ADDIS ABABA, Ethiopia (ILO Online) – The Amhara Women’s Entrepreneurs’ Association (AWEA) has come a long way since its founding less than a decade ago. At the start, 60 women entrepreneurs struggled with poor communication services, unreliable transportation and other impediments to their ability to meet.
Today, AWEA has grown to some 3,000 paying members who rely on fully-equipped branch offices in four cities in order to coordinate the complex activities of what has become a member-driven association. In March, they will organize an Awards Night to honor women entrepreneurs for their achievements and encourage others to follow suit.
“I think this is fantastic, it just proves to us that what we did was right (and) our effort is recognized”, says Frealem Shibabaw, former President of AWEA, speaking about the trials and tribulations of AWEA during the Interregional Symposium on the Informal Economy that took place at the International Labour Office last November.
March is, in fact, an important month for AWEA. It will organize a National Women Business Network (NWBN) together with a big trade fair to be held in Adama city. The high-level event together with the one-week bazaar, scheduled to open on March 8 – International Women’s Day, will involve government ministers, and attract women from different regions of the country to exchange information through symposiums and discussions and present their products in order to better take advantage of the local market. The NWBN is a legal entity acknowledged by the Ethiopian government and it was initiated by AWEA in 2007, when the first national event took place.
The ILO provided technical and financial support for AWEA through its Women’s Entrepreneurship Development and Gender Equality (WEDGE) Programme. And for the Addis Ababa Women Entrepreneurs Association (AAWEA), such events prove to be productive, as the wide publicity generated can help women overcome one of their biggest hurdles, access to finance.
“This award is very gratifying. While I was striving to become a successful business woman someone noticed, appreciated and awarded my success”, says Meseret Belihu, a hotel owner and one of the past winners of the award.
The Ethiopian entrepreneur attributes success to her entrepreneurial experience and business instinct. “This award is proof that our customers are happy with our services. It encourages me to carry on. It also pushes me to provide even better services to my customers”, she says.
The Month of Women Entrepreneurs in Ethiopia also promotes experience sharing and assistance to future women entrepreneurs. At the same time, it strengthens the capacity of the associations of women entrepreneurs to provide more and better services to their members.
For the Addis Ababa Women Entrepreneurs Association (AAWEA), the March events held in previous years turned out to be a great investment. The wide publicity ensured that some of the women were able to overcome one of their biggest hurdles, access to finance.
“Participants not only shared their experiences. After the event, women entrepreneurs received letters from banks and microfinance institutions offering them a loan”, explains Achamyelesh Ashenafi, President of AAWEA.
In the past, women entrepreneurs also exhibited their products at this trade fair, from cosmetics and food to handicrafts and souvenirs. Months after the fair ended, the members of the association were still reaping the benefits. For example, the local university awarded them a major contract allowing them to supply food for its students.
The trade fairs not only help women entrepreneurs to find new markets; “they also highlight the contribution of women entrepreneurs to the local economy and facilitate access to credit. They are an important element of ILO efforts to promote full economic and social empowerment for women in Ethiopia and other countries in Africa”, says Regina Amadi-Njoku, ILO Regional Director for Africa.
The ILO will mark International Women’s Day with a series of events around the globe. In Geneva, a major event will highlight the role of women in finance. The event will offer a unique opportunity to examine the economic empowerment of women and gender equality from various angles. Its focus also reflects the official theme of the 52nd session of the UN Commission on the Status of Women, “Financing for gender equality and the empowerment of women”.
The event at ILO headquarters in Geneva will comprise a panel discussion. Among the participating panellists will be women bankers and a trade union representative.