Celebrating the International Women’s Day at the East African Community (EAC)

“Gender equality and women’s empowerment are essential preconditions for realizing the 2030 Sustainable Development Agenda” says Dr. Mary Kawar, Director of the ILO office for East Africa.

Statement | 08 March 2017

It is with much great pleasure that I have been invited to represent ILO on commemoration of International Women’s Day 2017, here at EAC. It is also great to see representatives from women’s groups and associations, and indeed women entrepreneurs at this event, whose theme is ‘Women in the changing world of work: Planet 50:50 by 2030’.

The EAC has been quite effective in advancing women’s social and economic rights. The EAC member states have signed and ratified various regional and international instruments relating to gender equality and women’s rights. At the regional level many efforts have been put to harmonise national laws with international agendas for gender equality and women’s human rights.

I commend you on this year’s theme, it resonates very well with the goal of ILO’s decent work agenda, which is to advance opportunities for men and women to obtain opportunities for decent and productive work under conditions of freedom, security, protection and human dignity.

In fact on this day the ILO published a new landmark report called “Towards better Future for women and work: voices of women and men” which provides a first-hand account of global attitudes and perceptions on women’s work. The result reveal that only 27% of women want to stay at home the rest would like to work but in safe and equal environments.

(Going back to your theme today) Indeed the goal of achieving 50-50 parity by 2030 coincides with the expected full achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals. You may be aware that one of the 17 goals is on inclusive growth, decent work and productive employment, which everyone agrees is one of the important conditions for poverty eradication. And goal 5 on gender equality and women’s empowerment.

If we were to fast-forward to 2030, and assume we have achieved this, imagine what this would mean for productivity and aggregate demand for goods and services, when women have an equal share of incomes, productive resources, and opportunities. Imagine what impact that would have on national economies and for employment creation in the end. Imagine how it would improve living conditions and family life.

But before that happens, we need to take action together. I am happy to say that, in collaboration with EAC and EAC member countries, as ILO we have been taking some of these steps, and here I will explain some of them:

  1. We are collaborating at the regional framework for free movement of young workers (who include young women) to make it easy for them to find gainful employment across countries
  2. We have supported through regional programmes for youth employment initiatives, and women’s entrepreneurship development programmes, which

I have helped tens of thousands of women entrepreneurs to access business development support and facilitated access to finance for their enterprises
It is though one such programme, the regional Women’s Entrepreneurship Development project (2012-2015) that, ILO worked with EAC secretariat as well as Ministries in charge of EAC Affairs, Trade and Gender in members countries to develop a simplified version of common market protocols specifically targeted at women entrepreneurs. The main goal of this package, that we call the ‘Infopack’, was to make available, in an easy to use format, information what women entrepreneurs and SMEs in general would need to know to do business across borders.

It is in response to one of the constraints to women’s entrepreneurs, which is on access to market information, which curtails trade and prevents women entrepreneurs from sharing the regional cake of a combined 140 million people. We are happy that the package went through all stages of approval through the EAC process and today we witness the official launch of the materials. The bigger job that remains from today is on how to make the millions of women entrepreneurs from the partner states to be aware of the Infopack. This will entail working with different women associations and other stakeholders, especially institutions stationed at different border posts to make this information and training widely available and easily accessible for the women to benefit.

For ILO, we remain committed to collaborate with EAC in this important work, including on contextualizing this initiative within the broader work of the decent work agenda. We thereof relook forward to the planned engaged with the EAC secretariat aimed at revisiting the MoU between ILO and EAC, to take into account recent developments and trends in the employment and labour sector. We also look forward to the review and revision the East Africa Decent Work Programme, which will set new priorities for the advancement of decent work in the sub region.

I thank you for your attention…