of
opportunities for women in business to identify new markets and products within the region,
” said Ndeshi Kukuri, secretary general for WIB-SADC Fair.
A number of women during the fair got orders from international companies to export their
The Trade Fair was also used to share ideas and experiences on exploitation and utilisation of
local raw materials. One such fine example was the use of the Marula fruit in the production
of the popular Amarula liqueur.
But women in Namibia showed other uses for the Marula: “other women where the fruit is grown
can have a chance to learn how soap and skin oil is made, so that they can venture into the
same business,” said Mazhawidza.
In his opening speech to the fair, Namibia’s President Sam Nujoma, patron of WIB-SADC,
heralded women entrepreneurs from the region for their commitment to economic emancipation.
He said there is a need to change the world’s perception of women entrepreneurs as more than
informal traders and traditional business operators.
He further encouraged women to “stand-up and be counted, by operating meaningful businesses
and expose yourselves to business management skills and trade information.”
The trade fair is going to be a bi-annual event and Malawi has already submitted its bid to
host the next event. (SARDC)