Celebrating the women in business #PressForProgress
International Women’s Day is celebrated on the March 8th every year. The day celebrates social, cultural, economical and political achievements of women, while pushing for gender parity around the world.
Women represent roughly 50% of our population. The latest report from the International Labour Office showed the global labour force rate for women is roughly 50% versus over 75% for men. The participation gap between the two sexes has worsened gradually over the last 20 years.
In sub-Saharan Africa the number of women in employment is higher (~65%), however this often reflects local poverty and a lack of social protection; meaning working for both genders is a necessity.
Challenges Worldwide, an award-winning company who work with SMEs in sub-Saharan Africa, help tackle poverty through catalysing socio-economic growth. Challenges also work in line with the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals – one of which being gender equality.
Across Ghana, Uganda and Rawanda, Challenges are working with many female business owners.
On the 10th March 2018, Challenges are hosting the WomENtrepreneur Conference in Ghana. Second of its kind, the event is aimed at empowering entrepreneurs and features a strong female line-up of keynote guest speakers.
Challenges Worldwide in Uganda has recently celebrated 3 inspirational female CEOs, Mago Hasfa (Smart Toto), Bhavya Kalsi (Kona) and Maxima Nsimenta (Livara) and explored their views, challenges faced and impact on female empowerment. These women are challenging gender inequalities not only by employing women but empowering them to work in senior roles that would normally be dominated by men in the field. The struggle is constant – firstly getting equal education opportunities and challenging the gender role assumptions, but then also in ensuring that women who do gain employment are encouraged and supported throughout their careers.
Stay tuned on our website and social media sites for the soon to be released articles and learn how these women, along with Challenges Worldwide, are tackling these issues.
This year’s theme for International Women’s Day is Press For Progress – a movement calling for gender parity by motivating and uniting people to think, act and be gender inclusive.
What will you do to celebrate this day? Want to get involved with Challenges? Click here and see what you can do!
“Be the change you want to see in the world” (Gandhi)
The key message received by volunteers in Kampala, Uganda on International Women’s Day, a national public holiday. Dressed in the day’s thematic colours of white and orange, our group of volunteers, Team Leaders and in-country staff joined many others at a conference partnered by Challenges Worldwide at The Innovation Centre in Ntinda. Armed with the globally trending hashtag “BeBoldForChange” our team were ready to gain first-hand insight into life as a working woman in Uganda.
The message was one which we can all relate to and received by both men and women. It was a day for not only recognising women in Uganda but recognising the changes that we as individuals can make to generate a more equal and inclusive society. Nonetheless, we learnt that 70% of the world’s poor are women and face many challenges in health, education and their role within society which for some women the consequence of their actions could be life or death.
Three inspirational women, two from Uganda and one from Afghanistan formed the panel discussion to commence the event. Godiva Monica Akullo, a feminist, lawyer and human rights activist encouraged women to stand up for change. She shocked the room when she spoke about one of her own experiences: working for a Ugandan law firm and attending a conference as not only the youngest but also the only female, she was approached by a male client who asked if she could pour him a coffee. As a professional and Harvard lawyer graduate she did not let this pass and made her opinions known. Since this day, she believes in empowering women to take action such that men feel their presence in the room.
Among the other panellists was Evelyn Namara, founder of Innovate and an ICT specialist, believing women can be better in technology advancement, breaking stereotypes and mindsets and advocating that girls should grow up with the same opportunities as boys. Captain Babra, a Ugandan army captain also stood up to encourage young girls to follow their dreams because nothing is impossible.
“girls should grow up with the same opportunities as boys”
All the women spoke with such passion and emphasis on how women in Uganda will continue to speak up about this topic until the day they are viewed as equal human beings. However, it was Betty Ogiel Rubanga, author of Against All Odds and an example of the life-changing benefits of education for girls and women, whose story truly inspired. Over ten years ago she was caught up in a road accident, crushing all dreams of becoming an athlete (being able to run 100m in 12.8 seconds, pathed out a potential career), leaving her partially paralysed down the right side of her body and with a speech impairment which would impact on the rest of her life. As she translated these memories into words and spoke of her experiences she moved many in the room to tears. Her message, however, was clear as she went on to discuss the five things that made her excel at life, without which she would not be the women she is today: 1. Working hard; 2. Making wise decisions; 3. Be yourself; 4. Be the author of your destiny; 5. Positive mental attitude.
So the question is: how are we being the change we want to see in the world?
As volunteers with Challenges Worldwide, we have already made this leap. Working to promote development through small-medium sized enterprises, many owned by women we are being active in making the change that we want to see happen in the world.
Inequalities exist all around the world and gender isn’t an exception to this reality. Women represent half the world’s population and yet account for 70% of the world’s poor. To make matters worse, women contribute approximately 70% of working hours in the world but only earn 10% of the world’s income. Hence, women in many countries face inequalities throughout their whole lives, from when they are born until the time they die.
From an early age, millions of women face gender-based stereotypes that discriminate them from having access to education. As well as not having access to education often young women are conditioned to see their only aspiration in life is to get married and have children. In the eyes of many societies around the world, having a well-kept home, a happy husband and producing offspring is the only worthy indicator of a successful woman.
Those who are able to overcome the first hurdle of accessing an education then grow up to face limited job or promotion opportunities. Often the job opportunities that are afforded are limited to domestic activities and service roles. Many women find themselves with little or no power to make decisions in their work and home and many others have to defend themselves from sexual harassment and gender-based violence, from which millions of women die every year.
In Africa, these realities occur every day and, although this has been recognised as a problem to be solved by most African governments, the transition has been much slower here than in other regions of the world. However, empowering women and girls is a key factor for economic development. Healthy and educated girls, with an equal access to opportunities, can help their families to get out of poverty, become leaders in their communities and make significant changes, like Wangari Maathai or Kaya Thomas have done.
What can we do to empower women to change the world?
The first step is to be informed; running away from the information won’t make gender injustice around the world less of a reality. As Minna Salami says, “it takes individual consciousness to create collective awareness”.
“it takes individual consciousness to create collective awareness”.
The second step is empowerment: working together to give women the real opportunity of making their own choices, especially the most vulnerable ones. But, how can this reality be changed? It isn’t easy peasy. Still, there are many people working for gender equality around the world. Here we’ll share some African enterprises that are encouraging examples of this:
Foundation for the Realization of Economic Empowerment (F.R.E.E)
F.R.E.E. is a social enterprise that works to reverse marginalisation of women in Zambia by providing them with opportunities that go from making jewellery to reducing illiteracy levels. It helps women, mainly single mothers and those who are in a vulnerable situation, to have a dignified source of income.
Ng’ombe Jewellery Project, for example, is one of their projects and is based in the Ng’ombe community. The idea is to teach woman how to make jewellery, from bracelets to necklaces, by using recycled cooper (which have generated many political, economic and social issues in the country), as well as semi-precious Zambian stones. As the cherry on top, each of these pieces is packed in a small chitenge bag, which are sewn by Vida and her sisters, who are disabled but talented women in the Ng’ombe community.
Is a skin care business that doesn’t only sell beauty products but builds opportunities for women in Ghana. In this sense, Ele Agbe is empowering women in rural areas to gain a sustainable livelihood by producing quality products for both the local and international market. This venture started making jewellery from recycled glass and then moved to shea butter products, thanks to the vision of their inspirational founder and CEO Comfort Adjahoe. But why attempt to tell the story if Comfort can do it better.
Another women-led enterprise based in Uganda that, contrary to the previous ones, isn’t mainly focused on empowering women but on creating jobs for young people. Decent work opportunities, not charity, as we’ve seen through all these examples, is a more powerful way to provide employment and dignified ways of income. Kampala Fair began with sewing lessons in Mette Islandi, who then teamed up with Louise Graymore from the UK and created Kampala Fair together.
Nowadays, Kampala Fair is a sustainable, profitable and fair trade business that sell their products for local and international markets. Everything in this clothing business is locally made, from the vibrant fabrics to the designers and tailors. We invite you to visit the web page, learn more from them and get lost among the beautiful designs.
Last October Challenges Worldwide volunteer and soon to be Team Leader Rosie Coleman spent a Friday evening with the Kumasi, Ghana chapter of women who code to lead a workshop on “excelling your career.”
The most interesting thing for me was to witness the similarities between the women here in Kumasi and those I’ve met back home in London during similar tech career workshops. The Kumasi women had the same fears and concerns about interviews and our feedback session focused largely on the same issues with self-confidence and belief in their own awesomeness.
Not only in the global South but also here in the UK
Here the gender inequalities aren’t as big as in other countries, however, we aren’t absent of this reality. One of the main issues is the “missing middle” in organisations. What does this mean? Even though at junior management levels both genders are equally represented, male managers are 40% more likely to be promoted to higher roles. This is the number one cause of the 23% gender pay gap.
You can join Challenges Worldwide by taking part of the International Citizen Service volunteer programme and help any of these enterprises to keep on empowering women or you can do your own bit to fill in the missing middle and join the Chartered Management Institute at an exclusive discounted rate for Challenges learners.
By joining many small efforts, challenges can be overcome and great changes can be achieved. Be part of this movement!
Take the chance and travel to Africa with us. Apply now!
Success is to be measured not so much by the position that one has reached in life but by the obstacles which she has overcome.”
–Booker T Washington.
‘So what are you doing again?’ A question that had been posed to me so many times before I left the (what I thought to be) busy streets of London for (what I now know to be) the truly busy streets of the city of Lusaka, Zambia. After being in Lusaka for a week and getting to know the in-country Zambian volunteers, I thought I knew exactly what to expect when it was finally time to leave the training location and move into my new host home to start work at the business I had been assigned to.
I had been paired with a small social enterprise called The Foundation for the Realization of Economic Empowerment (otherwise known as F.R.E.E woman). As my counterpart, Charles and I made our way from the urban area where our host families lived to F.R.E.E. I began to notice the change in surroundings. The low rise gated buildings and shopping malls began to fall away slowly being replaced with smaller hand-built houses and kantemba (small roadside shops). The number of cars around us plummeted and before we knew it we were at the heart of a community known as the N’gombe compounds. N’gombe is one of Zambia’s underdeveloped areas and the home of F.R.E.E.
As a social enterprise, F.R.E.E. woman exists to provide women from the most underprivileged communities with a way to earn income and reverse the marginalisation of said women by providing them with an opportunity to better their lives. The focus is on the creation of jewellery, from bracelets to necklaces, out of copper wire and a copper sheet with some of the more extravagant pieces incorporating semi-precious stones.
In August 2010 the project emerged from a group of young women living in Lusaka’s slums who had no previous jewellery making experience. The group was founded by Dawn Close, an American who lives in Lusaka. There are now more than 20 women that currently take part in the group although more than twice this number have been capably trained and regularly reincorporate themselves. The inclusion of all women in this project is an aim that remains at the forefront of F.R.E.E’s agenda and this can be observed in the flexibility of the work that is on offer. Many of the women that work with F.R.E.E are young mothers which may act as a barrier to attaining other forms of employment, however, through this project women are able to drop in as frequently as they desire and at any time during the working day.
After working with the organisation for almost four weeks I have been able to see the extent to which F.R.E.E’s social impact reaches. Four of the women have been able to return to school, a number of the women involved with F.R.E.E have been able to attain financial independence and all have gained skills that can aid them in future endeavours within the working world if they choose to venture into formal employment elsewhere. As a group that makes up more than half of the population in Zambia, it was somewhat surprising to find that only 28.8% of women are in formal employment. However, projects such as F.R.E.E are actively working towards raising these numbers and tackling the ‘elephant in the room’ that is the marginalisation of women in the workforce across Zambia.
This year I have also had the pleasure of celebrating International women’s day in Zambia where unlike the UK, it is a Zambian national holiday. Although somewhat contrasting the image painted by the statistics regarding the position of women in Zambia, this day was used to appreciate and acknowledge the efforts of the many Zambian women and women around the world and celebrate their achievements. In appreciating the struggles that so many women around the world do face on a daily basis we can learn from organisations like F.R.E.E and move towards addressing these issues one by one, something that I am excited to have the opportunity be a part of.