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SPAIN: Women Entrepreneurs Pledge Support for African Counterparts

Tito Drago

MADRID, Jun 29 2010 (IPS) - Senegalese businesswoman Marie Thiaré makes her business cards by hand, because she has no way to have them printed — a sharp contrast with the situation faced by women entrepreneurs in Europe, where it is easy to order business cards, and most people even have their own home computer and printer.

Thiaré was speaking to a Jun. 25-27 meeting of women entrepreneurs from Europe and Africa who met in Madrid to discuss how to replicate in the economy the advances that have been achieved in politics in terms of gender equality.

In Spain, the growing number of women managers and executives is already generating improvements in the situation of women and playing a significant role in breaking down existing barriers, Spain’s Minister of Equality, Bibiana Aído, told IPS.

The gender equality law passed in 2007 in Spain with the support of smaller opposition parties but not the main opposition force, the centre-right People’s Party, established that 40 percent of candidates on party electoral lists must be women.

The law also requires companies with more than 250 employees to negotiate “equality plans” that set a medium-term target of women representing 40 percent of the members of boards of directors.

At the three-day meeting between women entrepreneurs and business associations from Europe and Africa — the Encuentro de Emprendedoras Africanas y Españolas — organised by the Fundación Mujeres (Women’s Foundation) with backing from the Spanish Agency for International Development Cooperation (AECID), European businesswomen made a firm commitment to work with and support their African counterparts.

In the opening session, Thiaré gave an idea of the extent of the challenges faced by many African women entrepreneurs, especially in rural areas, by pointing out that even something as simple as business cards is out of their reach.

The Senegalese entrepreneur also stressed that in her country, it is women who are in charge of most economic activity, because so many men have been forced to go abroad, mainly to Europe, in search of jobs that enable them to support their families.

She said empowerment of women is not only fair, but makes sense, since in her country, for example, “Women are more efficient and manage money better.”

Microcredit institutions like the Grameen Bank in Bangladesh have found that women indeed do a better job than men when it comes to paying off loans.

The aim of empowering women is to modify the traditional division of labour and roles, Thiaré said, pointing out that they are unequal not only in Africa, but in Spain as well.

She also stressed that women’s empowerment in Africa strengthens development in a continent where 80 percent of food is produced by women, most of whom work in the informal sector, “something that should also be put on the list of complaints and demands.”

One reflection of the huge proportion of women in the informal sector is the fact that only two percent of African women have bank accounts, said Spain’s Secretary of State for International Cooperation, Soraya Rodríguez.

“The poorer the State, the more important is the work of women,” said Rodríguez. For that reason, Spain’s official development aid programme has incorporated cross-cutting gender policies since 2004, which has made it possible to increase fourfold the number of actions aimed at improving conditions for women in Africa.

A report by the Chair of Entrepreneurs at the University of Cadiz, presented Monday in that city in southern Spain, makes an in-depth analysis of the differences between women and male entrepreneurs in Spain and abroad.

The study, based on a survey of 800 women and men entrepreneurs, recommends the design of public policies aimed at promoting gender equality in business.

One fact that stands out is that in 2009, only eight percent of entrepreneurial enterprises in Spain were led by women, mainly in the area of production of consumer goods, followed by industry.

The study recommends, for example, fomenting closer ties between financial institutions and business enterprises and stimulating the creation of mixed groups of male and female entrepreneurs.

At the meeting, in which women from Spain and 28 African countries took part, around one hundred stands were set up by women entrepreneurs selling products ranging from crafts and farm products to furniture and audiovisual products, financed by the AECID.

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