Research has shown that, where women are income earners, between 70-90% of that income tends to go into the family welfare, a huge comparative difference with where men are the income earners. Women like Mama Margaret, who is more comfortable introducing herself by a single name, are in their thousands in small income generating activities across East Africa.
The problem for Mama Margaret has always been and continues to be, small investments, lack of access to loans because they are not property holders and access to markets. Margaret sells hand-crafted and woven household implements in Olgorien area, Arusha Municipality inside Arusha Town.
She says these combined challenges have maintained an unending circle where she has been unable to find a permanent home for her business so she remains on the roadside depending on passers-by. Mama Margaret confides that she does make sales but is certain she would do a lot better if she had a permanent base, access to funds to ensure she has large stocks and most importantly, she had access to the regional market as well as internationally.
To women in trade like Margaret, things are about to change. The change is coming through a joint initiative jointly funded by multi-lateral agencies that aim at not just empowering East African women, but also providing them with real support infrastructure including access to credit and markets, skills training and networking as well as celebrating women entrepreneurs in the region under the Women in Trade Platform championed by East Africa Business Council.
“The Women in Trade Platform is an initiative that is going to change the way we engage with women entrepreneurs in East Africa,” says Women in Trade Platform coordinator Ruth Kihiu in an interview at East Africa Business Council offices. “East African women are in trade and need access to funds.
They need skills building and they need access to markets not just regional markers in East Africa but access to markets in the Comesa and Sadec regions as well as access to international markets,” says Ms Kihiu. The case of Mama Margaret represents to a large extent the case of many women traders in East Africa.
“In the past initiatives targeting women ended at advocacy, and lobbying. These initiatives did not go beyond occasional training and engagement with policy makers and institutions. That is what we are working to change during this 3 years of the initiative by setting up exchange programmes, accessing markets and funds,” says Ms Kihiu.
Mama Margaret sells woven baskets, flower pots, fruit baskets, tables and seats, table mats, stands that can be used for crockery and shelves as well as fashionable baskets. “These things are attractive, biodegradable and washable. Lots of foreigners buy them as gifts and for use.
I am sure with better access to Uganda, Rwanda, Kenya and other countries we shall be able to sell to those markets. But we need to have enough capital to keep stock levels up the entire year running. By doing that we help the weavers and give everyone a chance to earn a decent living from their sweat,” she says. Such Women as Mama Margaret and Mama Godfrey are in their thousands if not millions in East Africa today.
They toil in order to feed their families. It matters not what sort of trade they are in to, as Mama Godfrey, in cross border commodity trade and as Mama Margaret in house hold pottery sales. What is important is, these women are changing traditional belief systems and only need some belief, training and financial assistance for them to completely change their families welfare.
The regional approach is part of the wider effort to change the lot of East African women considering that the challenges facing them are by and large, the same. Unfavourable land ownership challenges which deny them access credit, lack of financial incentives, poor access to markets among other challenges, all which the Women in Trade platform is addressing according to Ms Kihiu.
The East African woman must now align herself to groups that are benefitting from these activities The writer, a Media consultant, is the founder of Media Development Rights Agenda.
He can be reached on info@ mediagenda.net.