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African businesswomen: From kitchen, field to commerce

Despite huge economic and cultural hurdles, African businesswomen organize to succeed

In fact, “legislative provisions restrict women’s legal capacity to offer guarantees,” said Nana-Fabu. “Thus, some banks demand the husband’s guarantee as a condition for granting a loan. Women also have difficulties obtaining credit because they are seldom able to meet the financial criteria of credit institutions.”

So what do women like Mme. Massopo do?

Several members of CBWN at one point or another found themselves in dire straits, and yet managed to generate enough revenue to form their own associations and reach out to others in need of employment in their communities.  Jacqueline Ebene, a mother of six and a widow at the age of 30, turned to sewing and selling clothing to survive. 

It wasn’t long before she was training and employing other single mothers in need of an income, however small.  These women then formed their own association, registered themselves with the Delegation of Social Affairs, and now conduct outreach programs to orphans in various regions of the country.  The association, called “Mères et Enfants Solidaires” (MERENSO), or ‘Single Mothers and Children,’ has also partnered with UNICEF to embark on HIV/AIDS awareness campaigns.

While certainly noble and life-changing for the participants, these operations remain small scale.  Without access to loans, these well-intentioned associations find it difficult to expand.  Their tools remain simple and their space confined.

CBWN President Dr. Marguerite Limagnack, however, sees immense potential in the women of Cameroon: “The purpose of the CBWN is to help women grow their businesses and themselves.  We will provide the opportunity to develop their skills through training and the sharing of experiences.  We want to celebrate, empower and educate women who could add so much to this economy, and to the society in general.”

It is undeniable that women remain marginalized in the economy of Cameroon.  What is less clear is whether or not that can be changed and, if so, how.  CBWN is one of a number of organizations attempting to better equip and involve women in the world of business. 

Women are starting to step out of the shadows of petty trade and road-side stalls, out of the fields behind their houses, and out of someone else’s kitchen.  These women are emerging, assembling and moving forward – collectively. 

The question remains, will the veil of victimhood and inferiority that is perceivedto shroud the face of many African women be shed and replaced by that of a proverbial power suit?  The members of CBWN would answer: Yes.