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Women’s (Economic) Empowerment

Let’s talk business! Entrepreneurship is one of the most prominent catchwords in the development discourse at the moment. To be a successful entrepreneur you will generally along with an idea need money, access to a market and time to realise the project. Imagine now that you do not have an income, you live in an urban area, you have an unpaid job that you cannot quit and your community is not willing to support your idea. Who might you be? A Woman!

The features described are common for urban living women, a group which is currently on the increase. A United Nations study has found that women are projected to comprise a majority of the world’s urban dwellers, as well as in increasing numbers be heads of households.

Women are generally expected to be the ones who have primary responsibility for the household, children, the caring for elderly and disabled, cleaning and washing. This job, for yes it is a job, is unpaid, but takes much of a woman’s time. Limiting her possibilities to seek employment, education and experiences outside the household sphere. All the while it is often stated that “women are key drivers of economic growth and that wealth in the hands of women leads to much more equitable outcomes for the quality of life of families and communities”[1][2]. So, what can be done to make sure that the potential of women does not stay within the household?

 

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First, it needs to be recognised that the work that the unpaid work that women do is in many cases necessary for the urban economy to function. The problem is that this is generally not recognised[3]. Second, the urban poor, in particular women, are disadvantaged in access employment, housing, education, asset ownership, to name a few. It is possible to talk of a feminization of poverty meaning that poverty hits women and girls harder than men. So, to make sure that the potential of women is made to use. The obstacles that the society, the economy, the culture and the political decisions create must be targeted. The question is how this is to be done!

The Tanzanian government has taken up the idea of providing women with loans and credits to help them realise their business ideas, and through this generate empowerment, one example of this is the Tanzania Women’s Bank (TWB). It is claimed that “credit and loans is the key element in economic empowerment because it assures the productivity of the enterprise or a person being financed”[4]. What this statement does not take into account are all the obstacles that a business can face, such as imperfect markets, stiff competition and weather conditions. These are factors that you cannot affect but that will affect you. When you take a loan or get a credit you are obligated to return the money, sometimes with interest rate. What do you do if your business, does not succeed in the way that you anticipated? The risk is that your situation in the end becomes worse than it was before. What if there were alternatives to loans and credits?

An example of successful credit lending can be taken from Somalia. Yunis a young Somali-woman found a gap in the market and decided to fill it. She witnesses of some of the obstacles already. “[A]s Somali society’s views and attitudes towards women’s role change, she [Yunis] expects more women to take up poles not only as entrepreneurs, but in academia and politics as they prove themselves equal to men in every aspect of life in Somalia”[5]. It is examples like these that show that entrepreneurship can have and effect and in fact also improve women’s situation in general. Women as well as society in general is likely to, with time, realise the potential in women. Does not this reality mean that women, such as Yunis, are not only business women but should also be recognized as politicians, as development practitioners and as forces of cultural and social change? Is it really only up to women to prove to the world that they are able, that they have skills, knowledge and assets? To prove that they are entitled to be treated as human beings just as men?

Business and entrepreneurship, especially among women needs to be thoroughly discussed. What measures are the most appropriate? With the risks that credits and loans bring, are there alternatives? One way to develop further is collaboration among women entrepreneurs. In Ethiopia businesswomen have created community groups, were they discuss issues and share experiences. Through the government they have been given a plot on which they communally cultivates potatoes. Furthermore, they have established collective savings, which are used by members of the group to improve their businesses[6]. Is this a way forward? In this particular example the government is involved, providing for the development of the women’s businesses and their communities. Is it necessarily the government that should help out, or is it the civil society? Maybe the international community? It can be argued that this is in fact something that helps the country, by improving the economic situation of its citizens it will have effects on the well being of current and future generations. This could be a strong argument encouraging the government in more countries to take on a similar approach.

However, a problem rarely have only one solution. MEWC want to hear your ideas, reflections and views about women’s (economic) empowerment. Does it have the potential of aiding the society in general, providing for a positive development in terms of economic, political, cultural and social sustainability? What is the role of women’s unpaid work when women’s economic empowerment is discussed, can it be taken into consideration?

The MEWC-blog is your space, where you are invited to express your thoughts, ideas and visions on any issue that relates to women’s situation in Africa. Please send your reactions, thoughts and ideas to: blog@makeeverywomancount.org

 



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