Recently there has been a lot of discussion surrounding the gender gap, especially when it comes to economic participation. For everyone who is interested in human rights and understands that involving women in all aspects of government and business only improves dialogue and strengthens democracy, while at the same time rapidly improving the living standards of these women and their families, this fact is frustrating.
No one can deny that women are industrious, innovative, and enterprising, and that given the opportunity and resources, women can be very successful in business and in democratic and economic reform processes. We’ve moved beyond the debate of whether women “can” to the debate of “If they can, why aren’t they? What’s preventing them?”
Divisional Coalition meeting at Rajshahi including women entrepreneurs, officers the from the Department of Women’s Affairs, representatives from local NGOs, and bank officials. (Photo: BWCCI)
What happens when carefully crafted laws are not properly or fully enforced?
Back in 2009, CIPE partner the Bangladesh Women Chamber of Commerce and Industry (BWCCI) advocated for a number of local and national level policy reforms by endorsing the first ever Women’s National Business Agenda (WNBA).
The WNBA suggested policy changes concerning social and financial barriers faced by women entrepreneurs. This effort led the Central Bank to start issuing collateral-free loans for women entrepreneurs. The policy was initially a success and helped provide nearly $23 million in loans to 3,000 women.
However, due to the lack of continued monitoring, over time many banks began changing their lending fees or stopped complying with the law all together. This phenomenon is what CIPE calls an implementation gap – when laws on books are not practiced in real life. Since April 2013, with CIPE support, BWCCI has been trying to close this gap for women entrepreneurs in Bangladesh.
It’s all about advocacy and sustainability… The Coalition of Women’s Business Associations, created in 2004 with CIPE’s support, keeps on advocating.
“A few months ago, the Coalition of Women’s Business Associations, Romania, submitted a protest to the Prime Minister’s Cabinet, in reference to a number of unfriendly fiscal and financial measures that the government has adopted, in order to increase its budget. The Coalition’s protest recently received an official response from Alexandru Nazare, State Secretary at the Ministry of Public Finance…”
Read the story by Paula Anastasiade, from CIPE’s Regional Office in Romania, at the Community of Women Entrepreneurs.
“March 4th, 2009, was a special day for the Coalition of Women Business Associations in Romania (CAFA). Not only because we are talking about the week in which we celebrate women around the globe, what made this day very special was the fact that Barbara Barrett, former CIPE Board member and a close supporter of CAFA, visited Romania for one day, and in that short time she included CAFA in her very tight schedule.”
Read about the history and growth of CAFA, and Mrs. Barrett’s support through the years, in Camelia Bulat’s post at the Community of Women Entrepreneurs.
In Pakistan, women’s active/acknowledged participation in economic activities is quite low as compared to other developing economies. According to Federal Bureau of Statistics, Pakistan’s Labour Force Survey of Pakistan (2005-2006) Three Quarter- Yearly Report, “Women have 13.5 percent Crude Activity (Participation) Rate (CAR), which is the percentage of persons in labour force to the total population and 19.3 Refined Activity (Participation) Rate (RAR), which is the percentage of persons in labour force to the population 10 years of age and over. Only .3 percent of the employers are women.”
At the CIPE’s business policy roundtable on Women Entrepreneurship Development held in January 2007, one of the major impediments for women entrepreneurs identified by the participants was the ability to access finance through banking channels. The reasons given were:
- Difficulty in providing collateral
- Lack of credit/business history
- Lack of integrated help credit plus business development services
In Pakistan, current maximum financing under microfinance is Rs 150,000 (US$1,875); another recommendation at the roundtable was that access to finance must be increased as microfinance alone is not sufficient.
We are seeing the historic emergence in Pakistan of chambers and other bodies established by women to represent the needs of women entrepreneurs. This development is in part due to regulatory changes that allow women to represent themselves, and also in part due to CIPE’s active support. Read what’s happening in the words of pioneering women’s advocates Shehla Javed Akram and Shamim Akhtar: First Women Chamber of Commerce and Industry in Pakistan; Leadership with Strategy for Sailing Through the Main Stream.