• March 8th, 2023

By Anwar Zibaoui, General Coordinator of ASCAME. Article translated from Spanish to English. Originally posted in El Nacional.

Many will be surprised to learn that one in three start-ups in the Mediterranean region is founded or led by women. That is a higher percentage than in Silicon Valley. Women entrepreneurs are becoming a force to be reckoned with and their role is key to achieving regional integration goals.

Women share a tradition of cooperation, they can harness their strength to create new scenarios, share their experiences and establish business relationships. The creativity and the potential of young women must be harnessed, they must be given support, the opportunity and the freedom to make their contribution. Clinging to outdated traditions is comfortable, but it can kill the genius of innovation. Evolution is inevitable and can be enriching if everyone participates and embraces all ideas.

Entrepreneurship is key to boosting women’s economic inclusion, particularly in the southern Mediterranean and Africa.

Although reforms are underway in some countries to include women in the workforce, leadership positions and entrepreneurship, the integration of women in the economy in the Mediterranean region is still an unfinished business.

Half of the world’s working-age population are women, 50% of whom are in business sectors, compared to 80% of men. Wealth loss due to the gender gap is estimated at 10% of GDP in advanced economies and more than 30% in the Mediterranean region.

The figures are overwhelming: only 49.2% of the population in the southern and eastern part of the Mediterranean participate in the labour market compared to 63.5% globally, of which 30% are women. Female unemployment reaches 41% among young women. Unemployment among female graduates reaches 45%, and despite educational attainment with increased access to education, they are excluded.

Increasing women’s participation would add 47% to GDP over the next decade. Encouraging young women into entrepreneurship and increasing the number of women entrepreneurs ensures economic gains and accelerates equality and development for the whole community.

It is about diversity and inclusion, not women versus men. It is about a balance that contributes to better informed decision-making. Women have the potential to be a contributor to economic growth. The empowerment and autonomy of women, as well as the improvement of their social, economic and health status, are essential for the achievement of sustainable development.

Technology is becoming one of the few spaces where anything is possible, including breaking gender norms, making it a very attractive industry for women. It is important to support incubators and accelerators that help young women-led businesses, and to provide opportunities and better access to finance.

As the Mediterranean region assesses how to rebuild itself after the pandemic, start-ups led by young women entrepreneurs could be part of the solution and are already transforming the scene in the Mediterranean. Outdated cultural norms, insufficient support for women-led businesses, lack of policy frameworks or the challenge of balancing responsibilities with work do not stop women entrepreneurs finding creative ways to overcome barriers to starting their own businesses. Financial independence is key and governments should promote more bank loans and micro-credit to women-run SMEs and create a comprehensive support system to provide entrepreneurial opportunities for women.

It is time to structure an enabling environment for female innovation, with institutional support, funding and personalised support so that women have role models and so role models can encourage other young women and girls to become entrepreneurs, because sometimes you can’t be what you can’t see.