United Nations (UN) Women Ethiopia Hosts the Annual Women’s Economic Empowerment Forum, 2023

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UN Women Ethiopia organized the Annual Women’s Economic Empowerment Forum ’NWEEF’ under the theme “Innovation and Technology to Enhance Women’s Economic Empowerment”. The event took place in Addis Ababa, in May 2023, for the second time after its launching on April 2022. The forum brought together 190 participants of comprising 133 female and 57 male including high-level government delegates from ministries and other sector offices, development partners, UN Agencies, Civil Society Organizations (CSOs), Financial Institutions, and other stakeholders working on women’s economic empowerment. This year’s national WEE forum was focused on increasing women’s access to innovative financial and non-financial services and resources as well as technologies in promoting their social and economic endeavors.

Delivering the keynote speech, Cecile Mukarubuga, UN Women Representative to Ethiopia said, “We need coordinated efforts to address the economic challenges facing women and young girls in Ethiopia. That’s why we established the Women Economic Empowerment Forum to share information and seek solutions.” The representative highlighted one of the key achievements of WEE Forum 2022: that UN Women, Ministry of Women and Social Affairs and partners were committed to promoting gender-responsive policies and programs that enhance women’s representation and decision-making in cooperatives.

In his keynote address, HE Mr. Nigussu Tilahun, State Minister of Jobs and Employment Affairs at Ministry of Labor and Skills emphasized the need to ensure financial inclusion, by providing women with access to finance and space to establish their businesses. “The patriarchal social norms have prevented women from thriving in the economy. It’s time to provide women with the finance and space they need to flourish. He further noted that even if unemployment for women is high, the women are not coming out to get registered well in the labor force data due to UCDW and related challenges. “Reducing the unpaid care burden on women requires innovative technologies and transformative research. Let’s invest in sustainable solutions that bring real change to women’s economic problems.” Said the State Minister.

HE Mrs. Alemitu Omot, State Minister of Ministry of Women and Social Affairs in her message highlighted that a large number of women are involved in micro and small businesses and they need to be supported to effectively participate in more profitable and sustainable business activities as key developmental actors. In order to enable their economic capacity to gradually improve, it is necessary to identify and solve the basic problems in terms of credit, interest, grace period and guarantee, as well as training, employment, market connection and technology supply, and encourage their efforts.

In her opening remarks, HE Dr. Ergogie Tesfaye, Minister for Women and Social Affairs pointed out that women in Ethiopia still struggle to access credit and are overrepresented in the informal economy, despite their reputation for timely loan repayment. The minister stressed the need to prioritize women’s economic empowerment and ensure that they have equal access to opportunities. “At the Women’s Economic Empowerment Forum, we will work with UN Women and other partners to identify barriers to women’s participation and advancement in the economy. If we empower women economically, we empower the society” Dr. Ergogie stated. She also called upon the active and committed action of all in realizing the tangible outcomes of the Forums.

Sinidu Fekadu, project expert from UN Women, shared key updates on the achievements of the Forum since its establishment in April 2022. She highlighted that the Forum has made its structure functional together with the Steering and Technical Committees; It was able to foster a network among pertinent stakeholders and support women in small businesses.

Bezawit Bekele, from MOWSA presented a Draft Gender Policy from Women’s Economic Empowerment Perspective. She highlighted that the draft policy has integrated elaborated principles and strategies that promote the realization of the economic empowerment of women.

As a side event, there was a  marketing exhibition where women in business had opportunities to bring and sell their products and establish network among themselves and the participants.

On the second day of the NWEE Forum, a research paper on “Gender Finance Gap and Women’s Economic Empowerment in Ethiopia” was presented by Ato Abdurahman Ibrahim. He highlighted the importance of integrating financial access for women with other non-financial services.

A panel discussion on women’s access to finance and digital financial technologies was conducted involving representatives from Banks, Micro-Finance Institutions, and CSOs. Panelists shared initiatives, opportunities and challenges in women’s access to finance, particularly digital financial technologies. They emphasized the need for strengthening partnerships among financial institutions, sector government offices, and CSOs. 

A research paper on ‘Policies and Practices Relating to Gender Responsive Information and Communication Technologies’ was presented by Gemechu Shale (PhD). The paper highlighted ICT is key to address the gap women have in accessing finances and improve their capacity in managing their businesses.

Ato Tages Mulugeta from Ministry of Trade and Regional Integration shared the progress and challenges of the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) from the WEE perspective. Ato Tages mentioned that developing a protocol on Women and Youth is in progress and called upon to further review the document from the gender perspective.

Ms. Suzan Okoh, Principal Officer from African Development Bank, East Africa shared their initiatives on increasing women’s access to finance and non-finance services through the program Affirmative Finance Action for Women in Africa (AFAWA). Additionally, World Bank Ethiopia shared the Lab initiative which pilot innovative interventions that are deemed to promote the economic empowerment of women.

A panel discussion focusing on policy and legal frameworks on women’s access to financial and non-financial services was conducted engaging representatives from government organizations, CSO, NGO and UN Agency. Gaps and opportunities in creating an enabling environment for women to access technologies were discussed.

Participants agreed on a way forward highlighting the need to conduct national consultation by key members of the NWEEF to review and refine  the draft protocol on the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) Initiative “Women and Youth Protocol” a priority. They also agreed that cascading the Forum at the regional level and organizing a working group engaging financial institutions and development partners to enable access to financial services by women a key consideration. Additionally, they outlined a plan to engage the National Bank of Ethiopia to develop directives that support financial institutions to provide gender-responsive services.

Source : African Business