An old Chinese proverb tells us, “Women Hold up Half the Sky.” Nickolas Kristof and Sheryl Wudunn’s work, “Half the Sky,” which explores the atrocities and oppressions perpetrated upon women in developing states, begins to paint a picture of the courage, tenacity, and strength of women in response to these circumstances. It shows how women are part of the development solution, and enunciates the role they provide, particularly through social entrepreneurship, towards building a successful future in their communities and societies.
Haleh Esfandiari and Margot Badran, in their introduction to “Middle East Program: Occasional Paper Series,” said the equal and equitable role of women in democracies and developed societies “is a sine qua son of the equality of [all] citizens.” Women, instrumental in building effective and functional communities, are “powerful source[s] of knowledge and skills.” They are robust and purposeful upholders of community norms, values, and are sources of growing economic importance. To the latter point, Elizabeth Vazquez, of WEConnect International, noted that “women make 85% of consumer decisions at the household level.” She suggests that women could potentially exercise the strength of this authority by supporting existing Women Owned Businesses (WOBs).
The most recent installation of female gumption being displayed in developing regions, both at local and national levels, has had to do with the ongoing Arab uprisings. CGP previously commented on the increasingly central role of women in dictating the direction of political, social, and economic evolutions in “Scaling up Women”. In the Arab world, women are embodying the spirit of Rosa Parks, Aung San Suu Kyi, and Estee Lauder: not only are they involved in the organization of social movements and economic ventures, but in many cases, they are leading such efforts. Understanding the driving force behind these women is shown through the driving impetuous of female entrepreneurs, particularly as entrepreneurship more broadly relates to development on the whole. The Center on Foreign Relations suggests that: “The business environment necessary for entrepreneurship to flourish is closely related to the political environment needed for stable democracy.”
The Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars event, “Women and Entrepreneurship: Perspectives from the Middle East and the United States,” on March 29, offered a particularly poignant insight into the spirit that drives female entrepreneurs.
The event provided perspectives on the role of women in development using an entrepreneurial lens. There were two panel discussions: “Women Running Businesses- Large and Small” and “Resources for Women Entrepreneurs.” The program featured American and Middle Eastern business women as the panelists. These women shared some of the trials they face in managing their own companies as well as some of the resources that are available to women involved in entrepreneurial endeavors.
The panels concluded that increased participation of women in business activities, particularly in the Arab world, is a product of the determination and character required of business women, and as such, according to Hanan Saab, comes only as a result of improved governance.
In her discussion of “direct sales,” Tami Longaberger, dissected some of the social, mechanical, and institutional hurdles facing women as entrepreneurs. She presented “direct-selling,” as a means of women helping other women as they overcome issues of patriarchal biases, cultural stigmas, and risk.
Participating panelists presented data on the general knowledge of women’s economic status in their respective societies, and some compared such data with the economic situation of women in the U.S. Mark Doms, (Chief Economist, U.S. Department of Commerce-[DOC]), in his “Opening Remarks,” presented data from the most recent U.S. Dept. of Commerce Report, entitled, “Women-Owned Businesses In The 21st Century.” Doms concludes that progress has been made, though disparities still exist: in new start ups, men still outnumber women, and differences exist both in educational foci and in the types of businesses which are attractive to male and female cohorts. According to the report, gains in education “have not yet been translated into income equality” for women.
Panelists from the Wilson Center’s “Women and Entrepreneurship: Perspectives from the Middles East and the United States” and other experts asserted that there are characteristics necessary for female entrepreneurs to develop and to become successful in rigid societies. Some of the characteristics include assertiveness, educational attainment, support from family and friends, and, according to Lina Hundaileh, (Chairman and CEO of Printing for the Manufacturing of Chocolate) the inner belief that female entrepreneurs have the right to ‘compete with the giants (and expect to win)’. Through these characteristics, and with the strong support of private enterprise, women have been able to make inroads, and in some exemplary instances, successfully overcome rigid societal hurdles so they can do their part to hold up ‘half the sky’.
Some of the organizations involved in supporting, funding, and the mentoring of women in developing societies highlighted during the panel include:
These entities, which play a functional role in aiding the development process, help synthesis the training of women through guidance with role models and partnerships to foster the advancements of women as entrepreneurs and leaders.
Ranil Dissanyake, development blogger, makes a critical observation in “Entrepreneurship, capital and capitalism.” He says that, “the historical and structural aspects that form the context in which entrepreneurship contributes to economic dynamism have been largely ignored.” He goes further to suggest that “The question is not ‘does entrepreneurship support economic development’, but ‘under what circumstances does it do so?’”.