“The world will never realise its goals if 50% of the population cannot realise their potential”
Every single day, women around the world attend to their families, their farms and their businesses with grit and tenacity. Their work, which has traditionally been under-appreciated, is now increasingly being acknowledged by global researchers. For example, women invest more in their families than men, in areas ranging from education to health and nutrition, thus creating a secure foundation for the future of their families and communities. The number of businesses owned by women in the world amounts to nearly a third of all enterprises, and according to the International Trade Centre (ITC), “advancing women’s equality can add US$12 trillion to global growth by 2051, and enable economies to unlock their full potential.”
However, women face an array of issues that stifle their ability to succeed in the world today. Gender discrimination and economic disempowerment has made for an unequal playing field. Only 1 in 5 businesses that export are owned by women and in Africa, women earn approximately 30% less than their male counterparts.
With this background, it was particularly fitting for Nairobi to host the first International Women in Business Forum at Laico Regency Hotel on the eve of the 10th Ministerial Conference. The forum was an initiative created by the International Trade Centre. At the opening of the forum a rapt audience listened to remarks from Her Excellency Ms. Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, the President of Liberia, and the Deputy President of Kenya, Mr. William Ruto among others.
Despite a number of challenges, 2015 has been a pivotal year for gender equality, as Ms. Sahle-Work Zewde, Director General, United Nations Office at Nairobi highlighted at the forum. The creation of the 2030 Sustainable Development Goals, which includes goal number 5: “achieve gender equality and empower all girls and women,” has a set a definitive tone for the fight for equal rights. Goal number 5 was referenced by Dr. Mukhisa Kituyi, Secretary-General of United Nations Conference on Trade and Development, who also called on African governments to embrace progressive legislation in order to deliver tangible gains.
In addition to the SDGs, a Call to Action was announced by the International Trade Centre (ITC) in September to increase the number of women entrepreneurs to one million by 2020. Calling on governments, policy makers, corporations and financial institutions, the Call to Action is harnessing trade to unlock the potential of women in business. One part of this initiative is the SheTrades app, which was unveiled at the forum. The app, created by a young company driven by a group of Kenyan women, is a platform to connect women in business and help them partner with each other, shedding light on the importance of technology in fighting gender inequality, and further reiterating Mr. Ruto’s statement that “technology is not gender biased.”
In her speech, President Sirleaf called on all delegates to support women when making decisions at the ministerial conference. It’s oft been quoted that if 50% of the team isn’t playing how can you expect to win the game. MC10 will be another opportunity for high level stakeholders to address the rights of women and ensure that 100% of the team is able to partake in business and commerce as equal participants.