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Zambia Hosts Month of the Woman Entrepreneur to Expand Local Businesses

Global Press Institute - Fri, 21 Oct 2011 10:52 GMT
Author: Global Press Institute
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Entrepreneurship in Africa: Part 3 in a Series LUSAKA, ZAMBIA - Pamela Polla, who is in her late 20s, says she wanted to be an independent woman, capable of supporting herself and contributing to her family. So she started her own business. Of medium height and brown in complexion, Polla is married with three kids. They live in Choma, a town in Zambia's Southern province. Two of Polla's children are in primary school, and the third one is expected to start school soon. She says she started her own business to help educate them, contribute to her family and support her single mother. "I had to start a business to support my children['s] education, as well as help to solve a lot of challenges we were facing at home," she says. "Sometimes my husband's salary was not enough to meet our daily needs." Her husband works as a bus driver. Using the money he would give her to buy food for the family, she started her own business. She began making ice pops and selling them at 100 kwacha ZMK (2 cents USD) each. Polla, who had no business training or experience, says it was not easy at first to find customers for her business. She says she also didn't have the capital to start a more respected business so she faced a lot of opposition from her neighbors. "I had to face stigma from the society," she says. "I became a disgrace to my neighbors because the business I was doing did not meet their expectation. My neighbors who knew about my husband['s] employment did not expect me to put a bucket full of ice blocks on my head and start roaming the streets selling." Polla also says that some men tried to take advantage of her while she was working. "It became a challenge to persevere with the business on the streets," she says. "Some men thought I was selling my body instead of my products. Some men would buy my ice blocks, [but] in the end start confessing love to me. They even gave us names, which symbolized that we were prostitutes and not businesswomen." But Polla says she didn't give up, concentrating instead on her goal of contributing to her family. "But I persisted until I made enough capital to order some bedding, such as bedspreads, which gave me at least enough to help my family," she says. Polla says she would have loved to acquire money from local lending institutes to enhance her business, but she has distanced herself from them because of the negative experiences that her other friends in business have had with them. "I have not been able to access any loans from the lending companies or banks because of the hostile way my friends were treated," she says. Women in Zambia say they received training and encouragement on how to become entrepreneurs or develop their businesses last month during the Month of the Woman Entrepreneur. Various organizations offered free workshops for the women and advocated for access to funding for them from banks and lending companies. Despite the challenges they face, women entrepreneurs here say they are determined to keep striving for independence and raise their standards of living through business. Women face various gender-related barriers when it comes to being entrepreneurs, including discriminatory laws and cultural practices; limited mobility, voice and representation; and unequal household responsibilities, according to the International Labor Organization, ILO. September marked the Month of the Woman Entrepreneur in Zambia, an annual initiative that aims to help women overcome these barriers. Largely coordinated and funded by the ILO, the first such month was held in Ethiopia in 2004, before expanding to Zambia in 2005, and South Africa, Tanzania and Uganda in 2006, according to the ILO. This year's theme for the month was Equal Access to Finance for Women and Youth Entrepreneurs. Various bodies collaborated to offer trainings in entrepreneurship and advocate for equal access to finance for women. Workshops were also held with potential stakeholders, such as banks and lending companies. Rose Siakasasa, 37, is one entrepreneur who took part in the month's activities. Slender and light in complexion, Siakasasa owns a butchery, where she sells a variety of meat. Divorced with two children, she resides in the interior area of Mutandabantu, one of the poorest communities of the city. She says it's important for a woman to receive the opportunity to access funding in order to have substantial capital to start and enhance her business. Siakasasa says she was one of the lucky women who attended a one-week free training last month as part of the Month of the Woman Entrepreneur. Siakasasa says the training empowered the women on how to access funds from lending companies, to be competent and to fight gender-related stigmas. "I am glad to be part of this free training," she says. "It is not only teaching me how to run a business but also teaching me on how to be confidence and independence. Many are the times us women [rely] on men for support, but this entrepreneurship training has taught me to totally depend on myself as a woman." Many women in this area are uneducated and unemployed but engage in small-scale businesses. Although the women are proud of their endeavors, they say that sometimes others' comments make them feel ashamed. Siakasasa says she appreciated the rare opportunity to receive encouragement and advice. "It is rare that we can receive free knowledge and information on how to run a business and not be ashamed of managing our small-scale business," she says. "I feel very happy that there are certain organizations that can recognize marginalized women like us in an area like this." The training Siakasasa participated in was organized by a small women's group called Paganane, which is located in the Mutandabantu area. The group aims to help women who run small-scale businesses. Margaret Mutwange, founder of the group, says less privileged women lack knowledge on their right to access funds. So she says that the Month of the Woman Entrepreneur in Zambia enabled women who run small-scale businesses here to gain direction and learn how to access funds. "This [initiative] to offer free training for vulnerable women, who are normally left out in society, is an eye-opener and will help us and our women to make quality and powerful business," she says. "Even those who are just starting business will be privileged to find capital to begin their business." Christine Mulundika, chairwoman for Zambia Women Federation of Associations of Women in Business, an umbrella organization for women entrepreneurs encompassing more than 50 organizations and 500 individual members, says September was declared an annual event here in 2005. She says the initiative was created by the ILO as part of its Women Entrepreneurship Development and Gender Equality project and is carried out locally by the federation and relative ministries, such as the Ministry of Community Development and Social Services and the Ministry of Gender and Women in Development. Mulundika says the federation has also been collaborating with the Bank of Zambia, which plans to educate other banks on how to establish a platform for women to access funds. "Women doing business should be assisted, and we are working with the Bank of Zambia to help and advocate for women to access funds to start or enhance their own business," Mulundika says. Mulundika says that her organization also organized a workshop during September that attracted women entrepreneurs and professionals from other sectors. Linda Moono, public relations officer for the Women Entrepreneurs Development Association of Zambia, a nongovernmental organization established to address the needs of women entrepreneurs, says her organization also offered free training to empower women in various communities. "It is not only money that women need, but they need skills to know how to handle their business," she says. "We are empowering women to know how to keep their records, understand gender as well as promote gender equality in business." She says that September focused on empowering women to access funds from leading lending companies, such as banks and microfinance institutions. "Men usually dominate and access funds from banks than women, but as an organization, we are empowering women to have skills and approaches to access funds from these institutes," Moono says. She says the organization aims to give women hope. "As an organization, we are giving hope to disadvantaged women, strengthening and enhancing their business," she says. "We are also providing [them] with information on how to start business and link women to other institution[s] for further assistance." Polla says she didn't have the privilege to attend any of the free trainings or workshops because she wasn't aware of the month, but she looks forward to finding ways to access funds to boost her business. She says she believes women can start businesses from scratch and do something amazing in their lives. But she says that women also need support from other stakeholders in terms of skills and funds in order to achieve these dreams. From her small-scale business venture, Polla has managed to buy a plot of land and plans to build a house on it for her family. "Women need to be independent and not only depend on others or their husbands to provide for them, but women should have their own source of income," Polla says.

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