Let's talk about Women Economic Empowerment: 3 Actions to achieve Gender Equality

On 25 November 2017 , the yearly campaign “16 days of activism against violence against women”, conceived by UN Women, started, with the aim of raising awareness on the elimination of violence against women, in order to progress and prosper in society. The theme is : End violence against women and girls, Leave no One Behind.

This year my angle of study looks at the women economic empowerment, drawing from successful cases of women entrepreneurs in Africa, documented in the two-years research program by the World Bank, titled: Doing Business, Women in Africa.

According to the OECD, for women, “economic empowerment is the capacity, above all, to participate in, contribute to and benefit from growth processes”. Women’s economic empowerment can therefore be seen as fundamental to strengthening women’s rights and enabling women to have control over their lives and exert influence in society. It is also accepted that women make enormous contributions to economies, whether in businesses, or farms, as entrepreneurs or employees, or by doing unpaid care work at home. Yet, they remain disproportionately affected by poverty, discrimination and exploitation. Gender discrimination means that women often end up in insecure, low-wage jobs, and it curtails their access to economic assets, such as land and loans.

Women entrepreneurs in Tambacounda, Senegal, mobilize to provide access to modern energy and transform the life of thousands
Women entrepreneurs in Tambacounda, Senegal, mobilize to provide access to modern energy and transform the life of thousands of families in remote communities.

Sub-Saharan Africa has the highest rate of female entrepreneurship across the globe, with more women starting businesses in Africa than anywhere else in the world. According to the Full Participation project No ceilings, Female Entrepreneurs are on the rise, with 41% in Nigeria, followed by Ghana (28 %), Uganda (25 %), Botswana (20%)and South Africa (9 %). However, as women are influencing development and economic growth of entire societies, they are most often receiving financial support from family and friends, not allowing them to have the freedom and the financial independence required to break the cycle of psychological violence.

As a matter of fact, cultural stereotypes, cultural norms and practices leading to gender-based violence give opportunities to men to financially and psychologically control the destiny of women, by acting upon societal unwritten rules. On a bright note, insightful data from 74 economies gathered by the Global Entrepreneurship Report (GEM) 2016/2017 shows that the total participation of women in entrepreneurial activity increased by 10 % in 2014-2015, narrowing the gender gap by 5 %, highlighting the fact that women entrepreneurs provide incomes for their families, employment for those in their communities, and products and services that bring new value to the world around them.

By taking as a reference the international norms of the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action, promoting women’s economic independence, including employment by addressing the structural causes of poverty through changes in economic structures and laws to protect women, as well as the Convention on the Elimination of all forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW), adopting appropriate legislative and other measures, including sanctions where appropriate, prohibiting all discrimination against women, and by establishing legal protection of the rights of women, I see three actions as solutions, on the financial, cultural & advocacy and marketing/narrative sides. The main word here is TRANSFORM.

1. Advance access to finance for Women: through technical/advisory assistance and lending support, financial inclusion for women are beneficial for the reduction of gender-based barriers in the business environment. In addition, it welcomes the creation of business opportunities and improves the working conditions for female employees, market segmentation and inclusion of women in community relationships. (The World Bank has a program to accelerate financial inclusion for women, check here)

2. Awareness-raising campaigns and advocacy training for men and women, to enhance awareness of girls’ rights through the adaptation of positive cultural values (such as, respect, equality, equal opportunities..), and with the aim of eliminating cultural norms and practices leading to gender-based violence, such as forced marriage, early pregnancies, school-drop outs to take care of the family and thus lack of education and job opportunities). Watch and learn more about the HeforShe campaign, where men are involved in the fight against violence against women. (Take Action on the section: Work, where it states that people everywhere, from every corner of the world work together to achieve gender equality by giving the same opportunities in the workplace, equal pay and life-work balance).

3. Change the narrative of Africa: in an enlightening piece by the New York Times, a female Ethiopian entrepreneur points out at the single misleading narrative of Africa, written by non-Africans. In this old script, the words AIDS and poverty are recurrent. With the wave of creativity, innovation, knowing your context and making a change in society by inspiring others, Ms. Tilahun, business woman of a hand-made shoes company, stresses the need of a new Africa brand, where people “finally take back control of their destiny by controlling the marketing message”. People need to change their minds about Africa, inspiring the World to work in synergy and to make an impact on their communities.

Achieving the Dream of a world free of violence against women is possible. From Dream it becomes a Reality. Through daily efforts, starting from these 3 actions, everywhere in the world, from every corner, from where we are now, spreading the message of a generational Transformation by bringing women and men together, at the table, to discuss these issues and to make businesses work, collaborating instead of competing, for a more justice world.

Interesting inspiring readings:

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