Thursday, October 31, 2013

Creating A Level-Playing Field For Women

‘Creating A Level-playing Field Will Spur Entrepreneurship In Women’

Published: Sunday, 27 October 2013 00:00 Written by NIKE SOTADE
Nigerian Guardian

Globally, the continued lopsidedness in the opportunity equilibrium for men and women has remained a major source of worry to concerned stakeholders, particularly in Africa. In a bid to advance the global advocacy aimed at reversing this trend, Vital Voices Global Partnership, the Washington-based non-governmental organisation founded by former United States Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton in 1997, recently held a one-day Supporting Public Advocacy for Regional Competitiveness (SPARC) in Lagos, to raise awareness and mentor women on how to increase their capacity for increased representation in economic and political participation. Celena Green, the Senior Programme Manager for Africa, Vital Voices Global Partnership spoke about the forum and other issues on CNBC Africa’s Beyond Markets, NIKE SOTADE reports.

With all the efforts that have been made to get women integrated within the economy, why are we still talking about it? Why is it still important to highlight women?

We know that for economic growth to continue, we can’t leave half of the population behind. We can’t under-utilise half of our great national resources and women are the greatest untapped resource as far as economic empowerment is concerned. There have been researches to show that countries with greater gender equalities and engagement of women in the labour force have seen as much as two to three per cent GDP growth just on the engagement of women.

So, it is usually a loss for a country not to fully engage women in the economy. We are therefore, talking about broader economy empowerment that will not just benefit participating women, but also really benefit the society as a whole.

Give the true picture without generalising because Africa comprises 54 different countries and advancement within these countries would be different; for instance, comparing Ethiopia with South Africa. Where are the worst offenders?

Across the board, there are challenges overall and there are also challenges in different levels of the economies. Those countries living with conflicts and turmoil such as Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and Somalia still have a long way to go in terms of basic women empowerment. But then, other countries that are further developed economically, that have more stable democratic societies such as Kenya and Nigeria where domestic violence continues to be a major problem, and issues such as women equality in the work force are just as severely hampering of their advancement in leadership and advancement in their decision-making. Also, women’s lack of control of their resources in the household is another issue.

So, there is still a long way to go even though there are shining stars in various countries where women have succeeded. What we are talking about is leveling the playing field across board so that every girl knows she has options as long as entrepreneurship, the corporate world or wherever she aspires to be are concerned; that there won’t be discriminatory or other societal barriers that will preclude her from realising her full potentials.

Is there any country that still actively prevents its women from being full participants in the economy?

There are many and varied laws everywhere. Vital Voices and a lot of other businesswomen’s associations such as Africa Businesswomen’s Network were part of a study led by the World Bank. They have on the website: women, business and the law. There is a number of laws around the world, but also specifically in the African continent where there are barriers that are directly discriminatory against women. And these range from women’s inability to have bank accounts in their names, to inherit property or start up and register a business in their names and pass on properties to their families and children.

So many of these barriers hamper women because when they need capital to expand their businesses on papers, they have no documented property or documented credit background because everything is in the man’s name. There are also many countries where even though they may have made progress in certain areas of the society but there is still a case with the specific law. Again, other countries may have beautiful law but don’t enforce it to protect women’s right to have their own capital. We are talking about ways to broaden all of this across the board.

What do we really need to do to get more women in because empowerment is a touchy subject, especially when trying to give a group of people advantage over the other; how can women get actively involved in the economy?

We are getting on with it, but we are not talking about giving women an advantage over men. For example, we are talking about equalities of opportunities and one of the ways we can do this is through first raising awareness of some of the overt as well as more subtle ways that discriminations affect women advancement. But women are taking up opportunities in the economy.

Secondly, after raising awareness, what we are really talking about is dedicating resources and holding ourselves accountable to ensure that women are taking advantage of the opportunities and are given fair chance. Some of the SPARC programmes being done around the continent in Kenya, Uganda, South Africa and Nigeria are looking at campaigns that promote investment in women as well as accountability and equal participation.

In Kenya for instance, we are looking to hold the government accountable for the objectives of achieving 30 per cent of government procurement from women in businesses. In Nigeria, they have a target of increasing the number of women on corporate boards, as well as leadership positions in the corporate world. In some other countries, they are advocating for increase in the utilisation and investment in women on farms as well as holding companies accountable to the target they set in gender equality in their companies. I think if we all have commitment to equality, monitor that commitment, and hold ourselves responsible for it, society will be better for all of us.

Who is responsible for taking charge of the process and tackling the problem; for how long and what resources should be allocated?

Vital Voices is a partnership organisation. We promote the use of partnership to address all societal problems and it is no different in women’s economic participation. Our partners in different countries, the business women’s associations are the Kenya Association of Women Business Owners (KABWO), Businesswomen’s Association of South Africa (BASA), Uganda Women Entrepreneurs Limited (UWEAL) and Nigeria’s Women in Management, Business, and Public Service (WIMBIZ).

All of them are partnering with the private sector and governments to address these issues. It’s a public-private partnership approach, so that all stakeholders have a role to play in helping women achieve advancement in the economy and realise their potentials. And it involves raising awareness of the resources and opportunities out there with a number of businesswomen associations playing key role in the campaign. But governments also need to understand the barriers women face and then partner with business associations to see ways we can remove some of these barriers and where there are discriminations, do what we can to change it.

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