All over the world, progress has been made in women’s rights and gender equality. And yet women and girls continue to suffer from significant discrimination, an aspect that is particularly visible when it comes to female entrepreneurship. Inequality in access to education, training and financial services prevents female entrepreneurs from fulfilling their potential. Friederike Röder calls for making female entrepreneurship a real lever of sustainable development.
Has gender equality throughout the world improved since the adoption of the SDGs?
Significant progress has been made in education for girls and in maternal health thanks to the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), adopted in 2000, and the SDGs. Unfortunately, this is less the case when it comes to gender issues in both developed and developing countries. In certain wealthy regions, such as North America, we have even seen stagnation. No progress is being made. For example, the United States still does not provide universal maternity leave. It is the only OECD country that has not made progress in this area. The continent of Africa is the region of the world where gender differences are most significant. It is home to the most countries with a major portion of the population living in extreme poverty and is where these differences are the greatest.
How does ensuring gender equality help advance all the SDGs?
Gender equality is a prerequisite for achieving all the SDGs, in fact. Gender indicators are included in all the SDGs because the emancipation of women and girls has a positive impact on the economy, helps reduce poverty, improves food security, health, etc. And yet the work required is huge. According to the World Economic Forum, at the current rate, it will take 108 years to achieve complete gender equality everywhere in the world. This is too long; the time limit for the SDGs is set for 2030. We need to speed up considerably. This is why we are fighting to have Official Development Assistance contribute 85% to gender equality issues. This is the only way the situation can improve.
Can female entrepreneurship be used to achieve gender equality?
Female entrepreneurship has a major economic impact and is clearly an effective means of achieving gender equality and sustainable development. But we must not forget that many women become entrepreneurs because they have no other choice. Without access to good-quality education and often with dependent children, it is harder for them to access jobs in the traditional labor market. Female entrepreneurship is an interesting issue because it reveals huge disparities between men and women at every level. Keep in mind that women account for nearly two thirds of the world’s illiterate population. In certain countries, the situations are truly catastrophic. For example, in Burkina Faso, only 1% of girls finish high school. On the African continent, even in the countries with the most significant growth, one out of every five girls is still married before her fifteenth birthday.
In order for female entrepreneurship to become an effective means of achieving gender equality, it must be part of a global approach. In other words, we must include a focus on education and training for girls and women, take their family situation into account and their access to health care and financial services, etc. Reducing gender inequality, especially through entrepreneurship, would increase world GDP by about $28,000 billion by 2025. That’s huge!
There is already significant female entrepreneurship in Africa. How can it be promoted?
Surprisingly enough, Africa has the highest percentage of female entrepreneurs in the world! In sub-Saharan Africa, one out of every four women has started or manages a business. The problem is that they are often self-employed entrepreneurs with limited means, since the resources are often monopolized by men. For example, they often have little or no access to banking systems and are rarely trained in how to manage a company. To promote female entrepreneurship in Africa successfully, it is therefore crucial to establish specific programs that target women exclusively and take their needs into account.
What initiatives have already been undertaken to promote female entrepreneurship?
At the last G7 in France at the end of August, Melinda Gates presented an initiative of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation offering African women access to digital financial services. According to her, improving women’s access to these services is fundamental in empowering these women, like the program by the African Development Bank,
Affirmative Finance Action for Women in Africa (AFAWA) aims to close the estimated $42 billion funding gap that affects women entrepreneurs in Africa. At the same time, we must not forget the remarkable fieldwork that many NGOs in Africa are carrying out every day to promote female entrepreneurship.
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