Photo: Jonas Lannering/Sida
Women entrepreneurs from 16 countries met in Stockholm
Chamber Trade Sweden recently arranged a seminar at Sida on Women’s economic empowerment – Stories of Success and Failure. The seminar was the closing event of the 5th and last conference on Women Economic Empowerment within Chamber Trade Sweden’s Chamber Academy Program.
The conference had gathered business women from about 16 countries. In the seminar these women shared their experiences of how women can build successful businesses which make a difference for reducing poverty. The seminar was visited by the Swedish minister for Enterprise and Innovation, Mikael Damberg and UN Deputy Special Representative of the Secretary General Mme Mbaranga Gasarabwe from Mali. The Swedish Minister of Foreign Affairs, Margot Wallström, also made a special note to the women on a video link.
Charlotte Kalin, CEO of Chamber Trade Sweden started the seminar by addressing some crucial issues on the economic empowerment of women in low and middle income countries. As much as 90 per cent of the world’s economies have at least one regulation hindering women’s economic empowerment. In many of these countries, men are even legally able to stop their wives from working.
According to Kalin, more knowledge of the challenges and gaps for women businesses such as trade barriers, access to finance, family norms and social constraints are needed.
– We know a lot about women's limited opportunities for economic empowerment, but we need to know even more, and step up our efforts in this area in order to achieve an inclusive economic growth in the low- and middle income countries we have a cooperation with, said Charlotte Kalin.
Sida has since 2012 cooperated with Chamber Trade Sweden and local partners in developing countries supporting Women’s Economic Empowerment.
One important part of this work is the support to AWAN Africa, a regional business support organization in east Africa that promotes women in Agricultural Value Chains, making it easier for women in the agricultural sector to grow their businesses.
Through AWAN, many east African women have been able to expand their small scale agricultural business and move up the value chain.
–Through AWAN I have had the opportunity to meet other women entrepreneurs from East African countries which has faced the same challenges as me. It is women who account for the majority of the work in the agricultural sector. If they can bring products to market directly, we have much to gain in terms of economic inclusion. Otherwise there is the risk that men will continue to take the product of our work by selling the products we produced, said Rose Romanus, Vice Chair AWAN Tanzania and Treasurer AWAN East Africa.
“Women entrepreneurs has to prove themselves 110%”
During the seminar, entrepreneurs from Tanzania, Kenya, Indonesia and Somalia to mention a few, all shared their experiences of running a business in low- or middle income countries as a woman.
One of the inspiring stories of the seminar belonged to Amal Al Hussein Majeed an Iraqi business woman based in Baghdad. With no intentions to leave her home country as many of her friends had done, she stayed and built a successful business in the construction sector without help from the government or any NGO.
– It is hard being a women entrepreneur in Iraq, especially in the construction sector. The Government doesn’t trust women enough to give you any contracts.
I had to win the procurements by lowering the cost so they were simply forced to accept my offer. After a while they trusted me enough to give me more valuable contracts so my business could move up the value chain, said Hussein.
In order to cope with prejudice against female entrepreneurs, some of the participants encouraged their fellow colleagues to stay strong and keep working harder than their male counterparts. Or as Aasia Saail Khan, a Pakistani pharmacist, fashion designer and supply chain specialist, said it.
– Women have to prove themselves 110% in order to develop a successful business. They are often forced to do several jobs at the same time as the homemaker, the mother and the entrepreneur. But in the end it is worth it, because when we empower a woman economically, we empower a whole generation.