HeForShe: Engaging Men in Women’s Economic Empowerment

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By Spogmay Ahmed

On September 20, 2014 the United Nations launched the HeForShe campaign, a worldwide effort to engage men in the promotion of women’s rights. Over 200,000 men and boys have since signed the pledge to support gender equality, and the social media movement has reached more than 1.2 billion people.

The HeForShe campaign’s most recent initiative, IMPACT 10x10x10, calls upon governments, businesses, and universities to take a more active role in promoting gender equality. The World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap Report 2014 reveals a large discrepancy between men and women in their access to politics and economic empowerment.

In line with the theme for 2015 International Women’s Day – “Make it Happen” – IMPACT 10x10x10 offers those three key sectors guiding recommendations on how to enhance women’s roles in each respective community.

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Newsflash: Businesswomen Lead in Nicaragua

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The draft Nicaraguan Businesswomen Agenda was presented during REN’s International Women’s Day forum on March 6, 2015. Speakers included Nicaraguan Minister of Industry and Commerce Orlando Solórzano and U.S. Ambassador to Nicaragua Phyllis Powers.

Empowered Businesswomen.” “Businesswomen Influence the Destinies of Other Women.” These two headlines ran in the March 7, 2015 editions of Nicaragua’s two leading newspapers, La Prensa and El Nuevo Diario.

It is not unusual for Nicaraguan media to publish articles related to women’s empowerment on International Women’s Day. Women are prominent in the Nicaraguan political sphere, thanks in part to gender quotas encompassed in the Gender Equality Law and the revised Electoral Law. Nicaragua now ranks 11th in the world in the proportion of women in parliament, 40 percent – far above most other Latin American countries (and the United States, with 18 percent). International Women’s Day provides an opportunity to highlight these advances.

What’s unusual in the case of the two articles linked above is the inclusion of one word: “Businesswomen.” Here is why.

Unfortunately the trend towards greater participation of women in the political sphere has been slow to spread to private sector organizations, which are key actors in advocating for policies that improve the business climate. A 2014 review conducted by the Network of Nicaraguan Businesswomen (REN) of the 19 business organizations that form the umbrella private sector association the Superior Council for Private Enterprise (COSEP) found that an average of 16 percent of board members are women. This is the same figure found by a similar study by the International Labor Organization in 2009.

Private sector organizations rarely incentivize women’s participation or provide equal access to information that can lead them to access leadership positions. As a result, there are very few private sector leaders promoting the specific interests and needs of women entrepreneurs in a substantial way.

On top of that, organizations of women entrepreneurs have historically operated based on incipient alliances and limited coordination with one another, resulting in disperse efforts to advocate for public policies that can improve the business environment for women entrepreneurs.

If this is the reality, are La Prensa and El Nuevo Diario’s articles simply fluff pieces scheduled to coincide with International Women’s Day?

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Building a Network of Change-Makers in South Asia

South Asia regional economic network members

In late January, CIPE held its sixth in a series of capacity building and networking workshops in Colombo for its South Asia regional network of women’s business associations, which includes organizations from Pakistan, Bangladesh, Nepal, Sri Lanka and India. When CIPE began to work with this group of women business leaders two years ago, the sessions focused primarily on issues such as board governance, strategic planning, staff and financial management, membership development, and services for members.

But between training modules, discussion often turned to the challenges facing women entrepreneurs in their countries, including policy barriers that tend to create a business environment unfriendly to women. Thus, CIPE always knew that eventually, the focus of the program must turn to advocacy for policy reform.

As a result, CIPE increasingly began to raise issues of policy – and policy advocacy – in the context of the training sessions. Then, last summer, CIPE awarded four women’s associations in three countries small grants by CIPE to carry out pilot, four-month advocacy projects.

One point that had frequently arisen in the training program was a lack of understanding of the complexities of policy advocacy, such as: identifying issues of concern to members; developing concrete policy proposals and specific recommendations to tackle those issues; the hard work involved in reaching out to policymakers; the need to broadly engage the media, association members, and the general public; and the need to track results and assess the impact of advocacy initiatives.

Moreover, the countries where the advocacy initiatives took place – Pakistan, Sri Lanka, and Nepal – are challenging environments. During the four months that these organizations were implementing their small grants, each country faced political turbulence that may have shaken the resolve of less dedicated change-makers.

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How Mentorships Support Women Entrepreneurs

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Children’s book and toys that were developed as a result of Association of Business Women in Serbia’s mentorship program.

 

Fear of failure. Lack of confidence. Aversion to risk. These are some of the biggest hurdles that one faces when starting a business. Around the world, these challenges are often far more pronounced for women entrepreneurs. The Global Entrepreneurship Monitor 2012 Women’s Report noted that one of the top reasons why there are significantly fewer female entrepreneurs than male entrepreneurs is because women simply believe they are incapable of launching their own businesses.

What can be done to reverse such beliefs?

One answer is fostering a network among women in business through mentorships.

The Association of Business Women in Serbia (ABW) and Red de Empresarias de Nicaragua (REN) both saw a pattern in their countries: women are reluctant to start businesses because they lack role models and the right skillsets to pursue entrepreneurship. To fill this gap, CIPE is supporting both organizations to empower and support aspiring or new women entrepreneurs in Serbia and Nicaragua.

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How Can Societies Support Women in the Economy?

Women entrepreneurs around the world face a myriad of challenges. Balancing obligations between at home and work, lack of networks, and limited access to finance are just few of the universal problems faced by women in the private sector. Such challenges hinder women’s full economic potential and thus hurt the overall economy.

This is especially true in developing countries where a large percentage of small and medium enterprises are owned by women.  Moreover, when women are not fully participating in an economy, they are marginalized and thus not represented equally in a society.

Overcoming these challenges require women to have a voice – and this can be done through women’s associations.  Women’s chambers of commerce and business organizations can help address issues faced by women in the economy by bringing them together to advocate for their economic rights.

In this month’s Economic Reform Feature Service article, CIPE summarizes a panel discussion that was held on Women’s Entrepreneurship Day. The three guest speakers – Lucy Valenti, the president of Red de Empresarias de Nicaragua; Lina Hundaileh, the chair of the Young Entrepreneur’s Association in Jordan; and Selima Ahmad, the President of the Bangladesh Women Chamber of Commerce and Industry – shared their stories about women’s leadership and importance of advocating for women entrepreneurs around the world.

The key, they all agreed, is for women to engage male stakeholders to challenge cultural, social, and economic norms that limit women’s full economic potential. Achieving these points would produce more enriching democracies that benefit all members of society.

Read the full story here.

Entrepreneurship and Women’s Economic Empowerment in Ecuador

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Fellows participating in the Emprendedores Ecuatorianos (Ecuadorian Entrepreneurs) program work on the details of their business plans at session in November 2014.

Ecuador, the land of the eternal spring, the Middle of the World, and the Galapagos Islands, is also a land where nearly 26 percent of the population lives below the poverty line. Seven of every ten people are employed informally — meaning they lack official contracts and may not be subject to worker protections — and over half are employed by businesses that are not legally registered. The entrepreneurial context in Ecuador is characterized by young entrepreneurs (73 percent are younger than 44 years old) with a variety of motivations: increasing their income, seeking independence, necessity, among others.

As of 2010, Ecuadorian women surpassed men in number of entrepreneurs (54 versus 46 percent). Entrepreneurship has long been recognized as a key source of empowerment and economic independence for women around the world, and particularly in Latin America.

The Emprendedores Ecuatorianos program, organized by CIPE partner the Ecuadorian Institute of Political Economy (IEEP), works to foster democratically and free-market minded entrepreneurs from the rural areas of Ecuador. To date, 45 women have completed the Emprendedores Ecuatorianos program. One of the 2013 graduates, Brenda Sumba, shared some of her thoughts on women as entrepreneurs.

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In Celebration of International Women’s Day

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Women comprise the majority of world’s population, are heads of households, have outpaced their male peers in educational attainment and contribute to the social and economic wellbeing of their families, communities, and countries.

Yet, for all of these advances, women in leadership position are still a minority. According to the latest estimates, women comprise just 20.2 percent of corporate board members of Fortune 500 companies, representing a slight increase over previous years. And just 4.8 percent of Fortune 500 companies are headed by female CEOs. In terms of political leadership, the United Nations estimates that women hold just 22 percent of parliament seats globally. Currently, there are 10 female heads of state and 14 heads of government among the 195 UN member states. Finally, women hold only 17 percent of posts globally at the ministerial level, mainly in the education and health sectors.

Much has been written about how women could overcome the myriad of obstacles that stand in their way to personal and professional success. Whether it’s to take a seat at the table, find a mentor, or a sponsor and lean-in, these techniques fall short of naming the real reason women are shut out of professional opportunities in many societies.

The simple answer is that women must work within the confines of rules and regulations that were institutionalized without their input. When women have agency in their personal and professional lives, they have the ability to change norms, rules and regulations and to fully participate in decision-making processes in the government, public and private sectors.

Inclusive and participatory decision-making is at the heart of democratic governance and yields better social, political and economic outcomes. Economic empowerment is one of the most important means of attaining global gender parity and should be a central point of discussion. When women become breadwinners, they have real decision-making power within their families and communities. Women’s entrepreneurship and participation in the workforce are avenues for their political participation and ability to influence how rules are made and laws passed.

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