Despite the enormous spotlight held up against gender inequality through the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), the total female entrepreneurial activity is less than 10 percent in Asia today. Building on the MDGs, the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) are a new set of 17 goals aimed at bringing about inclusive development. SDG’s gender equality goal highlights the themes of discrimination, exploitation, and unequal access to opportunity. At Shujog ACTS, we believe that expanding social finance is critical to addressing these themes. To achieve inclusive and equitable growth, women need to be lifted out of the informal economy and into formal employment. Entrepreneurship is the key to this shift.
For decades now, women have been classified as the ‘vulnerable’ section of society. Recent statistics suggest that while women make up for half of the world’s population, they represent 70% of the poor population. The majority of women from low income communities across developing countries have a very low standard of living and face discrimination just on account of being a woman. Globally, over time, women have become recognized as drivers of progress. Empowering women has gained increasing prominence as a development priority. While there has been progress, there still exists a disparity in terms of economic and social equity for women. A larger reason for this can be attributed to the looming health inequity which has led to further income inequity.
Imagine the scene: at this very moment, a woman is being exposed to toxic fumes in her home. Another is engaged in the time consuming and dangerous daily search for fuel, taking her time away from more productive economic activities and often leading to environmental degradation in her homeland. The cause of such hazards? The basic and necessary act of cooking meals for the family. Sadly, such scenes are commonplace, as millions of households around the world still use traditional cooking practices, which are inefficient and a health hazard. It is estimated that over four million people die prematurely every year due to indoor air pollution, and women are disproportionately affected by the threat.
Janice Wilson came to Cambodia from New York City in 2008 on a corporate legal assignment and never left. Struck by the plight of sex trafficking victims and recognizing a market need for the supply of human hair extensions, Ms Wilson founded an online manufacturing and retail social enterprise called Arjuni. The company provides a combination of employment, therapy and housing for female victims of human trafficking and raises global awareness about this social injustice. This summer, Shujog ACTS (Assistance for Capacity Building and Technical Services), a technical assistance program launched by Shujog in 2013, prepared Arjuni to raise capital by sharpening its business, financial and investor materials and providing a tool to articulate and measure its impact to global investors. With this help, Arjuni can attract investment capital, scale its business and improve the lives of even more vulnerable women.
In an interview, Ms. Kalpana Raina recalled her beginnings in impact investing. It was 2009 when she found herself on a “roadshow” with Durreen Shahnaz, founder of Shujog and IIX, to raise interest on the sector which was still in its embryonic stage. She had observed then that “despite all the credentials, despite all the access and networks that both of us have, this is going to be a very tough task.”
Financial Inclusion of women has been one of the key development priorities to ensure gender equality and empowerment. Amy Duffuor from IIX speaks to Michaela Walsh from Women’s World Banking to understand the status of financial inclusion for women.
Michaela Walsh is an activist, scholar, mentor, educator, and author. She was a pioneer woman manager with Merrill Lynch in Beirut, Lebanon, in the ’60s, first woman Partner of Boettcher in the ’70s, and in 1980, Founding President of Women’s World Banking.