Women represent 51.58 percent of the population of Sri Lanka, according to official data published by the Department of Census and Statistics in 2016. However, their participation in the economy remains low. Women make up only 36.5 percent of the 8. 3 million economically active population of the country, aged 15 years and over. Out of the economically inactive population, more than three quarters (75.4 percent) are women. Data compiled by the Department of Census and Statistics for the 3rd quarter of 2016 also shows a higher rate of male participation in the labor force as compared to women, in all age groups and all levels of education. For instance, the highest participation in the workforce for women was reported in the age group 45-49 years (54.1 percent) whereas in the case of men the highest participation rate was in the age group 35-39 (98.1 percent). When looking at these numbers, one wonders how women in Sri Lanka can be empowered to have the same economic opportunities as men do.
Women from the Papua New Guinea Women’s Chamber of Commerce and Industry participating in a capacity building workshop
Since its creation in 1983, CIPE has been working with business associations, chambers of commerce and economic think tanks around the world to promote institutional reforms and advance economic and political empowerment.
Women business associations are one type of business associations that CIPE has partnered with in order to support the economic empowerment of women. Recognizing the unique role such organizations play, CIPE has focused on strengthening women business associations and thus empowering women to become entrepreneurs and leaders in their local communities and countries.
A national business agenda (NBA) is a powerful tool and platform for business people to engage in a proactive dialogue with policy-makers on issues affecting the private sector in a given country. Developing an NBA requires the private sector to collaborate to identify issues that constrain business activity, offer proposals and solutions to address the issues, and present them in an open and transparent manner to public officials. This private-sector led approach has been instrumental in advancing economic reform agendas in countries around the world.
Network members attending the meeting in Abidjan.
Experience shows time and again that business associations are more effective in their advocacy when they work together in coalitions, networks, or alliances, whether formal or informal, to advance the interests of their members. When the time is right to join forces depends on a number of factors, chiefly among them being the degree of maturity of the association leaders and executives who understand that together they are stronger and their concerns are more likely to be heard than if they work and engage with decision-makers individually.
Willingness to join forces is a prerequisite for a group to affect change, but it is not the only one. It is equally important for the associations that embark on such an enterprise to be built on a solid structure, to follow sound governance principles, to meet members’ needs and to use adequate tools to present members’ issues and proposed solutions in a transparent and professional manner.
Much has been said and done about anti-corruption in Romania over the last 20 years. Politicians included the anti-corruption theme in their platforms and speeches, new state bodies have been created to fight corruption, and new legislation (such as the law on free access to public information and the law on transparency in public administration decision-making) has been passed to increase transparency and limit the space for corrupt practices. Despite these efforts, in Transparency International’s index of corruption perceptions for 2010, Romania ranked 69th out of 178 countries and obtained a modest score of 3.7 on a scale from 10 (very clean) to 0 (highly corrupted).
Local and international organizations pointed out what needs to be done and many of them (including CIPE) supported initiatives to address the issues. In its turn, the media has constantly exposed cases of public officials involved in corrupted practices. So it is fair to say that a lot of time, energy, and money have been spent fighting corruption in Romania, yet there is still have a long way to go in fighting corruption and establishing transparency, accountability and good governance as fundamental values.
On June 12-13, 2009 the annual conference of the Coalition of Women Business Associations (CAFA) took place in Romania. The 7th edition of the event was held in Ocna Sibiului, Romania. The event brought together representatives of nine women business associations from all over Romania, public officials and media representatives. The conference titled “The Time for Entrepreneurial Courage” provided a forum for discussion on economic issues faced by women entrepreneurs and strategies to address these issues. Guest speakers were representatives of the Ministry of Labor, Family and Social Protection and Ministry of SMEs, Trade and Business Environment, who presented some of the support programs available for small- and medium-sized enterprises in the tourism, manufacturing and services sectors. I gave a presentation on CIPE’s recent programs targeting women entrepreneurs.
The second part of the conference was dedicated to a strategic planning session. CAFA members have agreed to work together in a task force in order to draft amendments to a set of recent public decisions that have a negative impact on member companies. During the strategic planning session, the associations talked about the Coalition’s membership base, how to attract new members and how to increase CAFA’s visibility in the public arena. They also decided on a very ambitious work plan for the next 12 months. CAFA, which now comprises 19 associations of women entrepreneurs, was formed in 2004 with support from CIPE.
The event was very successful not only because it managed to bring together participants from women business associations all over Romania, but also it proposed a wide range of topics of interest for entrepreneurs. The fact that in a year of economic hardships these women (most of them owners of small- or medium-sized companies) decided to take a couple of days away from their businesses and participate in the conference shows the importance of this event and their level of commitment to CAFA. Also during the conference it became apparent that CAFA facilitated not only business among its members, but also networking and the development of beautiful friendships.