Economic empowerment of women remains an uphill task for many countries, where in most cases wealth is in the hands of a few, mostly men.
It’s a known fact that most women are involved in low-paying jobs. Women remain side-lined in the area of economics, which directly translates to their marginalisation as well as failure to fulfil their social, cultural and political rights.
The world marked the beginning of 16 days of activism on November 25 to intensify voices around gender-based violence (GBV) and promote peace in homes, communities and the nation. All this is to ensure the development of nations.
Women are often excluded in decision-making and yet they constitute 52% of the population. How do we expect a nation to thrive when more than half of the population is left out? Women have the capacity to contribute towards livelihoods, economic growth and wealth creation.
Opportunities like micro finance come to mind for women’s development. These enable them to create wealth for their families and livelihoods. There are hindrances though, but development partners like Kunzwana Women’s Association have been working over the years to ensure that women are financially empowered.
Kunzwana Women’s Association recently convened a high-level conference in Harare which brought together executives from the banking sector, micro-finance institutions, women organisations, senior government officials and private sector organisations. The aim of the meeting was to deliberate on the mechanisms and strategies that help improve financing for rural women entrepreneurs.
The conference, which was supported by development partners like UN Women, was premised on the realisation that inclusive finance at affordable costs to sections of disadvantaged and low-income segments of society is a key enabler to reducing poverty, boosting prosperity while achieving gender equality. Rural women in Zimbabwe have become significant entrepreneurs, operating wide-ranging business entities and activities as individuals, in partnership with family members or in group networks and clubs.
At least 60% of women in Zimbabwe are involved in informal business and this includes rural women. Observations at trading venues, market fairs, agricultural shows and Zimbabwe International Trade Fairs, where rural women have been sponsored to participate, indicate that rural women are innovative and creative. They are capable of producing world-class and sellable products, contributing to GDP and can make savings needed to overcome liquidity challenges, only if mechanisms and support is provided to them.
Typical problems of rural women in Zimbabwe as stated by Emmie Wade, executive director of Kunzwana Women’s Association have been that they do not have access to finance. They do not have the capacity to engage with financial service providers and are operating illegal informal businesses, subjecting themselves to police harassment and confiscations.
Rural women wish to access finance in order to grow their businesses, diversify, up-scale and incorporate value addition as stated in the Zim-Asset framework document. They need to be capacitated in financial literacy and legal information required for them to access finance from financial institutions.
Banks and financial institutions have not incorporated financial products suitable for rural women entrepreneurs.
Requirements to open bank accounts such as title deeds or land tenure further marginalise rural women from participating in the banking sector. Complex application processes, use of technology such as ATMs and unaffordable loan repayments continue to mystify access to finance by rural women.
They are also confronted with long distances to markets, the remote locations of their businesses, ethnic/language barriers and lack of numeracy skills. It is known that rural women often challenge the hierarchical nature of the civil service and excessive bureaucracy that prevents them from registering their business entities.
A spatial inclusive approach by banks realises economies of scale and enhances business, should rural women be fasttracked to join the financial sector. The majority of rural women make use of easily available natural resources for their business, yet lack an understanding of the intrinsic value of their products. Several non-governmental organisations have dedicated their energies and mandates to empowering rural women with skills such as accounting and others required for their trade but, these are often limited because of resources availability.
Zimbabwe is applauded for having structures that include traditional leaders such as chief council president Fortune Charumbira who made it clear that banks should tap into existing traditional structures to ensure women are supported financially.
It was encouraging to hear commitments from financial authorities and players such as Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe deputy governor Charity Dhliwayo who said that rolling out of a new strategy on financial inclusion was imminent.
It is imperative and urgent for the government to realise that to end poverty in Zimbabwe, there are urgent reforms that need to take place, including ensuring infrastructure that supports women’s trade and access to the markets. Financial institutions need to urgently design products for the women who are the majority of their customers. .
*Special thanks to Kunzwana Women for contributing to this article.
Nyaradzo “Nyari” Mashayamombe is the founder & executive director of Tag a Life International Trust (TaLI), a girl child rights organisation. She is a development consultant, entrepreneur and musician. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org. Visit: www.nyarimashayamombe.com