Source: The Herald
Women in Zimbabwe have taken a resolute stance towards their economic empowerment and the tide of their willpower has taken many forms in recent years.

Groups of women have come together in different formations including savings and lending clubs, business associations, among others.

We have seen the rise of women entrepreneurs under the Indigenous Business Women's Organisation (Ibwo), led by Dr Jane Mutasa, Professional Women Executives and Business Women's Forum (Proweb), Women's Round Table, among other initiatives.

At community level, women empowerment initiatives started with the tea parties and knitting and sewing clubs.

These also have realised that those individual projects are not very lucrative. They have organised themselves in smaller lending and savings formations and others such as Women Can and Visionary Women's Association, have gone beyond "rounds" as the savings and lending initiatives are commonly known, to venture into collective entrepreneurial projects.

All these groupings are a manifestation of women's drive towards economic freedom.

That burning desire by women to prosper should be nurtured until it yields real economic empowerment among women.

This week we introduce to you the just launched Women's Alliance of Business Associations in Zimbabwe (Wabaz), an equivalent of the Women's Chamber of Commerce.

Women Affairs, Gender and Community Development Minister Dr Olivia Muchena officially launched Wabaz on Wednesday November 9 at the Holiday Inn.

We caught up with Sithabile Mangwengwende, the chairperson of Wabaz - who is also chief executive officer of Proweb - to get an insight into Wabaz and its potential for women's empowerment.

What makes up Wabaz and why was it formed?

Wabaz is a Zimbabwe-based coalition of women in business associations formed in July 2011 under the auspices of the Zimbabwe National Chamber of Commerce with the help of the Centre for International Private Enterprise for the purposes of connecting female entrepreneurs with the resources necessary to integrate them into mainstream business economy.

The formation of Wabaz has been long overdue. A lot of attempts have made to create this apex body for women business associations.

One might ask, why an apex body? It is no secret that women who constitute 52 percent of this country are hard workers.

Women wherever they meet are always organising themselves to improve their economic status.

It is their inherent nature to plan and organise. However, studies and the situation on the ground show that these efforts are very fragmented and failing to bring this hardworking group of our country to its full potential.

The general lack of delivery is due to a number of reasons, some of which are lack of capacity by the organisations, duplication of activities, competition rather than complementary initiatives.

What is the big idea behind Wabaz?

Coherence. We believe the roadmap to achieve the economic empowerment of women is through harnessing women's potential and co-ordinate its direction.

The Government is a signatory to a number of regional and international treaties, conventions, protocols and declarations through which, among other things the economic empowerment of women can be achieved.

Wabaz as an apex body hopes to build on these existing efforts and co-ordinate the efforts of women's organisations through dialogue, advocacy, and information sharing and networking.

Also, in view of the intended creation of Women's Council by Government, WABAZ is positioning itself to give adequate representation in this council for businesswomen as an apex body.

Who are the brains behind the formation of Wabaz?

Sithabile: Wabaz was formed by women's organisations in collaboration with the Zimbabwe national Chamber of commerce following a study on the state of women entrepreneurs in Zimbabwe analysing the enabling environment for Women's empowerment commissioned by the ZNCC.

This study exposed the need for the overall co-ordination of women's entrepreneurial efforts with a view to integrate those effort into the main stream commerce.

WABAZ was then mooted at Kadoma following a validation meeting of the research - in Nyanga involving various women's organisations

WABAZ is still very young. What are its Key Priorities at this point?

WABAZ is looking at mobilising membership and create the necessary numbers to promote collective advocacy to contribute to an improved business environment for women in Zimbabwe.

Other key priorities include facilitating women's collective participation in the public-private partnerships dialogue; supporting women in management positions, in Government, women in various trades to manage and grow businesses through advocacy activities and establishing partnerships with other Zimbabwean, regional and international business support organizations.

ZWRCN: Who can be a member of WABAZ?

Every Business Association in every sector. We are inviting associations of businesswomen in mining, agriculture, financial sector, tourism, retail, etc

To every woman in the community, country, and region and in the whole wide world the time has come for action.

We have talked enough and the time has come for us to act. Economic emancipation of women is not going to be achieved by an individual.

Women need to set aside their differences and hold hands to create enough energy and critical mass for impact and make inroad in formally male dominated spheres that bring money and recognition to women.

Let us not despise the progress we have made so far in our different initiatives, but let us step up our efforts and aim bigger and better together!

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