16 January 2019

Africa: Empowering women and youth in the new AfCFTA era crucial

Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, December 31, 2018 (ECA) – The Economic Commission for Africa's African Trade Policy Centre (ATPC) recently held a workshop to discuss how women and the youth can be empowered in the new African Continental Free Trade Agreement (AfCFTA) era.

The discussion, held under the theme; Empowering African women and youth in the new AfCFTA era – Making AfCFTA a reality for women and youth, addressed issues faced by women-led and young people-led businesses, notably Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises (MSMEs) in the context of the evolving trading environment.

Representatives of the African Union Commission (AUC), African Women's Entrepreneurship Program (AWEP), East African Women in Business Platform (EAWiBP), Federation of National Associations of Women in Business in Eastern and Southern Africa (FEMCOM) and Uhusiano Capital were on the panel that discussed the benefits that women and youth-led MSMEs can derive from the AfCFTA.

The panel agreed the AfCFTA was a game-changer that should benefit all on the continent, including women and the youth.

Panellists discussed various ways through which small businesses can be helped to overcome entry barriers in their respective markets. Organizations represented on the panel acknowledged that constituting networks, whether of women in business or young entrepreneurs, had proved to be a powerful catalyst to foster entrepreneurial initiatives and addressing initial challenges faced by women and young entrepreneurs when launching their businesses.

The networks have become the breeding ground of partnerships that helped small-scale operators to pool together resources and reach the critical, operational size to penetrate the market.

Thus, a strong recommendation was made for project holders to cooperate and pool together resources to mutualize the costs associated with necessary professional services such as legal, accounting or communication advice. These partnerships have been particularly useful to alleviate the limitations of nascent businesses.

The panel, however, recognized that the creation of a conducive policy and legal environment was a crucial condition for the economic empowerment of women and young people. In this light, Member States were requested to take the necessary steps to facilitate business for MSMEs and take responsibility to support the entrepreneurial initiative.

The discussion also addressed the issue of the skills needed for entrepreneurs to enter the market. Participants and panellists buttressed the need to ensure the marketability of the skills of young professionals. For this purpose, they said, curricula must be revisited to integrate the evolving needs of the labour market, including the use of new technologies and entrepreneurial skills.

From there, the business opportunities created by an enlarged market such as the AfCFTA will emerge, provided that appropriate accompaniment is available to disseminate the necessary knowledge to export.

Participants also discussed the need for mentorship programs to assist start-ups; diaspora contribution to the networks; financial support for start-ups, with the Africa Union Commission revealing it will in January 2019 launch a women's business fund to support female entrepreneurs on the continent.

The workshop was one of the ECA's side meetings held at the inaugural Intra-African Trade Fair that was held in Cairo, Egypt this month.

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