Business

Bridging gender gaps in Africa’s creative sectors

Farai Bayai Ncube, regional arts director for sub-Saharan Africa, British Council

NAIROBI, Kenya, 7th March 2024 -/African Media Agency(AMA)/-The Fashion Industry in Africa is vibrant and innovative, drawing inspiration from the continent’s rich cultural heritage and contemporary arts and culture. The UNESCO analysis shows that the continent holds all the cards to become one of the next world fashion leaders. However, despite an abundance of talent and creativity, fashion designers in Africa face challenges in translating their talent, skill, and designs into successful businesses.

As we observe International Women’s Day 2024, we need a stronger commitment to advancing gender parity through the creative and cultural industries. This is where the British Council’s Creative DNA programme comes in. It’s specifically designed to accelerate fashion businesses by nurturing designers’ business skills, knowledge, and networks in Africa and the UK.

The Creative DNA programme, initially successful in Kenya with three completed cohorts, has expanded to Ethiopia, Senegal, and Uganda, and plans to launch in more sub-Saharan African countries including Nigeria, South Africa, Zimbabwe, and Ghana in 2024. This will offer more African fashion designers the opportunity to grow and succeed in the industry.

Market access is crucial to growth within Africa’s cultural and creative economies. They require policy, education, and market access interventions to unlock the industry’s full potential. At the Creative Africa Nexus (CANEX) 2023 held during the Intra-Africa Trade Fair (IATF) in Cairo, the British Council brought together 24 designers from across the continent for market access, network expansion and business growth opportunities in addition to showcasing their collections. They connected with buyers and creators from across the globe , reinforcing the idea that creatives can build sustainable livelihoods from their talent. The showcase highlighted the importance of real-time networking and business opportunities that translate into sales and exposure for the designers.

The 2024 Hub of Africa Fashion Week (HAFW), which took place from January 9-14 in Addis Ababa, featured a grand showcase that highlighted the diverse talent of designers from across Africa, in collaboration with the British Council’s Creative DNA programme. This collaboration emphasised the critical role of international partnerships in promoting and supporting the African fashion industry, bringing together creative talents and showcasing their work on a global stage.

Betselot Zewge, founder and creative director of Zemenay, Ethiopia’s first plus-size clothing line, says the British Council’s fashion incubation programme has significantly Supported her and many young women in the fashion industry.

“It equipped us with the skills, knowledge, and confidence to excel in the highly competitive and creative world of fashion. This programme drives innovation and a sustainable approach to design, and it has enabled me to become an active participant in shaping my destiny and that of my country. For instance, my participation in CANEX at IATF 2023 in Cairo and being featured on prestigious platforms such as Vogue USA and Italy point to the opportunities and visibility that the British Council’s initiatives have created for women and young girls.”

Zewge was driven by a desire to challenge the mainstream fashion industry’s exclusivity and environmental impact. “As I was growing up, the lack of clothing options made me feel alienated. That’s what spurred me to create a fashion line that celebrates all body types. Also, witnessing the detrimental effects of the fashion industry on the environment strengthened my commitment to sustainability. I’m passionate about creating beautiful garments that honour our planet and our heritage, using traditional techniques and materials to preserve cultural stories and support local communities. Through collaborations with the British Council and its partners, I’ve been able to support sustainable women’s initiatives and contribute to economic development in Ethiopia.”

ACP-EU Ignite Culture Programme The ACP-EU Ignite Culture Programme, initiated in January 2021 amid the global pandemic, is a collaborative effort by the Organisation of African, Caribbean and Pacific States, financed by the European Union and executed by the British Council and HEVA Fund, is distinguished by its scale, with a €7 million budget from 2021-2024.

It focuses on promoting entrepreneurship and cultural innovation, particularly among women and youth, generating employment, improving incomes for artists and cultural workers, and increasing the visibility of East African cultural products on the international stage.

With €4.5m committed to support 37 grantees in 10 countries, enterprises and livelihoods of creative practitioners in Burundi, Ethiopia, Kenya, Madagascar, Mauritius, Rwanda, Somalia, Sudan, Tanzania, and Uganda have been changed. Our grantees are implementing outstanding projects across different value chains for their target communities and demographics.

From the House of Digital Art in Mauritius to the women weavers supported by African Mosaique in Ethiopia, the Swahili-inspired furniture designs by Saba Studios, the first accredited tertiary course on poetry by Kenya Cultural Centre, an online course on East African Modernism by Makerere University, a vibrant centre curated by Nafasi Art Space, and colourful festivals by Busara Promotions, the programme has supported:

  • the creation of over 100 new jobs
  • reached over 100,000 audiences through F2F interactions
  • equipped over 1,000 young people with appropriate skills
  • supported five mega-festivals
  • engaged over 250 traditional music practitioners
  • supported the development of the first accredited tertiary poetry theatre development course, and a course on Eastern Africa modernism that’s available online

HustleSasa Initiative HustleSasa, Kenya’s leading creator monetisation app, represents another stride towards ‘Inspire Inclusion’ by enabling young creatives, particularly women, to monetise their passions. The app’s ‘Turning Passion into Livelihood’ digital programme, supported by Ignite Culture, is specifically designed to equip young Kenyan creatives with the necessary tools, resources, and networks to thrive in the creative industry, addressing challenges such as confidence, lack of role models, and balancing societal responsibilities with professional pursuits.

How it’s made possible Funding: Programmes provide financial support to cultural entrepreneurs, artists, and creative businesses, enabling them to develop innovative and sustainable business models, products, and services.

Training and mentoring: They offer training and mentoring to the grant holders, equipping them with the skills, knowledge, and tools to develop their business plans, marketing strategies, and operational processes, manage their grants, measure their success and tell their stories better.

Networking and collaboration: The programmes facilitate networking and collaboration between cultural and creative entrepreneurs, enabling them to share knowledge, best practices, and resources.

Market access: They help grant holders to access new markets, both within and outside their regions, by connecting them with potential customers, partners, and investors.

Visibility and recognition: They promote the grant holders’ products, services, and achievements, increasing their visibility and recognition both locally and internationally.

As the global community observes International Women’s Day 2024, it’s exciting to see the successes of initiatives and campaigns dedicated to celebrating women’s achievements, raising awareness about discrimination, and driving action towards gender parity.

The British Council’s role in Sub-Saharan Africa, especially through our arts and creative economy programmes, is a noteworthy example of efforts aimed at supporting youngwomen. These initiatives are designed to counter the gender disparities in cultural and creative industries, which are crucial for the socio-economic development of the region but often overlooked.

Our call to action is clear: we must continue to support and invest in these transformative initiatives and programmes. By providing funding, training, mentoring, networking opportunities, and market access, Visibility, inclusion, and recognition are equally crucial, as they celebrate achievements and inspire others to pursue their creative talents and build economic value.

The success of initiatives like those led by the British Council and our partners demonstrates the immense potential of these industries to support young women and contribute to the socio-economic development of the region. By championing gender equality and economic empowerment, we pave the way for a more sustainable, inclusive and diverse creative economy.

Distributed by African Media Agency (AMA) on behalf of ENAMEN Consulting

About the British Council

The British Council builds connections, understanding, and trust between people in the UK and other countries through arts and culture, education, and the English language.

We work in two ways – directly with individuals to transform their lives and with governments and partners to make a bigger difference for the longer term, creating benefits for millions of people all over the world.

We help young people gain the skills, confidence, and connections they are looking for to realise their potential. We support youth to learn English, get a high-quality education, and gain internationally recognized qualifications. Our work in arts and culture stimulates creative expression and nurtures creative enterprise.

We are on the ground in over 20 African countries and deliver impact working with local institutions and partners.

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Source : African Media Agency (AMA)