Increased business and the advancement of women go hand in hand. The connection may not be obvious. But it is real. More business means more opportunities for women in business. More women with increased economic power means better education and improved livelihoods.
USAID Trade Hub Director Vanessa Adams
The apparel industry is often used as example. Many people credit apparel factories in the late 19th Century with sparking women’s liberation movements around the world. It worked like this: young women were ideally suited to work in apparel factories and the jobs gave them a level of independence they had not enjoyed before. Freedom, it turns out is addictive – women wanted more and they got it.
The same is happening across West Africa today. The women we've profiled
in this special edition of Tradewinds are just a few models of success. Denying society the talents, initiative and energy women possess is shortsighted.
For any doubters, study after study shows the positive impact of women in business. Research in Africa shows that reducing gender inequality can increase agricultural yields by more than 20%, for example.
Women own and operate up to one-third of the formal sector businesses in Africa – and a much greater proportion of informal businesses. And these businesses are driving growth and overcoming obstacles daily in creative, imaginative ways.
The potential these companies hold is enormous. Many are primed to expand as the region’s economic growth continues. But there’s still a lot of work to do: These companies face significant obstacles.
Although hard numbers are difficult to come by, I know from our work that women are less likely to get loans at a bank than men. Despite laws saying they can own land – the most common form of collateral banks ask for – women still have great difficulties getting title to land or property.
Without collateral, banks simply shrug off their applications.
Antiquated views of women also play a role. The good news is these views are fading: Business cannot afford them anymore. The livelihoods and welfare of too many people are at stake. Holding back women holds back everyone.
I’ve spent most of adult life in business. More and more women are growing and formalizing their businesses in West Africa, creating good jobs and training their staffs. It is not easy but successes are possible and more visible than ever.
I worked for a woman business owner and mentor for nearly seven years, who taught me how to navigate the halls and executive offices of corporate America with savvy and grace. I have never seen women fight so hard to succeed as African business women, from Monrovia to Douala to Lagos.
Women look to other women for inspiration and support. When I want some perspective, I still call my 98-year-old grandmother, who follows international news and business trends daily.
Women inspire, cajole, plan, negotiate, threaten and convince their way through the world. Women are networkers. West African business women are moving forward!