UNECA head discusses women empowerment with Ethiopia’s female president

UN Economic Commission for Africa (ECA) Executive Secretary, Vera Songwe, met with the new Ethiopian President, Sahle-Work Zewde, and discussed ways through which to empower Ethiopia’s women in decision making positions and business.

The meeting on Tuesday held at the national palace, saw Ms. Songwe and her delegation, discuss with the country’s first woman President initiatives the ECA and the government of Ethiopia could undertake to promote women’s empowerment.

They covered issues such as, access to finance and the knowledge women need to build skills in business and politics to unlock the country’s full potential.

Ms. Songwe said under the African Women Leadership Fund, Ethiopian women in small to medium scale enterprises can get help to speed-up women-led businesses in the country.

“As we celebrate your appointment Madame President, the ten women ministers and the first Supreme Court president in Ethiopia, we can start talking about how we can work together and use the fund to create a network of young women fund managers, train them and then put them out in the market as we seek to address the fundamental gap in the access of women to finance architecture,” she said.

The fund seeks to lower the hurdles of women-owned businesses, promote investments in micro enterprises and take women’s cooperatives to the next level. It will focus on mobilizing global capital to build a cadre of African women fund managers who will, in turn, invest in and develop African women-led businesses and micro-businesses.

Ms. Songwe and President Zewde also discussed a number of potential areas the ECA and her office can work on, including statistics, a gender booklet to help Ethiopia in her efforts to achieve gender parity in government, and developing capacity of women in SMEs.

The ECA Chief committed to help establish a network of support for Ethiopia’s women leaders, including ministers, their deputies, lawmakers and those in business, backed by a broad network of women at the African Union and in the United Nations system.

They also discussed the ECA’s digital identification initiative which aims to support the harmonization and implementation of digital identification platforms in Africa to enhance inclusion on the continent as well as to facilitate trade in the context of the Africa Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA).

The two leaders agreed the digital identification initiative was an opportunity to leverage technology to support civil registration, especially as the African Union’s theme for 2019 is; “Year of Refugees, Returnees and Internally Displaced Persons in Africa: Towards Durable Solutions to Forced Displacement”.

President Zewde said the ECA was one of the leading institutions working in Addis Ababa since 1958 and was grateful for its support to the country and government of Ethiopia.

“There has always been strong collaboration between Ethiopia and the ECA and we would like to ensure this strong collaboration is maintained even in the future,” she said, adding she was inspired as the country’s first woman President to inspire change in her society.

President Zewde said Ethiopia will support ongoing UN reforms to ensure they have a positive impact on nations and the world at large.

Among many other top positions, the 68-year-old was head of the UN office to Kenya, the UN’s top diplomat at the African Union Commission and acted as Ethiopia’s ambassador to several countries including France, Djibouti and Senegal, before her recent appointment as President of Ethiopia.

Ms. Songwe’s delegation included Directors Oliver Chinganya of the African Centre for Statistics, Ingrid Cyimana of Strategic Planning, Partnership and Operational Quality Division, and Thoko Ruzvidzo of the Social Development Policy Division.