WOMEN 2000:  WOMEN AND DECISION-MAKING                         OCTOBER 1997


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-

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/


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,

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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