Entrepreneurship is key to boosting women’s economic inclusion, particularly in the southern Mediterranean and Africa, and especially in fragile states.
Inequalities affecting women in the business sector have deep roots ranging from cultural factors to insufficient support for women-led businesses, the lack of policy frameworks to address the gender gap and the challenge of promoting work-family reconciliation, among others.
The integration of women in the economy, in the Mediterranean region and on the African continent, remains an unfinished business, despite the progress made in some countries. Unfortunately, per capita income is still among the lowest in the world, poverty continues to affect large sections of the population and the international economic situation is not as favourable as in the past.
Serious action is therefore needed to create inclusive economies and female employment. In this mission, governments have a key role to play in facilitating a legal framework that favours business creation, paves the way for the private sector and redirects public investment towards intangible elements, such as education, health, R&D and innovation.
In addition, female entrepreneurship must be promoted and the number of women entrepreneurs must be increased, as this will not only favour economic growth, but will also help to accelerate equality and reduce the wage gap. It is about inclusion and promoting equality.
By 2030, almost 60% of the world’s impoverished population, particularly in Africa, will live in fragile states, still affected by past experiences of violence and struggling to deliver the most basic forms of governance to their populations. The links between fragility and inequality have been the central concern of numerous international agreements, notably the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, which charts a path towards more equitable and peaceful societies. Gender equality and, more specifically, women’s empowerment are critical components of achieving these goals.
This is why we need to facilitate the exchange of experiences and best practices, and identify measures to improve support for women-led MSMEs in conflict-torn regions. The moving experience of many women entrepreneurs in some Mediterranean and African countries demonstrates the importance of supporting women as business owners, even in the most difficult circumstances, where security and many basic needs are not met, or where women resist and insist on maintaining existing businesses and starting new ones to support their local communities.
It is important to focus on programmes to enhance the resilience of women’s SMEs in fragile contexts as potential drivers of innovation, employment and improved quality of life. That is: promoting these enterprises to increase their opportunities through the facilitation of direct and indirect investments, as well as enhancing their entrepreneurial ecosystem and training and growth through entrepreneurship capacity building, matching grant programmes and economic mentoring support.
Business is in a unique position to break down gender and culturally based walls and constraints by addressing inequality as one of the core aspects of the SDGs and thus facilitate access to the labour market while improving female employment retention. Business can respond much more effectively to the needs of women affected by war and conflict.
But inclusive business practices may not be enough to eliminate structural inequalities affecting women. Systemic change is needed, addressing the many issues that stand in the way. For example, without a legal identity, it is impossible for women to access and own land in some countries, which is essential. In addition, there is a need for changes in the financial system to support women’s empowerment and to establish incentives for investment by providing assets that can be leveraged for business development, and that provide a solid basis for financial stability.
Africa has one of the highest rates in the world, with 7.5 million microenterprises and SMEs working in the formal sector led by women, and four times as many in the informal sector. Women can play a key role when efforts are directed at closing and financing economic gaps. Many dominate key sectors of the economy. Successful women entrepreneurs lead others and contribute by example to reducing the barriers that create gender gaps when it comes to accessing opportunities.
There are also stories of courage and ambition in the Mediterranean from women entrepreneurs. Innovative initiatives, with great impact on their community and that are changing mindsets. Although the number of women entrepreneurs in the Southern Mediterranean and Africa is on the rise with a 22% share, this percentage is far from the global average of 33%. Ultimately, further progress is needed to promote women’s economic inclusion in the formal economy and to improve their incomes. After all, their participation in the economy increases the middle class and reduces inequalities.