Even in difficult environments where women’s economic and political participation is constrained by law or culture, the impressive women in CIPE’s networks find ways to create opportunity for themselves and become leaders in their communities and industries. Wrapping up our celebrations of International Women’s Day, we would like to continue the annual tradition of suggesting influential women leaders that are worth following on Twitter.
Nigerian businesswomen take part in a CIPE-sponsored mentoring program in 2011.
Nigeria will soon begin a national discussion that could redefine the foundations of the entire country. Unfortunately, as originally planned, this process would have left women largely out of the conversation.
On March 17, a National Conference including delegates from government, civil society, and the private sector will convene to consider rewriting the military-era constitution, redefining the country’s internal borders and administrative structures, strengthening institutions to combat corruption, and many other issues that may shape Nigerian society for years or decades to come.
The conference could usher in important changes for a nation plagued by corruption, religious conflict, and poverty — but the original pool of nearly 500 delegates included just 72 women from three associations. With a 75 percent majority required to take what could be fundamental decisions about the country’s future direction, women were at risk of being completely marginalized.
The women’s empowerment initiative Lean In made headlines recently by partnering with Getty Images to produce “a library of images devoted to the powerful depiction of women, girls and the people who support them.”
Lean In was launched by Facebook Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg with the publication of a book by the same name encouraging women to become more ambitious and make the best use of their opportunities. Among other things, the organization hopes to see more women running companies and serving on corporate boards — which, despite the decades of progress women have made in the workplace, remains shockingly rare.
Only one in ten board members worldwide are women, and just 4.6 percent of Fortune 1000 companies have female CEOs. While women now make up 40-50 percent of the workforce in many countries, the upper echelons of the business world are still overwhelming male-dominated.
Both candidates in Chile’s Dec. 2013 presidential runoff were women.
In the past quarter century, the level of women’s economic participation has steadily grown in Latin America. During the first decade of this century, women’s participation grew by 15 percent, contributing to an overall decline in income inequality and extreme poverty. The World Bank estimates that currently 14.6 percent of Latin Americans live in extreme poverty – but contrast that with the hypothetical 17.7 percent had fewer women entered the workforce. Given Latin America’s steady growth in the face of worldwide recession in the 2000s, there’s no reason not to expect more advances for women’s opportunities.
Women’s increased political participation has also helped increase economic opportunities for Latin American women. As more and more female presidents take and hold office, more women consider professional lives outside the home to be viable options. Powerful players such as Brazil’s Dilma Rousseff, Argentina’s Christina Fernandez, Costa Rica’s Laura Chinchilla, and others provide focal points for hopeful young Latinas. Perhaps surprisingly to some Americans, many Latin American countries are passing the U.S. in women’s participation in legislatures. Women make up at least 30 percent of the legislature in Cuba, Nicaragua, Costa Rica, Argentina, Ecuador, and Guyana. At last count, women make up just 18.5 percent of the U.S. Congress.
Latin America continually ranks highly in female entrepreneurship. The region has great educational and business training opportunities for women, and women make up 50 percent of higher education graduates. In a new index recently released, Chile, Peru, Colombia, Mexico and Uruguay were ranked highest in providing the best environments for female entrepreneurs. However, women still lag in access to financial services.
However, despite these great advances, there is still inequality, room for improvement, and significant challenges facing women in Latin America. According to the World Bank, women face a variety of threats at different stages in their life. The prevalence of violence between intimate partners is estimated to be between 20 and 50 percent of women. Violence against women is widespread – more than half of the countries ranked as “high” or “very high” in levels of femicide are in Latin America – with El Salvador ranked as the worst in the world.
In a partnership with the U.S. Department of State and the U.S. Embassy in Port Moresby, CIPE is supporting the development of the recently-established Papua New Guinea Women’s Chamber of Commerce and Industry (PNGWCCI), the first and only women’s chamber in Papua New Guinea (PNG).
CIPE arranged for the senior leadership of PNGWCCI to attend a CIPE conference in Colombo, Sri Lanka that convened a network of women’s business groups from across the region. At this conference, which the Papua New Guinean participants described as “inspiring” and “eye-opening,” PNGWCCI saw first-hand that women’s chambers can be hugely successful even in difficult national environments for women, and relationships were established with other Asian chambers that could be invaluable mentors for PNGWCCI.
The women from PNG told CIPE that “we came home more enthusiastic than ever!”
More recently, at a training program in Port Moresby, a CIPE delegation worked with the leaders and members of PNGWCCI to develop an organizational vision, strategic objectives, along with tangible short and medium-term action plans to accomplish them.
Jordan ranks among the lowest countries in the world on the World Economic Forum’s measurement of women’s economic empowerment. This lack of economic empowerment tends to correspond to decreased political empowerment, with reduced levels of activities such as voting.
Although women represent over half of university graduates in Jordan, they constitute a paltry 16 percent of the workforce. More than 26 percent of Jordanian women with bachelor’s degrees remain unemployed, compared to just 9.1 percent of male graduates. However, women are finding ways to overcome barriers to their economic participation by starting their own businesses. The Jordan Times reported in February that 38% of all Jordanian entrepreneurs are women, exceeding the international average of women’s participation in the field.
Lina Hundaileh epitomizes this entrepreneurial spirit. After the German company where she worked closed down their Jordan office, Lina decided to create her own job by opening a chocolate factory. She was not deterred by her lack of experience in running a business or making chocolate. It did not faze her when others laughed at her plan. She was determined to succeed and did not view failure as an option. And she loved chocolate.
Fayyaz Bhidal is a CIPE-Atlas Corps Think Tank LINKS Fellow at the Atlantic Council.
As the world celebrates yet another international day dedicated to acknowledge and appreciate women’s social, economic, cultural and political contributions, women in Pakistan struggle for equal standing in deeply entrenched patriarchal society.
According to a recent article published in 24/7 Wall Street, Pakistan is only second to Yemen among the list of ten worst countries for women to be born in. Let’s look at the statistics in Pakistan: there’s 21 percent gender based income gap; only a quarter of the national labor force are represented by women; and women receive 43 percent less educational opportunities compared to men. In terms of gender equity, Pakistan falls far behind even the war-torn countries of Syria and Sudan. Given that women form about half the total population, their access to health and education services and chances for social and economic growth seem minimal.
In terms of women’s political participation, Pakistan has registered some impressive progress as women constitute about twenty percent of the legislature in provincial and national houses. However, this fair share in power has not translated into better living and working opportunities for the women who are represented by their likes in the parliament. These female parliamentarians usually belong to the elite class of the country, thus their focus is more on maintaining the status quo rather than taking up issues for legislation against women’s sexual harassment or better access to education or healthcare. The little legislation that prevails in this regard is attributed to the efforts of civil society organizations.