The Second African Women’s Economic Summit ended on 14 July with a unanimous commitment by hundreds of entrepreneurs and professional women to campaign vigorously for the economic empowerment of their gender as the surest means to banish poverty and achieve sustainable economic growth.
“It has been great these past three days. I will not miss the next meeting. I want to see a change in my lifetime”, said Cecilia Akintomide, Vice President and Secretary-General of the African Development Bank (AfDB), which jointly organized the event with New Face, New Voices, a women’s network founded by Mozambique’s first lady, Graça Machel.
“I don’t want my daughters to be in the same kind of summit in the coming years discussing the same issues,” said Ms. Akintomide, who represented the AfDB president, Donald Kaberuka, at the summit which took place between 12 and 14 July.
Businesswomen including chief executive officers, bankers, industrialists and entrepreneurs, together with gender activists and top government officials, urged policy makers, corporate organisations and political leaders to step up measures to promote women empowerment and remove barriers impeding their development.
Earlier, Nigeria’s finance minister, Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, set the tone of the meeting In a keynote address emphasizing that women’s economic empowerment was no longer simply an option because investing in women, who constitute half of the continent’s population, was the only way to sustain the growth recorded across the continent at this times.
“Women are the third largest emerging markets in the globe. Women are the third largest source of growth. One of the fastest ways to sustain current growth is to invest in women,” said Mrs Okonjo-Iweala, who was a candidate in the recent election for World Bank president.
She suggested that a specialized bank be established to cater for the financial interests of women, who do not have access to investment finance for a host of reasons.
Also addressing the gathering, New Faces, New Voices executive director, Nomsa Daniels, said the organisation would focus its attention over the next two years on developing a database on women’s participation in entrepreneurship, financing and the economy.
She said the group, which currently has chapters in 16 countries, would also organise capacity building programmes, financial education and enlightenment courses for women.
New Faces New Voices Advisor and former AfDB chief operating officer, Nkosana Moyo, explained that finding ways of empowering women with quality health, education and finance was of the utmost importance. “Women are actually a huge market segment and the most essential tool we need for the development of the continent. So we need to develop financial products that can help to fully utilize their potential”, he said.
“We should recreate a society in which women are regarded as equals and not playing second-fiddle to men”, stressed Mr Moyo.
The gathering explored new perspectives on how best to harness the potentials of women for the development of the continent.
In a video message, Mrs Machel said the Lagos summit would unlock the value that is inherent in the female economy in order for women to take their rightful place as equal partners in tackling Africa’s development challenges.
“We see this as an opportunity to engage with decision makers in the financial sector – policy makers, regulators, commercial banks and prominent women entrepreneurs to find ways to accelerate the inclusion of women in Africa’s growth story. We are not only looking at increase in numbers of women but also of their inclusion in key decision-makings positions and higher responsibilities,” she stressed.
The AfDB President, Donald Kaberuka, also sent a message reiterating the AfDB’s commitment to continue to partner the African Women’s Economic Summit in its efforts to scale up women’s participation in the economic development of the continent.
Mr Kaberuka explained that women have always played a pivotal role in the socio-economic development of Africa. As farmers, entrepreneurs, traders and innovators, they are key economic actors in the continent, he said, adding: “I believe, strongly believe, investing in women differently is essential to revitalize our economies.”
The summit received more than two dozen pledges of various kinds of support including providing education and training to its members, logistics to support new chapters, knowledge production and dissemination, and funding.