REFELA celebrates International Women’s Day

On the occasion of International Women’s Day celebrated on March 08, 2024, UCLG Africa, through its Network of Local Elected Women of Africa (REFELA), the REFELA-Morocco chapter, and in partnership with the Council of the Oriental Region of Morocco, the Oriental Development Agency and the Belgian NGO Echos-Communication, organized a webinar under the theme: Adding value to Local Products: a Strategic Lever for the Economic Empowerment of Women in Africa”. In line with the UN theme of “Investing in Women: Accelerating Progress”, the aim of the webinar was to enable female local officials and entrepreneurs to discuss the issue of local products, and to see to what extent these two local players can work in synergy. 

The following took part in the discussions: Mrs. Rohey Malick Lowe, President of REFELA, Mayor of Banjul (Gambia), Mrs. Marie Angèle Meyanga, Mayor of Afanloum (Cameroon), President of REFELA-Cam and Vice-President of REFELA for Central Africa, Mrs. Fatna El Khiel, REFELA Vice-President for North Africa, President of REFELA-Morocco and Mayor of Arbaoua, Mrs. Diabaté Mamou Bamba, Mayor of Pelengana, President of REFELA-Mali, Hon. Mr. Salah Aboudi, Vice-President of the Oriental Regional Council, Hon. M. El Kebir Hannou, Representative of the Oriental Development Agency, Mr. Jean Pierre Elong Mbassi, Secretary General of UCLG Africa, Dr. Najat Zarrouk, Director of the Development Branch and ALGA of UCLG Africa, Mrs. Assétou Diarra, woman entrepreneur in Pelengana (Mali), Mrs. Jacqueline Moustache-Belle, Director of the Gender and Youth Department of UCLG Africa, Mrs. Fatima Razouki, Task Manager of the Gender Unit of the Gender and Youth Department of UCLG Africa, Mr. Brahim Tafza, Excellence Center of Territorial Coaching of UCLG Africa, Mr. Lionel Nzamba, Task Manager of the Youth Unit of the Gender and Youth Department of UCLG Africa, Mr. Fofana Valy, Support Staff of the Gender and Youth Department of UCLG Africa, and the elected women and heads of cooperatives of the Oriental Region.   

The aim of this collective brainstorming session was to enable female local leaders to set out the various ways in which they can support entrepreneurs to alleviate their constraints in processing, adding value to and marketing local products. The proceedings were moderated by Mr. Jean Pierre Elong Mbassi, Secretary General of UCLG Africa, and opened by Mrs. Rohey Malick Lowe, President of REFELA and Mayor of Banjul (Gambia).  

In her opening speech, the President thanked the participants for attending and wished them a happy International Women’s Day. In her speech, she emphasized the need to support women in their process towards economic empowerment through the valorization of local products because producing them makes a major contribution to the continent’s food supply. But to achieve this, women need multidimensional support in terms of access to financing and training. Ms. Malick Lowe also welcomed REFELA’s initiative to create an African Network of Local Products. 

Mrs. Marie Angèle Meyanga, REFELA Vice-President for Central Africa, Mayor of Afanloum (Cameroon) and President of REFELA-Cam, spoke of the solutions that local officials can offer to women entrepreneurs. Women play a major role in local economic development through the processing of local produce. However, they face difficulties in accessing financing, training and networking.  As solutions, she recommends, among other things supporting women entrepreneurs in accessing suitable financing; making funds available in line with demand; sharing information on existing schemes, honor loans, subsidies and guarantee funds, putting together financing applications; encouraging banks to develop specific offers for women entrepreneurs; facilitating women’s access to training in communication, management and marketing; setting up support structures such as business incubators; helping women form professional networks; and supporting women to produce quality products through product processing and certification.   

Experience sharing 

Mrs. Assétou Diarra, a woman entrepreneur from Pelengana in Mali, presented the difficulties faced by women entrepreneurs in her country. Female entrepreneurship in Mali is on the rise, and women have realized that in addition to producing, they also need to think about processing their products to increase their income. However, this development momentum is held back by a number of difficulties faced by women, including: lack of self-esteem, which is a handicap to their leadership; lack of training; difficulties in accessing financing; lack of balance between work and family life; and product packaging issues. 

For Mrs. Fatna El Khiel, Mayor of Arbaoua and REFELA Vice-President for North Africa, it is necessary to launch the African Network of Local Products. “Today, women are in politics, in business and also occupy many other positions of responsibility. All this requires a framework and support, bearing in mind that women produce around 80% of food products in Africa. The creation of the African Network of Local Products will enable them to increase their economic empowerment by promoting local products through processing and marketing. To achieve this, women will need technical and financial support”, she pleaded.   

Mrs. Douiri Khadija, President of the Economic, Social and Cultural Development Commission of the Oriental Regional Council, presented the actions of the Oriental Council to support women entrepreneurs :  

  • Support and guidance for women’s cooperatives   
  • Setting up an investment support mechanism   
  • Creation of a platform to promote local products 

For its part, the Development Agency of the Oriental Council supports women in their participation in various agricultural shows and fairs on an international scale. A first initiative to create this African Network of Local Products had begun in 2019, but was interrupted by the Covid-19 pandemic. However, the network was launched in 2021 and is currently operational in 19 countries. The Honorary President of the African Network of Local Products is His Excellency Denis Sassou-Nguesso, President of the Republic of Congo.  

According to Mr. Jean Pierre Elong Mbassi, Secretary General of UCLG Africa, supporting women in the process of creating the African Network of Local Products is a necessity. This initiative helps to re-establish equal opportunities between men and women.   

Local products are one of the keys to women’s economic emancipation. To achieve the goal of increasing women’s empowerment through the creation of this network, women will need: 

  • Financial support through a mechanism to ease bank loan procedures;   
  • Multi-sector training in production, management, marketing, etc. … 

Mrs. Diabaté Mamou Bamba confided that the Mali chapter of REFELA, which she chairs, provides a great deal of support to women, as the network is convinced that women’s empowerment is a key factor in the development of the local economy. This is why the network has begun to organize training courses for women in the processing of local products. The women who benefit from these training courses produce items which they exhibit at regional and national fairs. However, they still face a number of difficulties, such as shortages of raw materials and issues with marketing, packaging and labelling.   

In her closing remarks, Mrs. Fatna El Khiel, REFELA Vice-President for North Africa, thanked the Moroccan Association of Mayors (AMPCC) for its support of women’s initiatives. 

From these discussions emerged the recognition of the role of women in the development of local and national economies, the need to support them through training, the provision of funds, the creation of a platform to facilitate networking and sales.  

Mrs. El Khiel also appealed to elected women and women entrepreneurs to mobilize in order to ensure their full participation in the International Agricultural Show to be held in Meknes from April 22 to 28, 2024, an activity that should be part of their contribution to the valorization of local produce and as a concrete action to implement the African Cities Campaign in favor of women’s economic empowerment launched by REFELA at the Africities 8 Summit. 

REFELA President Rohey Malick Lowe reiterated her congratulations to REFELA network members on the occasion of March 8, and called for more perseverance and determination in promoting women’s contribution to a prosperous local Africa where no one is left behind.   

Oriental Regional Council celebration ceremony  

In the afternoon, the UCLG Africa delegation visited the headquarters of the Oriental Regional Council to take part in a ceremony celebrating International Women’s Day. The ceremony was an opportunity to congratulate all the women present on the progress made in promoting the role of women in the development process of Morocco’s territories in general and the Oriental Region in particular.  

The President of REFELA-Maroc took the occasion to remind all women present to pursue their efforts for equality and to contribute more to the sustainable and inclusive development of their territories.