Will African men ever recognize their women’s huge potential?

September 6, 2013

While at the university, our professor used to tell us that attitude forms an important part of an individual personality and the way we think is a very important element in creating the kind of life we want to live at campus and post campus life. This is why positive thinking makes such a big difference in human lives. I’m talking about having more positive, optimistic thoughts than negative, self-limiting thoughts on a daily basis. Therefore, a positive attitude could can help African women’s fate in Information and Technology business and change their lives for the better. If African continent is to accelerate economic growth and become a developed region, women must be allowed to play a larger role in all spheres of national life from being programmers to being economists. Gender equality must be placed high on the priority list of the African governments agenda so that it becomes a continental preoccupation and help in cannibalizing the chauvinism that seems to be rampant across the continent. Women make up more than half the African population but less than 20% of employees in the continent. However, research shows that they own or manage more than 50% of micro and small agriculture businesses in the continent, contributing approximately $100 billion to gross domestic product in 53 of 54 African countries.

African women enormous contribution is under-appreciated as many of the businesses run by women are small and less profitable. To make it even worse, women in Africa are not prominent in the higher echelons of the corporate businesses and organizations, making up less than 10% of board directors on average. With more than 50 percent of the total population in the continent of 1 billion people, Africa offers huge market potential for women, which is in dire need of products to suit people’s various needs.
African women should aim at exploring the business potential in this under-penetrated market. With a growing middle class due to robust economic growth over the past decade, the continent has been targeted as the one that offers huge potential in technology driven economies. The continent’s women need to identify areas of priority for exciting growth opportunities. One area women can tap in is the commercial business side with focus on infrastructure business projects. There is a tremendous opportunity in the construction of roads and energy infrastructure in Africa and women controlled finance organizations and associations can venture into this business perhaps in collaboration with foreign company to help defeat the notion that it’s a men business. On the personal business side and with help of technology, there is an opportunity to deliver cost-effective products that will suit local markets, using technology that they have leveraged around.

I think the African market is still under penetrated in all business frontiers because of the growing middle class needs. Women also should focus on delivering products in a way that is efficient for people and for their business partners. However, they must overcome the main challenge of distribution. Africa is geographically dispersed but it is also a continent that embraces the Internet and mobile technology. So, women should be very happy to use technology to reach their clients and customers in a more effective way. 

I think the technology will enable women customers to more easily do business with them by minimizing the use of paper and speeding up the processes. I also think the so called geographical challenges in doing business in Africa can be overcome through technology. 
There is also an attractive opportunity for women who aim to provide small-scale, micro-business associated with micro lending. The key thing would be for women to offer competitive products, which cover all their customers needs in a standardized way. Still here the challenge would still be in the distribution and finding the right partners. 
By diversifying business, women should ensure that they have a long livelihood for all the obstacles that may occur in their trading.

In a continental economy without adequate women, there are a lot of precautionary needed and women should save money as their precaution against unexpected events and be conservative in their balance sheets. Precautionary saving I’m advocating for women to fully embrace is an inefficient way for an individual to manage their finances, and an inefficient way for companies as well. That money women save could be invested in training and improving skills for themselves, children education and even start a business. In the case of women’s enterprises, savings could be invested to expand the businesses. I’ve have no doubt it’s a very efficient way to manage unexpected risks.
I would want to see Africa where women enterprises handling huge infrastructure businesses likes energy, dam constructions like roads, rail, dams, skyscrapers among other gigantic projects. Women’s other businesses like retail, lending just to mention a few should strategize and strive to reach grassroots customers that would make their involvement in male dominated societies acceptable to a part of society that is not yet familiar with women dominance.

I see an interesting combination of technology in their business will make women’s business cost-effective to transact on a low scale and still be immensely profitable but more importantly, women should see potential in long-term investments. Overall, African women face limited opportunities in terms of earning equal pay with their male counterparts and having access male dominated quality education and credit facilities. This disadvantages them and also hampers economic growth in the continent where half the population who are women is handicapped. In rural Africa, girls are often denied access to even basic education as has been reported with Maasai and Samburu communities in Kenya, Karimojong and Teso in Uganda among many others let alone given access to pursue university degrees which has largely remained a preserve of male. For women to play key roles in developing Africa, mindsets of African men and cultural taboos must be eliminated. Girls must be seen as being equal to boys and be allowed to fulfill their maximum potential and not embrace the belief that women are secondary objects. The question I have is, will African men recognize women’s huge potential or will they go untapped and under-appreciated. I hope that calls for women to be given a bigger role in African society will not fall on deaf years beyond this generation.

Contador Harrison