CHAIRMAN Mao Zedong of the People’s Republic of China famously once said, “Women hold half up the sky,” in his argument for equality and the right of women to become party members and political officers.
In many countries in Asia and Africa, however, holding up half the sky still means remaining uneducated, getting married very young, staying home and raising children, instead of making value-added contributions to their home economy via entrepreneurship.
At the recent seminar on “Breaking Barriers: Women Entrepreneurs in Asia and the Pacific,” during the 51st Asian Development Bank (ADB) annual meeting, women panelists discussed their successes in their field, as well as the continuing challenges of women entrepreneurs.
Rokia Afzal Rahman, president of the Bangladesh Federation of Women Entrepreneurs, started extending collateral-free loans to women, who borrowed small but later on, as they built up their businesses, tapped larger loans. She noted that women were more likely to repay their loans compared to men, who had a high rate of default.
Yumiko Noda, president and representative director of Veolia Japan KK, observed that her country continues to be “behind” in terms of gender parity. “In the private sector, it’s hard to be a female president,” although improvements seem to be under way with Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s strategies to jump-start Japan’s economy. Under “Abenomics,” he is promoting policies to help women remain in the labor force.
Fransiska Hadiwidjana, founder and CEO of Prelo, an online shopping portal in Indonesia, said that one of the drawbacks to women becoming entrepreneurs is having to choose between career and marriage. “Raising a child and running a business is a challenge that most women want to overcome.”
Graeme Buckley, director of a regional office of Decent Work at the International Labour Organization, noted that “100 countries have restrictions on the types of work women can do.” He also prescribed strategies to boost women entrepreneurship. Among them: making more people aware of the opportunities for women and legislative action to promote well-paying jobs and organization of women. He observed in many instances, having children has kept women from the workplace, with culture or a country’s society norms dictating a mother’s place at home.
For his part, ADB President Takehiko Nakao said gender bias is one of the things that “must be addressed as a society.” He pushed for an educational system “that prioritizes scientific education for women.”
On a personal note, Nakao shared his experience as husband to a journalist. He said back in Japan, still working in the finance ministry, “I would go home, do the shopping and cooking…it’s not about helping, it’s part of my work [as a husband].”
The panelists agreed that while there’s a long road ahead to full gender equality, policies supporting women’s entrepreneurship can help ignite momentum for this effort, together with access to information, government services and credit. The seminar discussed various ways in which women entrepreneurs can overcome the multiple barriers they face, and how the public and private sectors can help accelerate support for women startups and entrepreneurs.
To Read the Rest Visit the Business Mirror