‘Women in Russian–African Relations: Gender Balance in Politics, the Economy, and the Social Sector’ Held as Part of Russia–Africa Economic Forum’s Business Programme

The Russia–Africa Economic Forum covers global issues concerning economics, social life, science, education, and other areas of human activity. The role of women is growing in all these spheres each year. African countries are a prime example of how public policy can dramatically change gender equality issues in a short time. Russia also has extensive experience in this regard, and exchanging such experience is important for our countries. The business programme of the Russia–Africa Economic Forum included a session titled ‘Women in Russian–African Relations: Gender Balance in Politics, the Economy, and the Social Sector’. The session brought together female leaders who have demonstrated through their own example that gender equality produces exceptionally positive results in business, politics, and social affairs. The programme operator is the Innosocium Foundation – the social platform of the Roscongress Foundation.

The session was moderated by Agency for Strategic Initiatives Corporate Director Elena Myakotnikova. The panellists included such prominent African political figures as: Hala Helmy Elsaid Younes, Minister of Planning, Monitoring, and Administrative Reform of the Arab Republic of Egypt, and Soraya Hakuziyaremye, Minister of Trade and Industry of the Republic of Rwanda. The following representatives of big business and public organizations also shared their experience in terms of integrating women into modern society: Amany Asfour, President of the International Federation of Business & Professional Women; Tiguidanke Camara, Founder and Chief Executive Officer of the Tigui Mining Group (TMG); Slauzy Zodwa Mogami, Founder, Chief Executive Officer, and Chairperson of Ladies in the Frontline; Veronika Peshkova, President of the Foundation for the Development of Public Diplomacy Women's Perspective; and a Goodwill Ambassador of the United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO); and Nataliya Zaiser, Chair of the Board of the Africa Business Initiative Union.

Hakuziyaremye noted that the African continent has changed over the past 5–10 years in terms of women’s rights and opportunities. “Since 2010, 62% of parliament members in Rwanda are women. We did not achieve this in one day and had to radically restructure both the legislative system and the views of our citizens in order to achieve this”, she said. “The law also protects the rights of women in business in our country. For example, women must make up 20% of the board at major companies. But laws alone are not enough. Investment in the educational system is needed to change women’s attitudes towards their capabilities. Russia and Africa are establishing economic cooperation. But it seems to me that our women have something to learn from each other. Communications needs to be built at all levels”.

Younes added that, in addition to education, financial investments are needed to build such infrastructure as kindergartens so that women have the opportunity to study and work once they already have a family and children. She also noted that women often take a much more responsible approach to both business and financial obligations than men. “If you look at loan statistics, defaults on women’s obligations make up less than 1% [of total defaults] in our country”.

All the speakers noted that women could play a decisive role in developing the manufacturing sector of the economy. Camara, in particular, shared her experience: “I created the TMG Foundation, which helps educate women in rural areas on how to become an entrepreneur, how to take care of the harvest, collect it, and then sell the results of your work. In Africa today, 70% of women are employed in the informal sector. Training programmes will help women make a major contribution to the national economy”.

However, is it enough to simply grant women the opportunity to work in all sectors in order to achieve the perfect balance? “ It will only be possible to talk about gender balance once a woman can not only hold positions in various sectors, but also have access to strategic decision-making”, Zaiser said. “Regardless, the percentage of women who make decisions at the state level around the world is still small overall. And this situation must change”. At any event, work to achieve real equality between men and women is above all a creative trend that aims to improve the quality of life of all of society. According to forecasts, having women fully involved in the economy would make it possible to increase global GDP by USD 28 trillion by 2025, an amount that is comparable with economies of the United States and China combined.

“Gender equality is essential for sustainable development. Over the past few decades, the gender gap in the labour market has closed somewhat. However, it is still harder for women to fulfil their potential in society and the economy. Increasing women’s participation in the economy, strengthening their roles in society, and involving them in management and decision making processes in all sectors will unquestionably boost economic growth. On top of that though, it will have a positive impact on supporting social stability and achieving sustainable development goals,” said Russian Sherpa in the G20 and Deputy Chief of the Presidential Experts’ Directorate Svetlana Lukash.

“Despite several years of efforts to achieve a gender balance, women’s salaries are still approximately 15% lower than that of men in the same positions even in European countries. In Africa and Asia, this figure is even more striking. The development of the women’s agenda is one of the top priorities of the Innosocium Foundation – the social platform of the Roscongress Foundation. The organisation of sessions as part of the Russia–Africa Economic Forum’s business programme represents the systematic continuation of work to eliminate gender inequality, promote women’s leadership, and strengthen cooperation with international women’s communities, which began in Tokyo at the Women 20 (W20) Summit in March this year. In addition, as part of the implementation of the agreement signed on the sidelines of the SPIEF 2019, the Innosocium Foundation and the Eurasian Women’s Forum Council (EWF) under the Council of the Federation of the Federal Assembly of the Russian Federation have successful experience in cooperating on a number of projects. The Building Trust Area at the SPIEF 2019 hosted a EWF visiting lounge, and EWF members regularly serve as experts and speakers at our sessions on women's leadership. We hope that the serious steps that are being taken in our country to change the prevailing stereotypes will bear fruit both for the economy and for society as a whole”, said Yelena Marinina, Deputy CEO of the Roscongress Foundation and Director of the Innosocium Foundation.

“The need to achieve a gender balance and get women more actively involved in all sectors of the economy is obvious. Today’s session as part of the Building Trust Area’s business programme at the Russia–Africa Economic Forum has brought together leading representatives of business and public organizations, shown Russia’s experience in the development of women’s leadership, and demonstrated the achievements that the African continent has made in terms of women’s opportunities. And, of course, this is not only a practical opportunity to exchange best practices, but also a great prospect for the further promotion of this theme at the global level”, Myakotnikova said.

The Russia–Africa Summit and Economic Forum are being held on 23–24 October at the Sirius Park of Science and Art in Sochi. The Roscongress Foundation is the event organizer, and the co-organizers of the Russia–Africa Economic Forum are Russian Export Center and Afreximbank.

The Building Trust Area programme was prepared by the Innosocium Foundation – the social platform of the Roscongress Foundation.

To participants in the Russia–Africa Economic Forum

Ladies and gentlemen,

It gives me great pleasure to welcome you at the opening of the Russia–Africa Economic Forum.

The rich history of relations between Africa and Russia has never seen an event of a similar scale. Members of government agencies and business community, and experts are meeting at this Forum to substantively discuss the current status and prospects of cooperation and a wide range of topical issues of the world economy.

Today, the countries of Africa are well on their way towards social, economic, scientific and technological development, and are playing a significant role in international affairs. They are strengthening mutually beneficial integration processes within the African Union and other regional and sub regional organizations across the continent.

In recent years, the traditionally friendly ties of partnership between Russia and Africa have gained new momentum, both at a bilateral level and in various multilateral formats. In addition to preserving our past experience of successful cooperation, we have also managed to make significant new steps forward. Trade and investment are growing dynamically, and new joint projects are under way in extractive industries, agriculture, healthcare, and education. Russian companies are ready to offer their scientific and technological developments to their African partners, and share their experience of upgrading energy, transport and communications infrastructures.

I hope that the Forum will help identify new areas and forms of cooperation, put forward promising joint initiatives that will bring the collaboration between Russia and Africa to a qualitatively new level and contribute to the development of our economies and the prosperity of our peoples.

I wish the Forum’s participants fruitful work and all the best.

Vladimir Putin

The Russia–Africa Summit, which is taking place in Sochi on 23–24 October 2019, encapsulates the historically friendly relations between the African continent and the Russian Federation. This Summit carries great significance as it is the first of its kind to emerge during a period of major global and international transformations. In response to the aspirations of the people it is representing, the Summit intends to build a comprehensive framework for expanding Russian–African relations into broader horizons of joint cooperation across different fields.

The African nations and Russia share a common understanding of international relations, based on the principles of respect for the rule of international law, equality, non-interference in the internal affairs of states, and the peaceful resolution of disputes. Both sides affirm their commitment to support multilateral actions to oppose new international threats, be they terrorism and extremism in all their forms, or declining growth rates. The two sides share a firm conviction regarding the importance of developing trade flows and supporting mutual investment in such a way as to ensure security, peace and development for the African and Russian people.

African countries have huge potential and opportunities that will allow them, once efforts to streamline their economies have been achieved, to emerge as real global players. In recent years, the nations of this continent have achieved major successes spanning the political, economic, social and administrative spheres. Africa has flourished in terms of growth over the past decade, reaching a continent-wide growth rate of 3.55% in 2018.

The African Union Summit, which was held in Niger in July 2019, continued the efforts of the African countries and saw the African Continental Free Trade Agreement come into force, along with its operational instruments. The agreement is one of the key objectives of Agenda 2063, an African development strategy that has been created to address the African people’s desire for prosperity and decent living standards.

These successes are opening up wide-ranging prospects for cooperation between African countries and the Russian Federation, and confirm the determination of African governments and their people to cooperate with multiple partners in order to establish mutually beneficial relations.

With this in mind, we express our hopes that the Russia–Africa Summit will help in the establishment of constructive strategic relations, based on partnership between two sides across various fields, and in the service of fulfilling the hopes and aspirations of the African people and their friends in Russia.

President of the Arab Republic of Egypt
Abdelfattah ALSISI