Collective action to help women overcome barriers to entrepreneurship makes good economic sense. This is the message that rang loud and clear as government leaders, ministers, activists and world-renowned professionals met to deliberate women’s economic empowerment on the second day of the Commonwealth Women’s Forum in London today.
Participants explored a range of solutions to improve women’s economic empowerment including investing heavily in girls’ education, creating policies to protect women’s land rights and give them access to assets and providing role models, networks and other support mechanisms to get more women into business.
During a panel discussion, Arancha Gonzales, Executive Director of the International Trade Centre, pointed out that only one in five exporting companies is a woman-owned business. She added that women have to overcome multiple discriminations in law and in practice as well as barriers to accessing finance and professional networks.
Jamaica’s Minister of Foreign Affairs and Foreign Trade, Senator Kamina Johnson Smith said: “We can’t grow without trade. When you put that in the context that Jamaica is a country where we have close to 40 per cent of households headed by single women and you speak about financial inclusion and inclusive policies, you understand that it’s a real issue. Including more women in the formal economy must positively impact trade.”
Gambia’s Minister of Trade Dr Isatou Touray added, “What is most important is that we have to realise women contribute a lot within the economy, but what they contribute is taken for granted. We forget that they are actually the real suppliers of most of the commodities, most of everything that goes to industries. Therefore, if we do not give them the opportunity to self-actualise then that is big opportunity we are losing in terms of money, in terms of industry in terms of sustaining the economy.”
And at a session on creating the right policy environment for women’s economic empowerment, Malta’s Prime Minister, Joseph Muscat stressed that “it makes good economic sense to free this potential of women.”
The role that education plays in empowering women also came into sharp focus today. According to UNESCO estimates, 130 million girls between the age of six and 17 are out of school and 200 million live in fear of having their futures hijacked by harmful practices such as female genital mutilation. In a session led by Australia’s former Prime Minister Julia Gillard, participants called on governments to invest in 12 years of free, safe and quality education.
The Prime minister of Bangladesh, Sheikh Hasina, stressed that “if we do not provide education, it is not possible to empower women”.
She joined other governments in reaffirming their commitments to girl’s education and women economic empowerment.
UK Minister of State for International Development Harriet Baldwin said, “It’s down to us as members of the Commonwealth to step up together. We must work collectively, we must position ourselves at the forefront of driving action and we must empower women to trade more around the world.”