Women’s Parliamentary Caucus of the Sadc Parliamentary Forum is meeting today to dissect various barriers to women’s financial inclusion.

The virtual meeting themed, Enhancing the Role of Parliament in Empowering Women for Economic Prosperity in the Sadc Region-Removing Barriers to Women’s Financial Inclusion, is in preparation for the 55th Plenary Assembly that will take place from 1 to 7 July 2024 in Angola.

Regina Esparon from Seychelles is the chairperson of the RWPC. Mammehela Matamane from the National Assembly of Lesotho and Gomezgani Ngwira from the Parliament of Malawi serve the committee as secretaries.

In a joint statement, the organisers said financial inclusion in the Sadc region remains relatively low and varies widely across countries.

They noted that to date, 119 million individuals (77%) of adults in the region are financially included in formal and informal financial products and services in comparison to 57% of financially included adult population in 2011. However, 23% still do not have access to formal or informal financial services or products.

In August 2023, the Sadc Council of Ministers adopted a new Five-Year Strategy on Financial Inclusion and SMEs Access to Finance (2023-2028).

The strategy aspires for an inclusive, stable, and innovative Sadc financial system that empowers individuals and businesses to access and use quality financial services, to contribute to industrialisation, inclusive growth, and resilient, sustainable economic well-being in line with the Sadc Vision 2050.

The RWPC maintains that empowering women for economic prosperity in the Sadc region is particularly relevant to achieve economic recovery after pandemics. It says the COVID-19 pandemic disproportionately affected women especially those in vulnerable sectors such as informal work, tourism and retail. It contends that empowering women economically, can contribute to the region’s recovery and resilience.

Some of the Sadc countries have been severely affected by droughts which have significant impacts on women’s economic prosperity.

A 2023 report by the Food and Agriculture Organisation shows that globally, women spend approximately 200 million hours every day collecting water with negative impacts for their education, career growth or providing for their families. The burden of water collection disproportionately falls on women during droughts, limiting their economic opportunities.

The RWPC contends that when women are economically empowered, they can actively participate in decision-making, contribute to economic growth and promote sustainable development. It notes, also, that additionally, women constitute a significant portion of the workforce and are essential for the region’s economic progress.

On gender gaps, the RWPC notes that they persist in areas such as access to finances, landownership and employment opportunities, hence the need to empower women through targeted policies to bridge the gaps and create a more inclusive economy.

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