Voices from the Field Series: Colombia

03.17.2021 | Catalina Herrera Jaramillo

CIPE staff members serve in the field year-round, helping launch and maintain programs to promote democracy and free enterprise. As the world marked International Women’s Day on March 8, our Center for Women’s Economic Empowerment (CWEE) asked several staff members to discuss the impact of their work in empowering and promoting women’s initiatives around the globe.

This post is also available in Spanish.

Catalina Herrera Jaramillo is Head of Knowledge at Cali Chamber of Commerce.

Why do you believe empowering women is important? 

Women empowerment is a fundamental tool to create greater independence (economic and emotional), change social dynamics and achieve a more equitable and sustainable world. However, this empowerment is insufficient when we do not also work with men, from when they are children, to change how they look at women and how they relate to them.

What are some of the top priorities for women in business in your country? 

Reduce the gap between men and women leading businesses.

The first thing is to understand the inverse relationship between the size of the company and the number of women leading them. Even though 42% of companies (in Cali) are led by women, the larger the company, the fewer women present in leadership positions. Most women leaders operate micro businesses.

Blue: % men
Orange: % women
In Large, Medium, Small and Micro enterprises
Source: Author, using 2019 Commercial Registry data.

The second thing is to work to reduce this gap. In the Cali Chamber of Commerce, we have seen cases of women who register their businesses in their boyfriend’s name because it makes it easier to negotiate with larger companies. In those cases, having a man leading the company, creates a sense of security and trust in the client, from other businessmen.

We need to strengthen women’s business skills. One experience we had working with 26 businesswomen to understand the way they make decisions and lead their companies showed weakness in this area.

We need to provide greater economic support to companies led by women or with a large number of women leaders. The COVID-19 crisis had a different impact on different sectors, affecting industries with greater participation by women (activities focused on personal care, like hair salons (71%), adult care (71%), home medical visits (64%), education and retail businesses (60%), to name a few).

Tell us a story of hope or change that you have seen in your work empowering women in your country. 

The story of Olga, a tailor, is a clear example of the common experience faced by many women to make things work for both her work and her family. Together with more than 100 women, she has an embroidery shop that is her source of economic independence and also a place of trust where those women can share about taking care of a child with a disability, or having dependent or sick parents.

At the other end of spectrum is Janeth, a businesswoman who has had a medical device company for more than 20 years, creates jobs in the region and her country. Her company is well-known for the quality of the products it manufactures, and she understands clearly that the international market is an opportunity for growth. She went from uncertainty and a risk adverse mindset in negotiation to, little by little, recognizing that “[women] participate more and demonstrate our piece of the business world.”

Who is a woman leader who inspires you and why? 

Simone de Beauvoir and Isabel Allende are women who have fought with their words, the first as an academic and the second with her literature. They have been able to make women the center of their works, in historic moments and contexts in which we were invisible or were seen as inferior or irrelevant. Their books change how we view women, demonstrating different experiences of being a woman, because it is also wrong to speak of women as one being, as if we were all the same. Their books always refer to the inequalities and responsibilities given to women by society and taken on by them, but also show processes of liberation and change.

Why is it important to celebrate International Women’s Day? 

It is important to celebrate because it obligates us to reflect on the concept of “woman” and the place that we have in this world. For me, it is also a day to understand that classifying humans into homogeneous groups brings great risk, inequity and inequality. It is our duty to avoid that. That is why I think International Women’s Day should celebrate the different ways we are women, and help us understand that this category of “women” is really made up of different people, races, sexual orientations, economic status, etc.