The plight of women across Africa remains an issue that needs more attention, which led to former first lady Graca Machel setting up a Pan-African institution that acts as a vocal tool and an effective advocate for women's and children's rights.
The vision and mission of the organisation is to nurture caring societies that value social justice and movement.
Moreover, the aim is to promote women's contributions and leadership in the economic and social development in Africa; through the Women’s Economic and Social Advancement (WESA) Programme.
As the world celebrates and remembers women's contribution in various spheres of society, we link up with the Programme Officer of WESA, Neo Mofokeng.
Neo is a development practitioner with an interdisciplinary academic background, holding qualifications in both governance and development as well as Industrial Psychology.
She has experience working in versatile challenging roles, having worked in both the NGO sector and the national government sector; with a demonstrated history of working in the regional and global policy industry.
She is experienced in developing integrated programme strategies, identifying key leverage points and opportunities for impact; as well as reflecting on the complementary roles of multi-sectoral stakeholders to foster dialogue, collaboration, and commitment.
In our first instalment for this year’s women in charge series we sat down with Neo Mafokeng to chat about the plight and progress that WESA has made in various parts of the continent.
GQ: Take us through the key objectives of Women’s Economic and Social Advancement (WESA), what are you hoping to achieve?
Neo: Through our Women’s Economic and Social Advancement (WESA) Programme, the Trust focuses on accelerating the economic advancement of African women by strengthening existing country-level business women’s associations, building networks of women in sectors that are critical for Africa’s growth, and increasing women’s access to finance and financial services as well as strengthening women-owned/led businesses to grow.
The overall priorities of the WESA programme are centred around the following thematic pillars: Network Building; Leadership Development; Enterprise Development; Advocacy; and, Catalytic Projects.
We catalyse action, support local initiatives, lend solidarity and offer support where it is needed. We work through networks and collaborations, and incubate and create new initiatives where there are gaps.
The Trust’s work is grounded on institutional transformation to ensure both policy and practices prioritise the advancement of women in society, and the rights of children, through this the Trust would like to achieve systemic change across the board and this is only attainable when women, and their communities actively participate in addressing their challenges.
GQ: There have been various projects which deal with women leadership, the financial inclusion of women and many other similar programs, now tell us what’s different about WESA?
Neo: What is different about WESA and its interventions is that our work is informed by concepts of gender and development, which primarily focuses on challenging structures and societal interactions that constrain women’s socio-economic advancement.
We also advocate for a women-centred policy formulation and implementation process; such an approach is envisioned to bring about the improved legal and economic status of women and give women greater agency and empowerment.
GQ: Investing in women’s human capital is key to economic growth and social cohesion, can you therefore tell us, what are some of the challenges you’re dealing with at WESA?
Neo: One of the key challenges we have noted through our enterprise development pillar is women still being unable to access funding for the respective enterprises.
This has been further evidenced through the Trust documenting the experiences of women entrepreneurs in accessing finance in South Africa and Zambia.
The commissioned study specifically looked at the Women Entrepreneurs who completed the Trust’s Enterprise Development Programme, in accessing finance post the capacity building intervention and undertook at a micro-level deep dive into why women entrepreneurs applying for 'missing middle' funding that generate revenue in the ranges of R 450,000 - R7,500,000 more often fail than succeed.
In the context of South Africa, the data collection review showed that 55% of the women entrepreneurs surveyed apply for government grants or aid, while 40% of them sought out funds from friends and families.
Only 37% entrepreneurs indicated a preference for applying for financing through a bank in South Africa. Through the study we were able to identify that the challenges associated with women’s access to finance is from both a supply-side and demand side.
Some of the demand-side constraints include:The cost required to access finance.
Many women entrepreneurs from the study noted that the high cost required to access finance is a barrier , and the requirements made by banks and financing institutions are inequitable.
In some instances, married women still need authorisation from spouses to secure loan, while men don’t experience the same exclusionary practices.
GQ: What’s your role in WESA, and what made you get involved with such a initiative?
Neo: I serve as the Programme Officer for the WESA programme provide secretariat and technical support, including project management in accelerating the economic advancement of African women by strengthening existing country-level businesswomen’s associations.
I also focus on building networks of women in sectors that are critical for Africa’s economic growth and increasing women’s access to finance and financial services, through evidence-based policy research, with a primary focus on women’s rights at the intersectionality of ethics being understood as the recognition of human worth, dignity, and rights.
The opportunity to join the Trust interested me because I’m keen on working with mission-driven organizations where I am part of a team that is making a positive social impact in the areas of inequality, particularly within the Trust my position has involved working within the sphere of inclusive sustainable development and is aligned to my areas of interest.
The Graca Machel Trust in general is spearheading various campaigns and programs in many parts of the continent, therefore, do you have any recent success stories you can tell us about?
As a dependable advocate for women’s financial inclusion on the continent WESA aims to amplify women’s movement building to engage the financial inclusion ecosystem to seek ways in which women can access finance and markets for their businesses, in addition, contribute to a gender inclusive financial sector that places women at the core of change and enables equitable access to finance.
The Trust has initiated a strategic initiatives which will focus on evidence-based advocacy in the areas of women’s financial inclusion, an Expert Women Leaders Group of African women leaders in the banking and finance sector has been convened, to collectively serve as a group of strong actors with the stature to drive systemic action to advance women’s active participation in the digital economy in Africa.
The aim of this important Expert Women Leaders Group, is to steer an advocacy agenda to influence transformative policy actions that promotes opportunities to advance the growth of women’s businesses as a pillar of economic recovery and reconstruction from the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic in Africa and beyond
GQ: Africans, and particularly women have been dealt a huge blow by COVID-19 related issues, now please tell us, what kind of assistance are you offering to such women?
Neo: The vision of the Trust is to nurture caring societies that value social justice, promote and protect the rights of women and children.
Now more than ever before, the tenets of this vision resonate strongly at a time when globally, the world has been literally upended, as we fight through the COVID-19 pandemic and its impact on social and economic life in the present; and eventually, as we course to a time of recovery and post recovery period in the future.
In response to the pandemic the Trust led in amplifying the voices of women through shared experiences of women in the economy, acknowledging that the intersectionality of the facets of women’s lives extends beyond their role as key economic players at family, community, local, national, regional, continental and global level. We facilitated a series of key engagements, to amplify the voices, and stories behind the national, regional and global responses to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The Trust also implemented a communications push that collates and amplifies the shared experiences of women and children at the forefront of the discourse and responses to the COVID-19 pandemic; from which we will put forward policy asks to state, regional institutions, and key stakeholders.
This is to ensure the immediate, short-term responses and re-investments, are responsive to the needs of women and children in the economy, and repositions for the advancement of gender equality and the contributions of women in economic development, in line with the African Union led Agenda 2063 Aspiration to build transformed and inclusive economies, and to promote gender equality in all spheres of life (SDG 5).
GQ: In your view, what are the key areas that you think will fundamentally change the plight of women on the continent especially Southern Africa where the trust operates mostly?
Neo: In the context of women’s financial inclusion there are mechanisms in place that can be leveraged off in order to enhance women’s socio-economic advancement.
The Africa Continental Free Trade Agreement (AfCFTA) for example has a key role in promoting financial inclusion for women.
Economic modelling projections highlight that women will benefit from improvements to the challenges they face as informal cross-border traders for example.
Cross-border trading is significant, mainly because in Africa, a significant percentage of employment is within the informal economy sector and women make up a large number of informal cross-border traders on the continent.
Through the AfCFTA’s reduction of tariffs, women cross-border traders will be able to affordably trade through formal channels with simplified customs clearing procedures and reduced import duties.
The aggregate effect of AfCFTA, should it be effectively and efficiently implemented, will contribute to the achievement of financial inclusion of women, in that financial inclusion draws a connection between economic growth and poverty alleviation, and it enables individuals to participate in the market economy and subsequently trade.