One year on from the declaration of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa’s (COMESA) deepest concern has been that women-led businesses have been strongly affected, underlying a stark economic reality for women businesses in Africa.
In a study carried out by the International Trade Center, 64% of women-led firms declared their business operations as strongly affected, compared with 52% of men-led companies. More than 90% of women entrepreneurs reported a decrease in sales during the pandemic and have less cash flow to survive and sustain their businesses, according to another survey from WEConnect International.
To support women’s businesses, aid their post-COVID-19 recovery, and close the $42 billion financing gap for African women across business value chains, COMESA has provided the 50 Million African Women Speak Platform (50MAWSP), which is accessible at www.womenconnect.org or as an app on the Google Play and Apple stores.
“The 50 Million African Women Speak platform is a practical solution to help women in the region to start afresh, or, to simply start,” said COMESA Secretary General Chileshe Mpundu Kapwepwe.
She added: “Women can use the platform to access tools for business training, mentorship and financial products. They can engage each other across the continent, especially during this pandemic where they need to trade digitally.”
“50 Million platform is [going] to help me expand my market,” said Shuwena Salim, an entrepreneur from Zanzibar who has been exporting her products to mainland Tanzania, Kenya and Burundi.
To popularise the platform, COMESA has launched the ’30 Days of Women in Business’ campaign to celebrate women entrepreneurs in the region and offer them an opportunity to connect with their role models using the 50 Million African Women Speak platform.
Building back better economies in COMESA Member States post-COVID-19 demands choosing to challenge gender stereotypes and biases. Ensuring women’s full economic empowerment through platforms such as the 50MAWSP is crucial to increase productivity levels, enhance economic efficiency, and improve overall development outcomes to achieve inclusive growth. Women can play a key role in building African economies better post-COVID-19 if they are connected, networked and empowered.