The Zimbabwe International Trade Fair (ZITF) presents women a platform to explore regional markets and establish partnerships that support their growth.
As the curtains came down on the trade showcase, women should be going back to their drawing boards and planning on how they will come back bigger and better next year to sell their business to the world.
The opportunities presented by the trade showcase are in line with the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) which came into life this year.
The National Development Strategy 1 (NDS1) recognises that women’s full and equal participation in the country’s economy is a vital step towards achieving sustainable development, and therefore, in line with this, women must make inroads and make use of opportunities presented to them so that they flourish.
Trade and business has now required businesses to embrace the new normal, therefore women do not have to wait for the next year’s edition of the trade fair but can use digital platforms to take their businesses to the world.
Women Affairs, Community and Small to Medium Enterprises Development Minister, Dr Sithembiso Nyoni, has called on budding entrepreneurs to embrace digital marketing platforms and venture into exports to help boost economic revival.
Digital platforms continue dominating marketing spaces in the wake of Covid-19, which crippled many businesses that were dependent on physical buying and selling, she said.
SMEs have become the foundation of economic growth in Zimbabwe and are estimated to be contributing more than 76 percent of total employment and 60 percent to the Gross Domestic Product (GDP), according to official estimates.
Women make up a significant portion of the SMEs sector and such opportunities should help grow them and their different trades.
However, despite the important role SMEs play in the economy, the sector is still constrained by challenges in accessing finance, workspace, markets, technology, business know-how and multiple levies.
These have been worsened by the effects of Covid-19, which have restricted normal business activities in order to reduce transmission of the disease in the workplaces. As a result, exports from this sector are still below potential.
Speaking during the ZITF SMEs Workshop in Bulawayo, Dr Nyoni said digital marketing has become an important strategy to promote the development and growth of SMEs.
In a speech read on her behalf by Deputy Minister, Jennifer Mhlanga, Dr Nyoni said digital platforms were cost-effective as they offer the ability of reaching more customers for less money than traditional marketing methods.
“Government recognises the critical role played by SMEs in addressing the issues of poverty reduction, job creation and income generation. Achieving global competitiveness by SMEs is attainable if enterprises support architecture that is well structured,” said Dr Nyoni.
“Studies have shown that while SMEs and co-operatives account for well over half of industrial production even in developing countries, including our beautiful motherland Zimbabwe, their share of exports is generally much lower.”
She said Zimbabwe has abundant natural resources being exported in their unprocessed form. The minister said SMEs should, therefore, embrace value addition and beneficiation and export value added products to earn more foreign currency for the country.
Women in Zimbabwe can make use of the ZITF showcase to ensure that they benefit from the AfCFTA, as there is so much talk already about how it presents opportunities for Africa’s growth.
Little has been said about the implications of AfCFTA on men and women, bringing the need to look at it from a gendered lens.
The ZITF is a good platform to ensure that traders and SMEs who come to exhibit are taught about regional and international markets as well as formalising business, so that they get to enjoy the benefits of AfCFTA.
As the minister highlighted, it is very important to encourage small business to exploit digital technologies so that they reach out to a bigger pool of clients and open new opportunities for their businesses.
Changes in trade patterns and volumes owing to change in trade policies have a varying impact on men and women.
It is also important to highlight that the trade effects on women themselves also vary as they are not a homogenous group.
Women play multiple roles in economies as tax payers, traders, producers, workers and as providers of care for the entire labour force.
The AfCFTA presents expanded markets and it is through trade liberalisation that opportunities will be created for women to integrate into global supply chains including high value chains across different industries.
The Covid-19 pandemic has exposed the fragility of our food systems and is threatening food security. This therefore calls for policy makers to address the existing gender inequalities within the agricultural sector and avert a looming food crisis. AfCFTA presents opportunities to engage women in agriculture to ensure that no nation or family goes hungry despite the raging pandemic.
The AfCFTA must not just be looked at as a trade agreement and something for corporates and industry; it must be viewed as an instrument for development intended to lift 100 million Africans out of poverty by 2035.
However, policy makers should make it their mandate to ensure that they use platforms such as the ZITF to reach out to a bigger pool of women in business and ensure that there are enough workshops to share knowledge and ensure that women know what they should do to benefit from such.
Of note at this edition of the ZITF was the presence of the Young Women for Economic Development (YW4ED) which was recently launched and has been engaging young women in business.
YW4ED at a meeting held recently was emphasizing the need and importance for women to formalise their businesses so that they fully participate in the economy and are able to get loans and other benefits that come with formalising their enterprises.
The AfCFTA presents immense opportunities to tap into the talents of young Africans and women to ensure inclusive benefits.
To ensure its success as one of the greatest developments of the 21st century on the continent, the AfCFTA must be inclusive in design and implementation.
Women and youth are key stakeholders in Africa’s economic development. The informal sector accounts for an estimated 85 percent of Africa’s total economic activity, with women accounting for 90 percent of the labour force in the informal sector and 70 percent of informal traders.
Women are already actively involved in intra-Africa trade. For decades, Zimbabwean women have been travelling to countries such as South Africa, Botswana, Ghana, Zambia, Malawi Mozambique and others to sell wares from Zimbabwe such as handmade crafts and ornaments, decorative pieces such as doilies (amadoyili) and even amacimbi. From these African countries, Zimbabwean women have been bringing wares for resale such as spices, herbal remedies, pots, cutlery, linen, curtains, clothes, as well as cosmetics.
The current level of intra-trade on the continent stands at 18 percent and this means that African nations are trading more with other continents than within the continent, which is a downside and the resources should be circulating within and developing the continent.
While the mantra is on intra-trade, it is inevitable that Africa will still continue to outsource some wares that are not locally available and some people in business will continue going outside of Africa to import wares for resale.
Women must also be empowered to access virtual markets and to participate in e-commerce.
They must understand the needs of other African markets to ensure that their products and services are better tailored to consumers in the respective countries.
Women must also be empowered to understand and make use of the power of strategic partnerships so as to maximise on the potential of their business ventures. This will make it easier for them to access foreign markets as these partnerships will facilitate that.
Zimbabwean women and youths have always been assertive, Zimbabweans are known far and wide on the continent to be hard workers and to be business minded. They have made inroads to various parts of Africa as traders as well as professionals in various fields.
It is important to ensure that we recognise the works done by women and their contributions to the business sector and the economy, and it is more important to ensure that they get the support they need so that they reach their full potential. Let the ZITF be their launch pad, where they get the courage expertise as well as necessary linkage and partnerships to flourish. — @andile_tshuma.