Female Entrepreneurship
Female entrepreneurship has great potential for poverty reduction in the developing world, helping women support themselves and their families. By becoming entrepreneurs, women can contribute to economies through “innovation, employment and the creation of wealth,” an OECD policy brief states. However, women are underrepresented in the entrepreneurial sector and often run “smaller and less dynamic businesses than men.” Women also tend to run businesses in “non-capital intensive sectors, including personal services,” which have “lower potential for generating a high and sustainable income,” according to the OECD. Women also face a multitude of challenges that hinder their full entrepreneurial potential.

Trends in Female Entrepreneurship

Female entrepreneurship rates are higher in developing nations compared to developed ones. This is because women face increased difficulties in entering “the formal labor market,” thus, many women turn to entrepreneurship as an opportunity to address both unemployment and poverty.

Interestingly, “Larger gender gaps in start-up activity are found in middle-income countries, whereas they tend to be narrower in lower-income countries probably because many women start businesses out of necessity,” an article by Maria Minniti and Wim Naudé explains. Furthermore, women in these lower-income countries tend to be more self-assured in their abilities to start such ventures and are less deterred by possible business failure than women in higher-income countries.

Remarkably, research has found that in developing regions, female entrepreneurship rates are the highest. In the developing world, there are as many as “10 million formal small and medium enterprises (SMEs)” with at least “one female owner,” the World Bank reports.

A 2021-22 report by Global Entrepreneurship Monitor (GEM) report stated that four out of five women in the Middle East and Africa recalled starting entrepreneurial ventures due to “job scarcity.” In particular, Sudan showed the highest rates of female entrepreneurship and Morocco showed the lowest.

Challenges That Female Entrepreneurs Face

Worldwide, in a developed or developing region, entrepreneurs face numerous challenges. However, these challenges and barriers are more significant for women.

  • The impact of culture and society. Negative stereotypes persist despite the substantial advancement of women within the labor market. The construction of entrepreneurship as a “masculine” undertaking has profound implications for women. One of the most important is that it lowers the level of legitimacy of female entrepreneurs’ work, thereby affecting the market position of their business along with their resource mobilization. Traditional gender expectations limit the “full realization of their entrepreneurial potential,” according to the OECD.
  • Entrepreneurship skills. Women tend to doubt their entrepreneurial skills and abilities more than men do. Furthermore, women find that entrepreneurship skills training programs are difficult to access. Although their education levels mirror or exceed those that men possessed, women often “lack experience in self-employment” and encounter “fewer opportunities” to hold management positions, which “acts as a barrier to gaining management experience and skills that can be used in entrepreneurship,” the OECD says.
  • Accessing finance. Women have greater difficulty accessing financial resources for their businesses compared to men. These barriers arise due to “lower levels of entrepreneurial experience, participation in more marginal female-dominated sectors, gender-biased credit scoring and gender stereotyping in the lending process,” the OECD explains. As such, female entrepreneurs usually start their ventures with less funding and are “more reliant on self-funding.”
  • Support networks. Unlike their male counterparts, female entrepreneurs “tend to have entrepreneurial networks that are smaller and less diverse.” Women entrepreneurs’ networks typically include family and friends “rather than business services providers or other entrepreneurs.” This can impede the expansion and development of ventures, restricting female entrepreneurs’ access to persons who can provide critical business advice and support.

Successful Female Changemakers in Developing Countries

Jamila Mayanja founded Smart Girls Uganda in 2012 to “tackle the female unemployment rate and train young women to grow their skillset[s],” according to Elle magazine. Her business supports women to become “innovators and solution solvers” and gain financial autonomy. She says “One of the biggest causes of gender-based violence is the power the men have over the women when it comes to money.” Annually, the organization trains and supports 150-200 females through economic initiatives.

As a university student, Zuhura Abdul Sakaya co-founded Youth For Change Tanzania in 2019 as a way to end gender-based violence. Growing up in poverty, Sakaya witnessed her mother’s abuse at the hands of her father. The goal of the organization is to provide women with opportunities for empowerment and economic independence. By engaging the power of traditional and digital media, action networks and coalitions, Youth for Change is able to effect transformation.

Encouraging Female Entrepreneurship

In 2022, the Jammu and Kashmir Rural Livelihoods Mission (UMEED) helped 400,000 women in 48,000 Self Help Groups access capital for entrepreneurship endeavors. The Jammu and Kashmir government is committed to assisting these women to re-skill or obtain new skills through mentorship opportunities in order to help the women entrepreneurs expand their markets.

The World Bank avidly supports female entrepreneurship in developing nations and sees it as a viable route to encourage economic expansion and reduce poverty. Policies that encourage ventures, such as credit access facilitation and business development programs, have the potential to close the gender pay gap for poor women. Supporting female entrepreneurship is one of the key ways to help women rise out of poverty. Despite the challenges, such initiatives ensure that women become empowered and independent.

– Harkiran Bharij
Photo: Flickr

Empowering Women in Bangladesh
Women are pushing for representation in many fields, including education, technology, architecture, fashion, health care, journalism and sports. Every year, an increasing number of female entrepreneurs enter the market and significantly contribute to the global economy. Women’s enterprises in Bangladesh are gradually developing to have a similar stream of development potential. However, women in entrepreneurship are not as prevalent in Bangladesh, where women own just 7.2% of all businesses.

Nevertheless, the situation is slowly evolving, and more Bangladeshi women are entering the corporate sphere as leaders, opening the path for thousands of others by motivating and mentoring them. One of the recent highlights of this development was the Women Entrepreneurship Training Program by BRAC University, called Venture Maestras. The initiative aims to promote gender equality and empower women entrepreneurs, in line with the U.N.’s fifth Sustainable Development Goal (SDG). The Venture Maestras Program gives theoretical underpinnings and techniques for tackling business challenges that women encounter and a practical understanding of the real-world market. Here are more details about how Venture Maestras is empowering women in Bangladesh.

The Program’s Mission

This program’s purpose is to make significant contributions to empowering women in Bangladesh. Additionally, the future vision is to achieve gender equality and sustainable, long-term prosperity for the nation and its global status. Venture Maestras has three core objectives. Firstly, it is empowering women entrepreneurs in Bangladesh by offering information, skills and training to enrich their competence. It also works on providing continuous support services for various projects that participants undertake and doing research to promote gender equality and the long-term well-being of all Bangladeshis. Moreover, the program focuses on creating awareness of opportunities in business fields and motivating women to engage in such activities.

A Vision Beyond the Program Itself

Bringing awareness and equality in a closed-door room does not help much when it concerns the entire nation. It takes tremendous effort to grow the network to a size where it is able to spread the word to every corner of the country. As a result, the program works on building an effective network between established women entrepreneurs, which helps the women share their knowledge and aid. Secondly, it includes significant research and case studies on economic and social issues that affect many women entrepreneurs in Bangladesh. These studies help innovate business ideas and bring solutions to decades-old problems. Finally, all the connections with public, private and non-government organizations help to reach a broader audience.

How the Program is Managed

The pilot program starts with an orientation where the participants can engage in discussions with successful female entrepreneurs. Subsequent sessions cover the business canvas model and entrepreneurial skills, including HR management, digital marketing and many legal aspects. The program also includes loan and financial management lessons. At the end of the program, participants present their business proposals to a panel of experts for evaluation. The program doe not include any special requirements other than a high school level education and the intention to start or manage one’s own enterprises. After the program ends, the top three finalists receive 100,000 BDT as an award, which is roughly $1,000 USD.

According to the BRAC Business School, the participants greatly benefited from the program’s offerings. According to the survey, entrepreneurs found some training sessions more effective than others, with training in the business canvas model, marketing and digital marketing being the top choices. Without entrepreneurial support, the country will fail to see any industrial breakthrough – even when there is technical progress. However, with these kinds of programs and training, Bangladesh can become a strong participant in the global market.

– Zahin Tasnin
Photo: Flickr

Economic Empowerment
One of the goals of decreasing global poverty is tackling historical inequities that disadvantage certain groups in society. Local, national and international institutions work to empower women in the economic sphere to bring together a variety of groups in society. Four agencies within the United Nations began a partnership to focus on economic empowerment for women in rural regions.

A new phase of the Joint Program: Accelerating Progress Toward Rural Women’s Economic Empowerment (JP RWEE) launched in March 2022 at the 66th Session of the Commission on the Status of Women. This program is a collaboration between five agencies including the Food and Agriculture Organization of the U.N., the International Fund for Agricultural Development, U.N. Women, the U.N. Entity for Gender Equality and the World Food Program (WFP). As the breadth of involved agencies suggests, the program aims to build economic empowerment for rural women in the agricultural sector by increasing their ability to obtain resources and services enabling them to succeed in their own livelihoods. The intended result is a decrease in poverty in rural regions as women unify in communities and combat historically limiting social norms.

Phase 1

The first phase of the JW RWEE was launched in 2014 and ended in 2021. The focus regions were Ethiopia, Guatemala, Kyrgyzstan, Liberia, Nepal, Niger and Rwanda. Results indicate that economic empowerment goals succeeded in raising agricultural production by 82% and assisting about 80,000 women. The new phase of the program also seeks to improve the lives of rural women through sustainable development. 

The program is part of the larger 2030 Agenda to improve poverty in rural communities. Initiatives within the program include improving food security, increasing the income of rural women, strengthening skills in leadership and community and promoting gender inclusivity to complement the goal of economic empowerment. The Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Swedish International Cooperation Agency provide funding.

Phase 2

The second phase of the program will focus on Nepal, Niger, the Pacific Islands, Tanzania and Tunisia. Norway and Sweden donated $25 million toward the initiative. In October 2022, one component of the program began in Tanzania. Over the course of five years, the program will cost $5 million and will target the provinces of Singida, Dodoma and Zanzibar in Tanzania. In that nation, subsistence farming contributes 80% of women’s income. Thus, the five-year JP RWEE will deliver economic empowerment in the form of agricultural assistance to provide resources and skills to combat changes in climate and leadership.

In Africa, the first phase of the JP RWEE assisted Ethiopia, Liberia, Niger and Rwanda. The new phase of the program will continue to assist the country in gender equality and economic empowerment. In addition, all countries in Africa agreed to the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women, and many also agreed to the African Charter on Human and Women’s Rights. However, despite these efforts, women in Africa still continue to face discrimination on a regular basis. The African Union’s ten-year strategy for gender equality lasts until 2028, but leaders have expressed their commitment to reinforcing gender equality across the continent beyond that timeframe.

– Kaylee Messick
Photo: Flickr

The Milaan Foundation
According to the World Bank, the latest official estimates from 2011 indicated that almost 22% of India’s population lived below the national poverty line. The demographic most vulnerable to poverty is the 120 million adolescent girls in India who are more likely to discontinue their education at a young age and face child marriages. The Milaan Foundation in India recognizes these hardships and helps young girls secure their futures in education and outside of child marriages.

Issues Young Indian Girls Face

Women suffer discrimination and gender-based violence at notable rates in India. According to the National Crime Records Bureau of India, “every hour, at least two women are sexually assaulted and every six hours, a young married woman is beaten to death, burnt or driven to suicide.”

The results of this discrimination have led to deteriorating mental health, high poverty rates and isolation. These gender-based issues start at a young age and are costly for a young girl’s education. According to UNICEF, about 43% of Indian girls have discontinued their secondary education early due to an array of reasons, with child marriage having a significant influence.

India has a significant number of child brides, with about 1.5 million Indian girls committing to marry before the age of 18. Of these girls, 7% are under the age of 15. These child brides lack the maturity and development to handle marital duties, yet their parents see no alternatives, often because marrying off daughters eases the economic burden on the family.

While child marriages appear to be the route toward security and stability, many girls end up enduring early pregnancies. Nearly 14% of adolescent Indian girls in both rural and urban areas have begun childbearing. These pregnant girls’ lives and health are at risk because young mothers are more susceptible to maternal mortality and complications during childbirth.

The Milaan Foundation in India

The Milaan Foundation in India originated in 2007 to aid impoverished girls between the ages of 12-18 regardless of religion, color or caste system. The organization prides itself on having a diverse team with 60% of its board members and 90% of its team members being women from all walks of life.

Partnering with more than 40 organizations and donors, the organization focuses on four goals: continuation of secondary education for girls, prevention of child marriages, prevention of gender-based violence and adolescent health. Overall, the Foundation has impacted more than 40,000 adolescents in four different Indian states.

The Milaan Foundation and Education

The Milaan Foundation consistently encourages girls to continue their secondary education through its Swarachna School. The school is purposely placed in the Sitapur district as 84% of the district’s population lives in poverty. The school currently educates 350 children, all with a passing rate of 100% in 12th-grade board examination classes. The 12th-grade board examinations, also known as the SSC, are crucial for students in India looking to reach higher education and apply to universities.

The Milaan Foundation’s Girl Icon Program

The largest program funded by the Milaan Foundation is its Girl Icon Program. Founded in 2015, the Girl Icon Program is a girl-led leadership program that encourages Indian girls to speak out, spread awareness of gender-based issues, diversify their skillsets and become independent. Indian girls who pass through the program are called Girl Icons with duties to inspire and evoke change.

For example, Kushboo Rasheed, a 2015 Girl Icon, went out into her neighborhood and coaxed parents who doubted the value of education to send their children to school. In the end, she recruited 20 kids to attend school and also tutored these children in her spare time to ensure that they did not fall behind. Rasheed shows the program’s domino effect: Girl Icons learn, they thrive, then, they recruit more Girl Icons who do the same.

So far, the program has implemented 953 social action projects and impacted more than 10,000 adolescent girls, 375 of whom have become Girl Icons. In 2021, all of the Girl Icons continued their secondary education and 80% looked to pursue higher education. As a result, 95% of girls delayed early marriage due to educational ambitions.

The Milaan Foundation and the Pandemic

Due to the coronavirus pandemic, 10 million Indian girls dropped out of secondary school. Despite the pandemic, The Milaan Foundation in India continued its Girl Icon Program, moving its classroom online from January 2021 to March 2021. The Girl Icon Program Virtual Leadership Training proved to be a great success as it reached 5,000 adolescent girls and awarded 201 education scholarships to its girl leaders to support their upcoming projects.

Outside of the Girl Icon Program, the Milaan Foundation has also provided medical resources across India. As the second deadly wave of the pandemic hit India in January 2021, the Milaan Foundation delivered more than 26,000 medicine kits and 39,000 medical consumables to those in need.

Future Visions

By 2030, the Milaan Foundation hopes to impact more than 10 million Indian girls and raise a new generation of girl leaders who leave the world better than they found it. The Foundation also plans on continuing to recruit more children for its Swarachna School and aims to host another Girl Icon Leadership Summit in late 2022.

– Blanly Rodriguez
Photo: Flickr

Support to Bangladeshi Women
Poverty has been disproportionately affecting women in Bangladesh in the aftermath of natural disasters such as Cyclone Amphan. In commitment to the Generation Equality Compact on Women Peace and Security and Humanitarian Action (WPS-HA), U.N. Women has worked with local partners in Bangladesh to aid in economic recovery and provide support to Bangladeshi women, especially post-natural disasters, by issuing grants and providing vocational training to local women.

Gender and Economic Disparity in Bangladesh

In 2019, 20.5% of Bangladesh’s citizens fell under the national poverty line, according to the Asian Development Bank. Furthermore, the unemployment rate for Bangladeshi females in 2021 stood at almost 8% whereas the unemployment rate for males in Bangladesh stood at 4.1% in 2021, according to International Labour Organization (ILO) estimates. In 2019, the workforce participation rate for Bangladeshi males aged 15-64 stood at 84% but only 38% for females in the same age group. Furthermore, in 2022, the literacy rate among men stood at 76.56% whereas for women it stood at 72.82%.

When comparing the margin of difference between literacy rates and employment rates among Bangladeshi men and women, it is clear that women face inequalities that result in their exclusion and marginalization, pushing them deeper into poverty.

Story of Mahmuda Khatun

When Cyclone Amphan hit Bangladesh in 2020, many people lost their livelihoods and fell deeper into poverty, including Mahmuda Khatun’s household. Khatun wished to start a small business to help support her family but she faced barriers such as “a lack of banking history” and inadequate financial literacy. She reached out to the Prerona Foundation for help, “a local women’s organization supported by U.N. Women.”

The Prerona Foundation works with vulnerable women to improve their economic resilience, especially in crisis-prone areas. The Foundation helped Khatun establish a livelihood by providing training and a loan for her to start a poultry farm to generate income. Khatun now provides for her two daughters and husband by raising poultry. Since its beginnings, her business has flourished and Khatun now earns about 17,000 takas ($200 USD) per month.

Multi-Industry Glass Ceilings

Organizations like the Prerona Foundation and U.N. Women recognize the importance of involving and providing support to Bangladeshi women in the wake of humanitarian crises and natural disasters. Women are a key catalyst in a community’s response and recovery and are often end up out of the equation albeit being valuable agents.

Furthermore, when one woman receives uplifting, the benefits do not stop there. Khatun is now looking to help other women in her community by providing vocational training and championing women’s empowerment in Bangladesh. According to U.N. Women, in 2020, “less than 60% of Bangladeshi women have access to credit,” which stands as a significant barrier to their entrepreneurial potential. Moreover, about a third of the nation’s labor force consists of female employees and less than 5% of them hold formal positions. Bangladeshi women also “earn 21% less than their male counterparts.”

Rising Through Recovery

Given such statistics, it can seem daunting for women in Bangladesh to assume financial independence and see success, especially amid a natural disaster like Cyclone Amphan. However, U.N. Women continues to work with dozens of civil society and local women’s organizations on the ground to help address these systemic issues.

In 2022, U.N. Women has also partnered with the U.N. Development Programme (UNDP) to further “gender equality and women’s empowerment in Bangladesh.” Both institutions have “signed an inter-agency agreement” for 2022-2026 to establish “gender-responsive inclusive governance,” reduce discrimination against women, and advance “women’s economic empowerment and access to justice,” among other aims.

Going forward, the focus will be on starting a normative agenda, establishing gender-inclusive legislation, providing financing to advance gender equality and supporting women-led businesses. This partnership also stresses the importance of addressing gender-based violence in Cox’s Bazar, placing women in leadership roles and providing females with the skills training, services and resources to thrive.

Given the commitment, both at a local and international level, there is hope for more Bangladeshi women to rise out of poverty despite the impacts of Cyclone Amphan.

– Samyudha Rajesh
Photo: Flickr

Rural Delights in Lebanon
The Lebanese non-governmental organization (NGO) Atayeb-Al Rif or Rural Delights in English, is committed to rural development and economic opportunities for women in Lebanon. Since its founding with the funding of USAID, Rural Delights in Lebanon has partnered with worker cooperatives to employ women in processing traditional Lebanese treats and trinkets such as jams, syrups, dried fruits, honey, olive oil and molasses. The organization also offers business training to Lebanese women as part of its services.

About Rural Delights

In an interview with The Borgen Project, May Traboulsy, Chairperson at Rural Delights, commented on its mission of economically empowering Lebanese women; “Our mission focuses on empowering women socio-economically, but also touches on other players in the sector of food processing, such as farmers and refugees, through productive activities as food processing, while enhancing women’s role at the level of their communities as well as at the level of relevant value chains.”

Rural Delights in Lebanon and its emphasis on job opportunities for women could be a welcome step to alleviating national poverty especially as the country is experiencing negative economic growth. The country’s unemployment rate as of 2021 stands at 14.5%, while inflation skyrocketed to 154.8% in the same year.

The alarming economic situation in the country underscores the importance of organizations such as Rural Delights and how they can contribute to alleviating the economic situation in the country by creating economic opportunities for women, a largely untapped resource in the Lebanese economy. Lebanon’s female labor participation rate stands at only 24.5% as of 2021.

Rural Delights in Lebanon, therefore, plays an important role in the economic empowerment of women to reduce poverty through the creation of economic opportunities and entrepreneurial skills Rural Delights in Lebanon focuses on. Traboulsy commented on the importance of women’s economic participation in the same interview by stating that “AAR considers that when women are capacitated to become productive members within their society, this, in turn, provides them with empowered tools that could elevate their livelihood, improve resilience and therefore reduce poverty by translating women’s actions into income-generating activities.” Rural Delights in Lebanon has not only committed itself to reduce poverty through increased female labor participation but its current activities on the ground have achieved concrete results.

The Biocoop Program

Rural Delights in Lebanon has initiated a number of projects achieving concrete economic gains for women in business. The Biocoop program, which USAID funded, has focused on vocational training for women. This project aimed to increase labor skills for women in food processing, hygiene, general health practice, good manufacturing practice and marketing practice. Such a program can reduce poverty through the skills it offers women to succeed in business generating more income-earning opportunities and higher living standards over time.

The Stimulating Markets Program

Rural Delights in Lebanon also launched the Stimulating Markets program from 2002-2006 with funding from USAID. This project meant to create more food processing centers for women to work in and boost production, benefiting 2,500 rural Lebanese women and 36 rural communities. The project also achieved the establishment of 37 food processing centers and five production farms, expanding economic opportunities for women in the process to contribute to poverty reduction.

The Sustainable Opportunities for Fair Trade Project

Rural Delights in Lebanon has not only focused on the establishment of businesses that create opportunities for women but also implemented programs to ensure they remain competitive in the national and regional economy in the long term. The Sustainable Opportunities for Fair Trade project, with funding from the Middle East Partnership Initiative, worked with 22 female worker cooperatives in Lebanon to promote entrepreneurial skills and business acumen for women. The project featured training on managerial work, fair trade practices, international norms and standards, supply management, purchase of production equipment and participation in local and foreign food shows to prepare women to compete in the national and regional economies.

Traboulsy commented on the project and its aims by stating that “In that project, 14 food-processing cooperatives and 8 small-to-medium entrepreneurs were targeted. The project aimed to reduce the producers’ cost of production, expand their market linkages and enhance their know-how and practice in product/ business development.” Such a project shows how Rural Delights in Lebanon has committed itself to both creating opportunities for women itself and going beyond to ensure women possess the skills to succeed and grow their businesses in the long term with respect to the food processing industry being the most productive and contributing to poverty reduction.

The Promoting Sustainable Livelihoods Project

Rural Delights in Lebanon has two major projects currently underway that will conclude at a later date. The first is the Five Year Project (2020-2025), called Promoting Sustainable Livelihoods Project. Traboulsy commented on the project and its goals by stating; “This project is funded by USAID and aims to improve the livelihoods of residents of target municipalities across Lebanon by improving and/or upgrading existing assets through training, technical assistance, infrastructure rehabilitation, and access to markets. The project’s goal is to improve the livelihoods of 31,500 households across 105 municipalities in the North, Bekaa, South and Mount Lebanon areas.” Such a project underscores Rural Delights’ commitment to promoting the sustainability of women-led businesses and workers once opportunities are first created to ensure maximum productivity in the long term to reduce poverty.

The Women’s Economic Empowerment Project

The second project, which launched in 2019 and will last until 2022, is the Women’s Economic Empowerment Project. It received funding from Canada and in partnership with the Maowad Foundation. This project aims to further promote economic opportunities for women and raise awareness about the importance and value of female labor participation in economic development and poverty reduction.

Traboulsy commented on the goals of this project by stating that “The WEP project aims to (1) Increase local awareness and support to women’s rights, notably economic empowerment and right to decent work, (2) boost local recognition of women’s role in non-traditional economic development and (3) foster competences of local women, individuals and groups, to access the market based on competitiveness and innovation in selected value chains.” This project further shows Rural Delights’ goal of promoting the role of women in the economy and recognizing its importance for poverty reduction by achieving higher living standards and more economic development overall when half of a country’s population is part of the workforce.

Rural Delights since its creation in 2002 has launched a number of ambitious projects that have created economic opportunities for women previously unavailable in Lebanon. Given the economic problems Lebanon is experiencing, Rural Delights is providing opportunities at an important time and improving the quality of life for Lebanese on the ground who its activities impacted. As a nonprofit, it can serve as a testament to the importance of a vibrant civil society to have NGOs on the ground doing the work to reduce poverty and improve quality of life, and to have an environment where more NGOs can thrive and accomplish similar goals to reduce poverty.

– John Zak
Photo: Flickr

Gender Wage Gap in Kenya
The gender wage gap refers to the “difference between average gross hourly earnings of male-paid employees and female-paid employees as a percentage of average gross hourly earnings of male-paid employees.” It exists because some men and women receive a different amount of money for work of comparable value. This wage gap is both the “cause and consequence” of gender inequality. There are many reasons for the gender wage gap in Kenya, and although they exist in other nations around the world, it is more acute in developing countries. The East African nation is more gender unequal than its counterparts in the developed world, meaning that most women are employed in lower-paid work where they work for longer hours. This is before they have to go home and complete the rest of their daily domestic and childcare responsibilities.

The Kenyan Context

Over the last three decades, efforts have occurred to close the gender wage gap in Kenya, representing a struggle within the East African nation. In 1993, the government Task Force for the Review of Laws Relating to Women originated to help foster women’s equal participation in society and economic empowerment. In 2007, the government enacted the Employment Act, which promised all employees fundamental rights,  basic working conditions and pay.

Nevertheless, this legislation has not been fruitful in achieving pay parity for women. In 2019, Equileap published a report on gender equality in Kenya, finding that on average, women earn 32% less than their male counterparts, compared to 23% globally. This disproportion means that the country sits at the 20th position on the Global Gender Gap Index of 2020, behind the other East African nations of Rwanda, Uganda, Tanzania and Ethiopia. Compared to the rest of the world, Kenya ranks 109 out of 153 countries, a 33-position drop compared to 2018.

The informal economy in Kenya is a significant employer for women, with 87% being employed within it. Despite this importance, the sector lacks standard employment contracts, social protection and adequate pay, meaning that women are unable to obtain a decent livelihood, let alone have the same level of income as men.

Reasons Why the Gender Wage Gap Persists in Kenya

Here are the three main reasons why the gender wage gap is prevalent in Kenya.

  1. The Inability of Women to Effectively Negotiate Their Pay. Women tend to misunderstand or underestimate their own value, compared to men. This means that even if they are successful in the pay negotiation process, they often shy away, being happy with less than what men have satisfaction with.
  2. Gender Insensitivity Persists in Workplaces. Like the rest of the world, organizations and businesses in Kenya operate in a structured way. As a result, women often join at the bottom of the scale, while men join at the middle or top end. Women also experience disadvantages due to child-rearing responsibilities, pregnancy and maternity leave, all of which can set them back on the career ladder.
  3. The Presence of Bias in Workplaces. Small and medium-sized enterprises provide formal employment for a large proportion of the Kenyan population. Regardless, less than 5% of these companies have female chairs. Furthermore, in the 1980s, women did not receive benefits as authorities assumed that their husbands would provide their insurance and allowance, a view that many still accept today.

The U.N. estimates that closing the gender wage gap in the East African nation is an essential way to achieving gender-related SDG commitments.” Many organizations have grasped this reality to tackle this issue. They include:

Womankind Worldwide

 In 2010, the Kenyan government passed a new constitution which was the first in its history to recognize gender equality. Key statements as part of this included:

  • Every person is equal before the law and has the right to equal protection and equal benefit of the law.
  • Equality includes the full and equal enjoyment of all rights and fundamental freedoms.
  • Women and men have the right to equal treatment, including the right to equal opportunities in political, economic, cultural and social spheres.

Womankind Worldwide started working in Kenya after the promises created in this constitution remained unmet; women are still unable to make key decisions that impact their lives and communities. The organization has vowed to support women’s rights activists in the country so that the barriers that women and girls are facing can reduce.

In reference to the gender wage gap in Kenya, Womankind Worldwide has urged  ‘gender responsive’ action for businesses. This includes reviewing existing activities (such as pay and promotion) that undergird institutionalized forms of gender inequalities.

Kenya Female Advisory Organisation (KEFEADO)

In 1994, Dolphine Okech and her daughter Dr. Jane Okech, both of whom were educationalists that committed themselves to gender equality, founded KEFEADO in Kisumu, Kenya. The NGO exists to “promote gender equity, equal opportunities and rights for all” so that it can change cultural attitudes towards issues such as sexual abuse, gender-based violence and employment equality. It is working to develop gender rights policies that bridge pay inequality gaps along with ensuring that institutions respond to the specific needs of special interest groups, namely women and youth. It is also aiming to end disparities in education, health and work.

Regarding the gender wage gap in Kenya, KEFEADO has advocated for gender-responsive budgeting (GRB). In 2020, the organization organized a three-day training for members of the Kisumu county assembly as a way of advocating and fighting for employment equality between men and women. The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation funded the event. Overall, the training was a success as this budgeting was fast-tracked.

National Gender and Equality Commission (NGEC)

In 2011, the National Gender and Equality and Commission Act established the NGEC, following Article 249 of the Constitution of Kenya 2010. As a Constitutional Commission, the NGEC focuses on promoting constitutionalism, democratic values and principles, and protecting the sovereignty of the people, especially in relation to the marginalized. This includes women, youth, children, minorities and older members of society.

According to this mandate, the NGEC has successfully mainstreamed issues of gender and women in national and county policies, laws and administrative rules. Gender mainstreaming is a core function of this, and they use it to ensure that the concerns that both men and women experience are frontal in all spheres such as economic, political and societal. One way that it has achieved this is through raising awareness. As per the 2019-2024 Strategic Plan for Gender Equality and Non-Discrimination, the organization proposes that educating and partnering up with the public is a good way to raise consciousness on such issues (including the gender wage gap).

Over these last few decades, the gender wage gap in Kenya has appeared to have worsened. Although this is true to an extent, there is now much more awareness and understanding of the issue. Furthermore, the ascent of organizations fighting for pay parity in Kenya presents an optimistic future, one where pay is gender equality and women are obtaining the same financial remuneration as their male counterparts.

– Harkiran Bharij
Photo: Flickr

Global Gender Equality Progress
World Vision reports that 689 million people endured extreme poverty in 2021 and research shows that women make up a majority of the world’s impoverished. One trend that is common among countries with high poverty rates is a lack of gender equality. In some of these countries, women make less money than men, have limited access to education, or have fewer rights than men. Fortunately, in recent years, the world is noting global gender equality progress.

New Female Leaders Worldwide

In recent years, gender equality movements have reached government offices as countries around the world have made the progressive change of appointing women to leadership positions. In 2021, Albania appointed 12 out of its 17 total cabinet seats to women, a 70% majority. By giving the prime minister a new, primarily female cabinet, Albania could begin to go in a new direction that could further empower women in the nation. Albania ranks 25th out of 156 countries on the World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap Report of 2021.

Honduras also made a significant change to its government in January 2022 when Xiomara Castro became the first female president in the country’s history. Castro has already voiced her intentions to tackle social injustice and help women. This should be encouraging to the citizens of Honduras, particularly its women who have faced numerous challenges such as femicide and reproductive rights restrictions.

Like Castro, in December 2020, Maia Sandu became the first woman to hold the presidency in her country, Moldova. In Moldova, almost 27% of people lived in poverty in 2020 and gender inequality is prominent as women face high rates of gender-based violence and less than half of Moldovan women participate in the workforce. Despite the challenges that Sandu has faced due to gender biases, there is hope for the women of Moldova to reach equality through Sandu’s efforts.

New Female Leader of the World Trade Organization (WTO)

In 2021, Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala became the first woman to lead the World Trade Organization (WTO) as director-general. She is also the first African to lead the organization. The WTO is focused on the “global rules of trade between nations.” Its goal is to help nations efficiently conduct trade with each other. Having Okonjo-Iweala as the WTO new leader could be promising in terms of reducing global poverty as Okonjo-Iweala is a “firm believer” in using trade to help raise countries out of poverty. Furthermore, being an African woman, Okonjo-Iweala has experienced the struggles of the African continent first-hand. Africa holds a large majority of the world’s poor, most of whom are women.

New Constitution in Chile Strengthens Equality

In 2021, Chile voted to elect an assembly made up of 155 citizens to construct the country’s newest constitution. This is the first constitution in the world that men and women wrote equally. Many believe that this will help women in Chile make significant progress toward equality.

The previous constitution had a number of flaws as it was drafted, primarily, by one person during a time when Augusto Pinochet ruled Chile with an iron fist. One of the main issues is that men had more rights than women. The new constitution heavily prioritizes gender parity in the country. With more people having input on their country’s laws, Chile can better address the issue of inequality.

Chile’s new constitution could create a new standard for gender equality movements around the world. Because the world’s impoverished mostly consist of women, improving gender equality could reduce that poverty. If more countries adapted governments to promote gender equality, more women worldwide would have the same rights as men. This could be a driving force behind eliminating inequality between men and women as well as eliminating poverty for both.

Continued global gender equality progress will ensure that more women rise out of poverty across the world.

– Tyshon Johnson
Photo: Unsplash

Gender Inequality in Mexico
Gender inequality is one of the most widespread barriers to global development. The World Economic Forum has reported that political participation, economic opportunity, education and health care are still not fully accessible for women around the world and noted that it would take about 132 years to dissolve the gender gap in the world’s current trajectory. Gender inequality in Mexico reflects a similar reality — in 2021, almost 44% of females 15 and older participated in the labor force compared to 75.7% of males. Furthermore, females in Mexico contribute 30.7% of their time to unpaid care work in comparison to just 10% of men. These numbers work to reinforce poverty as having more women in the workplace brings many positive benefits that lift up entire economies. GENDES AC aims to reduce gender inequality in Mexico by focusing on the roles of men.

Gender Inequality in Mexico

The COVID-19 pandemic shone a light on just how deeply rooted the exclusion of women is. In Mexico, at the onset of the pandemic, women faced higher rates of job losses and shouldered the burden of unpaid domestic care. According to a study that Paula Andrea Valencia Londoño led, “The inequality in the distribution and use of time is an important determinant in workforce inequality.” Further, “the fact that women bear the brunt of unpaid domestic labors and caregiving has limited their economic participation and constitutes one of the principal barriers to their economic independence.”

Violence against women in Mexico is common and citizens have criticized the government for failing to effectively protect women. A May 2022 Americas Quarterly article said that there are about 10 femicides in Mexico each day. Mexico’s government has largely dissolved social programs aimed at empowering women, contributing to increasing gender equality in the nation.

GENDES AC

Founded in 2008, GENDES AC is a nonprofit based in Mexico that fights this gender inequity with a unique approach. In Mexico, “the presence of a machista culture, in which men exaggerate the violent, authoritarian, aggressive aspects of male identity, can be seen in the socially entrenched gender inequality and sexist, patriarchal structures,” said a journal article by Sarah Frances Gordon. This type of cultural norm dictates the nature of relationships between men and women in Mexico, in private spheres as well as in the broader economic landscape.

GENDES AC operates workshops for men to challenge their cultural biases and unlearn the social stigmas surrounding violence and relationships. These workshops teach men to contribute to gender equality and the protection of women by identifying their own actions that contribute to these injustices. GENDES AC’s mission is to involve men in the restructuring of gender norms in order to create a safer space for women to participate in civil society.

GENDES AC also conducts research and partners with local governments and civil society to propose public policy solutions that effectively utilize gender inclusion for development. It releases a number of publications, ranging from providing education about the interplay between masculinity and poverty to guidebooks for those seeking to relearn new behaviors that empower their communities. The organization’s release titled “Gender Equality Policies” offers insight into culturally relevant strategies for Mexico to improve outcomes for women.

Looking Ahead

Coupled with sound economic and public policy, community-based efforts to restructure power and increase understanding may be the best approach to fighting gender inequality in Mexico. GENDES AC is doing the grassroots work necessary to garner national attention and create change.

– Hannah Yonas
Photo: Flickr

Women Entrepreneurs in sub-Saharan Africa
In September 2021, Visa, a large virtual payment and financial services company expanded its She’s Next program to help women entrepreneurs in sub-Saharan Africa (SSA). In August 2022, Visa announced that the development will include a $3.5 million grant to organizations that support small and micro businesses (SMBs), such as the African Women Impact Fund (AWIF), a U.N. Economic Commission for Africa (UNECA) cause. The grant will “fund the working capital needs of women fund managers” and support “55 women who responded to AWIF’s call to action.”

Empowering Female Entrepreneurs in Africa

First introduced in 2019 in the United States, the She’s Next program advocates for women entrepreneurs globally through all stages of business growth. This newly expanded program provides these business owners with “access to insights via research and engagement with small businesses, private and public sector communities and educational resources. ”

Visa’s partnership with She Leads Africa, an online platform that connects African women entrepreneurs, provides users with access to a network of more than 700,000 female business owners, resources for digital accessibility and funding.

Gratifying an Essential Market

According to Forbes, Africa is “the fastest-growing continent” in the world as of 2021. As digital literacy becomes increasingly desired, and mandatory for some, it is imperative that African countries prepare their citizens. The International Finance Corporation has reported that in eight years’ time, digital skills will be essential to “230 million jobs in sub-Saharan Africa.”

As of 2019, only half of the nations in Africa provide computer skill training as a subject in their education curriculums in comparison to “85% of countries globally.” This paired with a high demand for digital skills creates a skill shortage, making it more difficult for companies to hire locally.

The World Bank said that “This translates into an opportunity estimated at $130 billion to provide digital skills through a combination of business-to-consumer, business-to-business and business-to-government training services.”

The Rise of Digital Commerce

Through a research study called “Understanding Women-Owned SMEs,” Visa aims to understand how technology affects women-led businesses’ success in Nigeria, Kenya and South Africa. This study found that, in addition to pandemic-related struggles, “a lack of technological infrastructure,” economic volatility and a “regulatory environment” are the most prominent obstacles to business growth for women entrepreneurs.

The study found that 83% of survey respondents who implemented digital payments experienced increased revenue. About 70% of women foresee their customers using “e-commerce platforms” more frequently post-pandemic, further encouraging these women entrepreneurs to establish an online presence.

Women Entrepreneurs in sub-Saharan Africa

As of 2017, SSA had the “highest rate of women entrepreneurs” globally (27%). In fact, Uganda and Botswana had the highest percentage globally at 34.8% and 34.6% respectively. However, female entrepreneurs in sub-Saharan Africa garner profits 34% lower than males.

A lack of education and skills reduces women’s access to employment opportunities. As a result, women may look to entrepreneurship as a way out of poverty. Initiatives such as Visa’s She’s Next program address the barriers that women entrepreneurs in sub-Saharan Africa face, furthering their economic independence and prosperity.

– Aishah French
Photo: Flickr