Lesotho: Economic empowerment initiatives changing women’s lives

Lesotho: Economic empowerment initiatives changing women’s lives

Date: May 13, 2013
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Maseru, 13 May: Sophia Mohapi, CEO of Millennium Challenge Account (MCA) -Lesotho, scooped the Country Commitment Award in Washington DC last week for her efforts in facilitating large-scale partnerships to promote economic growth in Lesotho. The awards took place at the Millennium Challenge Corporation’s (MCC) 2013 Forum on Global Development: The Power of Partnerships.

MCA – Lesotho is implementing a $362.5 million Compact signed between the Government of Lesotho and the United States Government through the MCC, which is an independent U.S. foreign aid agency that is helping lead the fight against global poverty.

So far MCA – Lesotho has not only achieved tremendous progress in the implementation of the Compact, in the areas of water, health and private sector development, but also gender and economic empowerment. In partnership with the Ministry of Gender and Youth, Sports and Recreation and Lesotho’s Gender Equality in Economic Rights programme, the MCA jointly established the Federation of Lesotho Women Entrepreneurs (FLWE) in February this year.

The primary aim of the FLWE is to ensure that gender considerations extend beyond women’s traditional roles, to enable women to contribute to poverty reduction and economic growth initiatives.

Mohapi said women in Lesotho did not have a collective body through which they could voice their opinions and so the FLWE brings aspiring and budding female entrepreneurs together to share experiences, best practice, and to address the challenges they face in the business and economic world. “The federation is an efficacious remedy to this problem. It is a direct response to women’s problems in the business fraternity,” said Mohapi.

With the MCA Gender Equality in Economic Rights programme and the launch of the FLWE, Lesotho is certainly making a concerted effort in reversing gender imbalances and showing commitment to the SADC Gender and Development Protocol, which Lesotho has ratified. The Protocol says that state parties shall, by 2015, adopt policies and enact laws to ensure equal access, benefits and opportunities for women and men in trade and entrepreneurship.

According to the 2012 SADC Gender Protocol Barometer published by Gender Links, within SADC the proportion of women in economic decision making rose by 7 percentage points from 18% in 2009 to 25% in 2012 and a mere 1% from 2011. In Lesotho, women constitute 30% of economic decision-makers – defined as ministers, deputy ministers and permanent secretaries of economic-related ministries, as well as central bank governors.

While there is slow progress towards achieving 50% of women’s representation in this sector, many challenges persist. Women continue to be side-lined in gaining access to opportunities for economic empowerment and continue to exist largely on the periphery of economic decision-making because few SADC countries consider gender dimensions in economic policies, budgets, trade, work and business.

Men still dominate economic decision-making in both public and private sectors and this low representation of women in high economic decision-making positions means women’s voices are largely absent in terms of influencing gender-sensitive economic planning.

Mohapi explained that the MCA tries to ensure that women are mainstreamed into key decision making and development processes. “What we are doing at the moment is to lobby women to become members of the federation through public gatherings at the villages.”

For the past four years, the programme has supported Basotho women through training and outreach programs. “We have worked closely with other development partners in pursuit of the same mandate of empowering Basotho women economically,” explained Mohapi.

FLWE Secretary General, Felleng Makeka speaking at the Regional SADC Gender Protocol Summit, held in Johannesburg at the Indaba Hotel in April. Photo: Razanandrateta Zotonantenaina.FLWE Secretary General, Felleng Makeka who spoke at both the Lesotho and Regional SADC Gender Protocol Summits, hosted by Gender Links in March and April, maintained that promoting women to economic decision-making positions makes economic sense.

Makeka explains that the FLWE has committees at national level that work directly with subcommittees at district level to sensitise not only women but also the entire community about the federation. The national committee also meets weekly to discuss the FLWE’s progress and strategy.

Since the federation was launched, membership has grown from 6550 to about 8 500 members countrywide. These members also include the Basotho Poultry Farmers Association as well as the Piggery Farmers Association you have recently joined.

Makeka said the FLWE has already trained more than 50 members on piggery and a group of 50 women in the knitting sector have started their trainings for both local and international markets. “Everyone who is a member to the FLWE should at least have some basic trainings under the sector she or he is a party to,” explained Makeka, indicating that they want to improve families, communities and the nation at large. Although the FLWE conducts training in Maseru, the rationale is that trainees will impart skills to their fellow colleagues at district levels.

Although most women still have difficulty in accessing credit, especially women in rural areas who lack knowledge about the laws, lack capacity to produce credit proposals and do not own property to use as collateral, Makeka added that some commercial banks have already approached the FLWE to educate members on how they can access credit.

At the Lesotho Summit, Makeka also stressed the link between gender-based violence (GBV) and women’s economic empowerment. Through the Funding Leadership and Opportunities for Women (FLOW), Gender Links is supporting the implementation of the National and Local Action Plans (NAPS) in Lesotho and other SADC countries. The programme focuses on the fight against GBV and its link to the economic empowerment of women.

As the World Economic Forum on Africa 2013, held in Cape Town ended on Friday, one can only hope that countries from across the region establish initiatives and platforms like the MCA, FLWE and NAPS, to ensure government, NGOs and civil society collaborate and commit to economically empowering women and ending GBV before 2015.

Majara Molupe is a freelance journalist in Lesotho. This article is part of the Gender Links Opinion and Commentary Service that provides fresh views on everyday news.

One thought on “Lesotho: Economic empowerment initiatives changing women’s lives”

Mamoeletsi Koatsi says:

Genderlinks is doing a great job! women need to be empowered with skills so that they can fight for what is right for them.

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