WOMEN 2000: WOMEN AND DECISION-MAKING OCTOBER 1997 ALTERNATIVE ROUTES TO POWER AND INFLUENCE The Non-governmental Path In many countries women have built upon long traditions of volunteering in service organizations to enter other arenas of decision-making. The influence of women's NGOs has been particularly manifest at the global conferences of the United Nations, with women's groups gaining recognition at the 1992 Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro, shaping the agenda at the World Conference on Human Rights in Vienna in 1993, and participating as active lobbyists at the 1996 World Food Summit in Rome. The historical moment for civil society has been particularly opportune in the post-cold war period and, as globalization has come to characterize the end of this century, the women's movement has emerged as a force to be reckoned with internationally. As one anthropologist has pointed out: "with the expansion of transnational activity not subject to the laws of nations, the responsibility of governments to ensure justice, economic and otherwise and to protect people from polices that threaten their livelihoods or their very lives has taken on new urgency. The strategies that women have used and might use to engage and confront the private sector, state and international organizations are critical for the future."56/ Starting Small and Medium-sized Enterprises Weary of trying to crack "the glass ceiling" after a difficult climb from "the sticky floor" of large corporations and, in some cases, in order to have more control over their time and workplaces, more and more women are starting small businesses. In the United States alone, women own or control more than 6.5 million enterprises with fewer than 500 employees -- approximately 30 per cent of the country's businesses.57/ In the Philippines, women constitute some 70 per cent of self-employed workers -- not just in trading and services associated with homemaking skills, such as restaurants and hotels, but in consumer electronics, semi-conductors, computers and their applications, car manufacturing and machinery and other durable goods. Much the same is true for Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore and Thailand.58/ In a number of OECD countries -- among them Australia and Canada -- small and medium-size enterprises owned by women are growing at a faster rate than the economy as a whole. Perhaps because of the difficulties they encounter in obtaining financing, women entrepreneurs tend to go into the retail and service trades, where start-up costs are lower than in manufacturing and other businesses. In Mexico, women make up 23 per cent of such entrepreneurs, whereas they account for 11 per cent of ownership in manufacturing, 6.5 per cent in the oil and gas industries and 2.5 per cent in construction.59/ In view of the enormous growth of the service sector worldwide, coupled with the amplified access to information provided by the computer revolution, women's current leadership in this area may augur well for their rise in other private-sector fields as well. Alternative Banking In some countries, women have thwarted the male banking structure by creating their own solutions. Rebuffed by India's major bank in its request for financing, the Self-Employed Women's Association (SEWA) set up its own savings association as the capital base for loans to its members. In Trinidad and Tobago, when women failed to obtain start-up funding for their businesses, they formed a susu -- a traditional, informal savings and loan group -- and "blanked" the banks.60/ In much the same way, the age-old "merry-go-rounds" of Kenyan woman -- which once used maize and millet rather than bank notes as their currency -- have helped finance substantial real estate transactions, both urban and rural, as well as micro- enterprises.61/ These kinds of achievements will hardly transform the big transnational commercial banks. But they have helped alert the major international financing institutions not only to women's growing capital needs, but to their talents for money management. According to Nancy Barry of Women's World Banking, the growing business of retailing credit may offer women high-level opportunities in global and national financial institutions -- if only to reflect better the composition of their clients.62/ NOTES 56/ Freidlander, Introduction, op.cit. 57/ Bangasser, op. cit. 58/ Zenaida Gonzales Gordon, paper presented to the OECD Conference on "Women Entrepreneurs in Small and Medium Enterprises: A Major Force in Innovation and Job Creation", Paris, 16-18 April 1997. 59/ Gina Zabludovsky, "Women Entrepreneurs in Mexico", United Nations Expert Group Meeting on Women and Economic Decision-Making, United Nations, New York, 7-11 November 1994 (EGM/1994/WP.7). 60/ M. J. Sebro, "Empowering Women for Community Leadership: a Caribbean Case Study" in Brasiliero, op.cit. 61/ Helena Halperin, Mama Ansema: Grass-roots Kenyan Women Speak Out, forthcoming. 62/ Nancy Barry, "Women and Economic Decision-Making: Transforming Enterprise and Financial Systems", paper presented to the United Nations Expert Group Meeting on Women and Economic Decision-Making in International Financial Institutions and Transnational Corporations, Simmons College, Boston, Massachusetts, 11-15 November 1996.
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