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.
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.
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.
In early November, the World Bank published its annual “Doing Business Report,” which assesses government regulations that support or constrain business activity across 189 countries. This year, Afghanistan again ranked near the bottom, down one spot from last year, in the 183rd position. The full report on Afghanistan can be found here.
There is no disputing that Afghanistan is a difficult place to do business, yet as has been noted in the past on the CIPE blog, there are inherent limitations to what the Doing Business rankings measure. We frequently point out that these indicators reflect the “laws on the books,” or the formal economic environment, but do not address the so-called implementation gap between those laws and practice. There have been cases in which countries introduce reforms specifically to move up the rankings, but surveys of entrepreneurs reveal that business continues “as usual,” as these new laws do not work in reality, either because of a lack of political will or low public administration capacity. In addition, political stability and democratic legitimacy are not captured in the Doing Business rankings. Egypt was a “top reformer” prior to 2010, but the events in Tahrir Square were to a great extent fueled by economic woes.
In order to get a more comprehensive view of a country’s economic environment, it is useful to consider public opinion and understand attitudes towards state institutions and processes. In the case of Afghanistan, the Asia Foundation’s annual Survey of the Afghan People is one such tool. This year’s report is especially meaningful given the country’s post-election mood, and its implications for public confidence in the country’s economic environment.
“The year 2015 offers a unique opportunity for global leaders and people to end poverty, transform the world to better meet human needs and the necessities of economic transformation, while protecting our environment, ensuring peace and realizing human rights. We are at a historic crossroads, and the directions we take will determine whether we will succeed or fail on our promises,” said United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki Moon in the synthesis report on the post-2015 agenda.
The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) are rooted in an agreement reached during the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development held in Rio de Janeiro in June 2012, otherwise known as Rio+20, and the adoption of the outcome document, “The Future We Want.” As a cornerstone for the post-2015 development agenda, the 17 SDGs begin where unfinished work of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) left off, with aspirations of poverty eradication, inclusion, human rights, equality, and sustainability.
The Center for International Private Enterprise together with Creative Associates International recently held a forum with Pauline Baker of the Fund for Peace, Tony Pipa of United States Agency for International Development (USAID), J.W. Wright of Creative Associates, and Amb. James Michel, author of “Shaping the New Development Agenda” (available in full or abridged versions), which guided the conversation.
By Tyler Makepeace
At the 2014 World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe of Japan expounded on his program for economic reform, known as Abenomics. The plan consists of three “arrows”: monetary easing, fiscal stimulus, and structural reforms. Structural reforms, the third arrow, have been the most difficult to implement, among them increasing the economic opportunities for women in Japan. As Abe noted during his speech “the female labor force in Japan is the most under-utilized resource. Japan must become a place where women shine.” Abe later stated a firm goal to have women in 30 percent of “leading positions” in Japan by 2020, however the method by which this goal will be realized is anything but clear.
Watch an interview with Tasneem Ahmar conducted by CIPE Program Officer Jennifer Anderson.
It is widely accepted by development experts that women are a largely untapped source of potential around the world. Women constitute approximately 50 percent of the human population and whether talking about political, economic, or social development, they have the ability to contribute vast advancements. However, in many countries around the world, women are excluded from participating in meaningful ways. In Pakistan, CIPE friend and partner Tasneem Ahmar is working through the media to change the perception of women in order to increase their ability to contribute to the nation’s development.
Having been raised in a family of media professionals, Tasneem discovered early on that women were not portrayed the same as men in print and broadcast media, leading to an undervaluing of women as a whole. Using Pakistan’s recent elections as an example, she has described how women candidates were only portrayed as objects with the main topics of discussion focusing around their wardrobe, hairstyles, and accessories rather than meaningful conversation about their stance on the issues. In an effort to change this pattern and change Pakistani perceptions, Tasneem established the Uks Research Center in 1997.