Investment Climate in Ethiopia: ነጋዴ ሴቶች – recap

Ethiopian Women Entrepreneurs Association (EWEA)
200,000 members and Growing

“35% of women in Ethiopia engage in some kind of trade”

On June 6, Engdaye Eshete and Tsige Girma both entrepreneurs at heart and President of Ethiopian Women Entrepreneurs Association and d Amhara Women Entrepreneurs Association respectively dominated the night with their knowledge, wit, humor and real life experience.

According to Engdaye, the journey of Ethiopian women association started in 2005 when Amhara, South and Oromia Regions women entrepreneurs came together to form a network to have a platform to share experience.  From the get go, the network was challenged by the new Charities and societies law (proclamation 621) when it came into effect, the network to change into EWEA in 2012. This created an opportunity for the leaders to expand their members adding additional 7 regional and 2 federal cities women associations increasing membership base and reach.

With an aim in having a united voice to escalate issues affecting women entrepreneurs, a strong lobbying force to influence decision makers and a commitment in fighting unfair rules and regulations or practices, the associations over the years have been empowering women all over the country.

“After changing from Network into an association over coming different bureaucratic hurdles, the association conducted a study on microfinance and micro insurance to start thee services for women traders and entrepreneurs to enable them to have access to finance to start or build a business. Again, laws put in place were against us. We were informed by the national Bank t as an association we don’t have the mandate to do this. What did we do, we started a saving and credit scheme. Women used their own resources to save and support each other. From the start the rules, regulations and laws seem to be put in place to discourage women. But, we know we are stronger than anything and every step of the way the association is challenging the norm and finding ways to strive forward,” said Engdaye.

EWE as its mission works on policies through engaging the parliament, Ministry of Trade and Industry, and Ethiopian Customs and Revenue Authority. Currently it is working with 8 minister offices to raise awareness on proclamation 341/95 on the establishment of different trade and related associations, which completely leaves out women. While all proclamation is written in the male reference, there is always a line stating it does apply to women. In this particular case, under proclamation 341/95, there is no mention of the proclamation applying to women. According to both Engdaye and Tsige, this proclamation not explicitly stating it does also apply to women is for example restricting women from accessing land to sell their products or organizing a trade fair. Only men or their association can do this at the moment.

“There are 64,000 registered job creating and tax paying women Entrepreneurs in Addis Ababa”

The association have conducted 5 different studies to highlight the issues and have presented the case to different government officials to revise proclamation341/95 restricting women entrepreneur right. According to Tsige, one only needs to see the Amhara region women entrepreneur’s association to know how a supportive government structure can enable women entrepreneurs to flourish. The association having been supported by the late Deputy regional president was able to overcome the restrictions on Proclamation 341/95 and have access to land to construct office building at the center of the regional town to be used by women to sell their products. In addition, freedom to associate and access different resources including funding from Swedish international development Agency (SIDA) for 10 years helped to expand the associations reach in the region. Currently the regional associations which was established by 60 women has 4 offices in the major cities of the region with more than 250 women local entrepreneur’s association as members. The Regional association is funded by the contributions of its members and has developed a 15 years’ strategic plan aiming to be a major agenda setter and influencer in Africa through dominating the market and strong networking. From the 415,000 entrepreneurs registered in the Amhara region, 135,000 are women.

“Currently Oromia Women Entrepreneurs Association has 35 branches while South Southern Nations and Nationalities Women Entrepreneurs Association has 65”

The followings challenges were Highlighted by the panelist as daily struggles to overcome

  • Fathers and husbands requesting the women to not participate in any activities outside their homes. This include meetings, trainings, overnight trips and so on
  • Husbands ordering their wives to stop engaging in association activities (withdrew membership)
  • Due to cultural views like a woman’s place being a housewife taking care of her family, society not supporting women empowerment or any income generating activity
  • Challenge at household level and even in government offices in accepting a woman as an equal partner, a leader or decision maker.
  • Challenging the woman’s vision or plan and through different mechanism restricting her from accessing resources needed to build her business

“The power of association, patience and willingness to negotiate our space has enabled us to overcome most challenges. Supporting each other, sharing information, lobbying to get support from government offices and sharing the fruits of our success with our family and society has enabled women to progress forward. For example, woman who are well off chose to save money so their sisters with lower income can have credit access to expand their business. In Fogera, women only used to be petty traders selling onions. After we trained them and organized them into an association, now they are exporting onions and have a 25million birr capital. In Amhara region our presence has increase from 30 cities to ninety as women have seen the benefit of association. When they see a woman working hard to change her life and how she is able to improve her family life, our membership numbers increased. No woman wants to live in poverty or in a household with no say,” said Tsige. She added “We have a long way to go and for that we need to be united in the fight to access what is rightly ours. We need to pull each other up and find ways to engage men as we also need them to bring about the needed change for equality.

“If all the Cobwebs chose to be united, they can tie down a lion “

Amharic proverb

Under the umbrella leadership of EWEA, all regional and city women entrepreneurship associations develop yearly plans and budget to support their member associations. Organizing and giving different trainings in partnership with government, privet sector and non-government organization is what they mainly do. In addition, lobbying to have access for women entrepreneurs  a spaces to produce and sell their products, creating market linkage, mediating conflicts when they arise at household level , engaging men to support their wives or sisters or even the association , through different public relation activities or events creating opportunities to influence local decision makers to create favorable working conditions for women and as one strong association based on researched results bringing to the attention of higher officials proclamations like 341/95 which limit the rights of the women to be revised.

EWEA was established in August 2012 as an umbrella organization that included regional women entrepreneurs’ association.  The association currently has a membership of more than 200,000 women entrepreneurs all over Ethiopia. EWEA is active in regions including Amhara, Oromia, Tigray and Southern Nations and Nationalities as well as Adama, Diredawa, Harari region, Afar region, Somali regional and Benshangul, Addis Ababa. The association includes memberships from the Ethiopian Women Exporters Association and Women with Disabilities.

With a promise to come together to celebrate when proclamation 341/95 gets revised, the event was closed with a Thank you note from Engdaye for AWIB taking the lead in bringing together women associations to share experiences.

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