Women around the world face legal, regulatory, and social barriers to doing business. The COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated these barriers, by disproportionately impacting women-majority industries and placing the burden of care for children and the sick even more heavily on women’s shoulders. A year into the pandemic, women entrepreneurs are struggling, and although many businesses are moving online to adapt to the pandemic, a lack of resources prevents many from engaging fully with the digital economy.
In response to the growing challenges presented by COVID-19, on February 7-9, 2021, CIPE held a three-day virtual conference titled “Amplifying the Voice of Asian Women in the Economy” for its partners in Asia. These include women’s organizations based in the Philippines and Cambodia and members of the CIPE-facilitated South Asia Regional Network of Women’s Business Organizations (RNWBO). The South Asia RNWBO is made up of women’s chambers of commerce and women’s business associations from countries including Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Nepal, and Sri Lanka.
Participants drafted a mission, vision, and values statement that outlined the network’s common values, including collaboration, empowerment, and amplifying women’s voices.
With some 43 attendees, the conference featured many guest speakers who led panels on topics including digital economy, gender-based violence and harassment (GBVH) in the workplace, and the role of business associations in the time of COVID-19. These timely panels allowed participants to learn about pressing issues relevant to their organizations and fostered discussion on future topics for advocacy and collaboration in the network. CIPE also facilitated breakout sessions at the conference that allowed participants to identify a mission, vision, and values statement for the network and to envision the next steps and priorities for the network in the future.
On the third day of the conference, CIPE led a panel on eliminating GBVH in the workplace in coordination with the gender teams of the other core institutes of the National Endowment for Democracy (NED): The International Republican Institute (IRI), the National Democratic Institute (NDI), and the Solidarity Center.
Each organization shared perspectives on how politics, civil society, labor organizations, and the private sector can contribute to women’s safety in the workplace. The Solidarity Center also discussed its work on the International Labor Organization (ILO) Convention 190 (C190) on Violence and Harassment in the World of Work, which would recognize the right to work in an environment free from violence and harassment, with a particular focus on gender. After this panel, the participants placed a high priority on continuing conversations and planning advocacy strategies focused on eliminating workplace GBVH in their own countries as a core part of the RNWBO’s future.
The network identified several other priorities including market diversification, strong business skills, and access to digital economy. All of these have been made more urgent due to the impacts of COVID-19. The network also prioritized increased knowledge-sharing, fostering increased market access, and collaborating on advocacy strategies to influence policy and make economies more favorable to women businessowners. Participants are eager to expand the network from South Asia to a broader Asia-wide network to further increase the network’s expertise and market access, although members of the South Asian network still plan to remain closely engaged.
With CIPE’s help, participants drafted a mission, vision, and values statement for the network on the third day of the conference. The statement outlined the network’s common values, including collaboration, empowerment, and amplifying women’s voices. These values will guide the network’s mission of knowledge sharing, empowering businesswomen, and advocating for policy reform, to achieve its vision of achieving women’s economic empowerment across the region.
CIPE will continue to foster communication within the network to finalize this statement and to encourage growth and further networking between the member organizations. In the past year, the network associations have acted quickly to meet their member organizations’ needs during COVID-19; CIPE will continue to support the network’s responsiveness to the needs of businesswomen as the network expands throughout Asia.
The strategies used by the Center for International Private Enterprise (CIPE) are more relevant than ever for facilitating networks among businesswomen. CIPE partners with women’s chambers of commerce and women’s business associations to create network opportunities for businesswomen across countries and regions to allow for the exchange of information and best practices, foster mentorship relationships, and expand market opportunities. CIPE works with its partner business associations to provide technical assistance and small grants to further the organizations’ goals and promote women’s economic empowerment.