Press Release with Recommendations from the Women Entrepreneurship Forum 2019
On the 2nd August, Brisker Magazine with support from David Machinery Group, previously known as LonAgro South Sudan hosted the first Women Entrepreneurship Forum “dubbed WEFU2019” in Juba. The WEFU2019, is the first entrepreneurship boosting initiative that seeks to bring to light issues related to women entrepreneurship and empowerment, challenges and opportunities. The forum is organized to identify the countless effort of women-led organizations (NGOs and enterprises) and women entrepreneurs by empowering and improving lives of women and youth in the country.
Despite the country’s immerse humanitarian need, women entrepreneurship is on the rise. South Sudanese women are engaging in various business transactions from selling of beauty products, handcraft – bags and purse, traditional beads-made necklaces, earrings, bracelet, sandals, and sanitary pads, detergents and cosmetics to women and fashion wear. Couple to that several interventions have been made by women-founded and women-led organizations to empower lives of women in the country through provision of basic literacy programs, to technical skills training in areas of tailoring, agribusiness, food processing, handicraft, business skill & entrepreneurship trainings, and business micro-financing and finance management among others.
The event was attended by members from several women-led organizations; companies; entrepreneurs (women entrepreneurs dominating); Micro-finance institutions Sazduk Micro-Finance and Trust Micro-Finance that gives credit to women enterprises; EAC Commission Affairs; and Association of South Sudan Contracts (ASSOC). Representatives from United Nations, the Embassy of the Netherlands, South Sudan NGO Forum and British Council who emphasized on the need for women empowerment and their organizational programming in addressing the need and support for youth and women.
In her key note remark, Madam Jane Gordon Sworo the Executive Director of South Sudan Women Entrepreneur Association (SSWEA) and also representing women-led organizations stated that South Sudan women traders and entrepreneurs are faced with a lot of challenges in the climate of insecurity, drought and famine. “Women lack access to information that guide and protect them as they do trade, as a result, they end up paying high taxes most especially at the border as they import or cross-border their products from the neighboring countries.” She stressed that lacking access to information drag women in operating informal businesses making it hard for many to get loans to expand.
Shamillah Abdallah from the South Sudan NGO Forum says that youth and women need to utilize forums such as this to comprehensively bring their issues on the table; to sell out and to be informed. “I would encourage the young South Sudanese women to actually come out from the entrepreneurship that operates internally and go externally by displaying what we are producing as South Sudan within the country to the outside world.”
Talking on ‘the empowerment of women’ Roselyn Gama- Gender Policy Officer at the Embassy of the Netherlands said that her Embassy has been a long -time partner of the people of South Sudan over the last decades combining humanitarian assistance with long term development programs. The Embassy has been partnering with international organizations as well as UN agencies such as UNDP, WFP to mention but a few. With regard to youth employment, of course including for young women, the Embassy is partnering with UNDP on youth skills development through vocational training, entrepreneurship capacity development based on market assessment of the job and also providing an avenue for networking. With this intervention the youth are given an opportunity to come up with their own ideas, depending on the creativity or innovation which are then funded (Youth Challenge).
With regards to the private sector development, the Embassy of the Netherlands is the chair of the Juba donor group which is one of the few actors that contribute to highlighting the importance of private sector development in South Sudan. The group also looks into issues of integrating the regional economy by actively exploring opportunities in this field via the Trademark East Africa.
Mr. Malish Martin, the Chairman of the Association of South Sudan Contractors (ASSOC) urged South Sudan citizens to take led in the business and private sector. He further said, “The forum reflects that women are the minority players in entrepreneurship and the forum is to encourage women to come up. The other minority people are the South Sudan citizens in the business and private sector in their own country. As ASSOC our objective is to ensure that South Sudan citizens take led in the business and private sector”.
In an exclusive panel discussion, gender activists UN Representative, Jennifer Lugor (Women Advancement Organization – WAO) and woman entrepreneur Elizabeth Lawrence CEO and Managing Director of David Machinery Group embarked on some of the discriminatory cultural traditions and practices that should be loosen to promote equal rights for both men and women to participate actively in development. Some of the issues and setbacks for women entrepreneurship brought forward by the panelists are as follows;
- One of the most immediate policy that can support entrepreneurship growth in this country is in the agricultural sector. There should be a clear function policy on women access and ownership of land. Backyard subsistence farming is not sustainable for most women in business.
- Early marriage is one of the major setback for women and girls’ entrepreneurship growth. When a girl is married before the age of 14, she has been stopped from going to school, having access to information. How do we expect her to know the market condition to enable her produce efficiently, protect and grow a business? There is high need to encourage the government to have clear Age Limit Policy for Marriage not only written but being implemented and enforced to enable girls to go to school and being able to stand up and speak for themselves.
- Subordination of Women: Women have been reduced to a level of a property. The high dowry should be seen as a token of appreciation not as an exchange for a woman.
- At household level, women contribution should be valued. Women entrepreneurs should be responsible enough to gain trust of the families and most especially husband to enable them freedom of mobility as they do business. “Let the women be responsible that they are doing something for the well-being of their families and have values.
The gender activists also briefed the forum of their various organizational programs that empowers women. Entrepreneur Elizabeth Lawrence, being a woman in a male dominated machinery industry encourages the women entrepreneurs always believe in themselves that they are capable and can do what the men can do.
Recommendation from the Women Entrepreneurship Forum (WEFU2019)
The Women Entrepreneurship Forum is a first of its kind, a comprehensive initiative among other forums where women should and will be meeting frequently or annual to discuss issues that affects or hinder women entrepreneurship growth and participation in development. The recommendations made from the former Women Entrepreneurship Symposiums and the latter Women Entrepreneurship Forum (WEFU) are as follows;
- There is a high need for more advocacy for programs/projects, initiatives to support women empowerment and inclusivity in both the public and Private Sector Development.
- Age Limit Policy for Marriage –the government should be encouraged to come up with a clear and reinforce Age Limit Policy for Marriage to protect and enable the girl child to go to school and have access to information about their right, and well-being.
- There is a need for establishment of Women Trade Union that safeguard women traders most specially to address issues to formalize women business and the cross-borders.
- Women Entrepreneurship Training Center – a well-equipped facility or center that offers various skill-related and vocational training to women and youth. The center should be established at the states level to give equal chance to women and youth.
- Women Entrepreneurship Fund – a grant to boost women enterprises and to encourage and reward women entrepreneurs in the country.
- Women Bank – a tailored financial (bank or microfinance) institution that financial services and subsidized interest rates to make cheaper women entrepreneurs to grow their enterprises and organizations.