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OECD Observer

Barriers to gender equality may be deep seated and hard to change for cultural reasons, but leaders, business and civil society groups have a role to play in helping to change mindsets. The payback if they try would be substantial.

This was a key message running through the OECD workshop on women’s entrepreneurship in Istanbul designed to help raise awareness among decision-makers in both government and the private sector of the importance of women entrepreneurs for economic growth. As Nimet Çubukçu, Turkey’s minister of state in charge of women’s affairs, put it, if the energy and initiative of women in setting up their own firms can be unleashed, they can be a powerful force for prosperity.

The minister noted how many women in Mediterranean-rim nations hold back from setting up businesses because of social and other pressures. In Turkey, she noted, only 10% of employers are women, and 66% of enterprises founded by women have only one employee. “Women are the key to development in the region,” she said. “Supporting them as entrepreneurs will provide an impetus to social and economic development.”

The workshop, organised by the OECD’s Centre for Entrepreneurship, SMEs and Local Development, called on governments to take a more active role in supporting women in setting up and running businesses as part of a strategy for job creation and investment for made to provide loans for women entrepreneurs, the conference said, while databases should be developed to underpin specific policy strategies in favour of women-owned businesses.

The 90 or so participants at the workshop, which was part of a broader Middle East- North Africa and OECD Initiative on Investment and Governance for Development also urged governments to devote resources to promoting and encouraging women’s entrepreneurship, for example, through publicity campaigns.

The workshop called on governments to improve the regulatory and legislative framework relating to women, and in particular property rights and the freedom to be entrepreneurial. Legislation against gender discrimination in the public and private sectors should be introduced or enforced, and gender issues should be integrated into programme design and government policies in their initial planning stages.

The workshop conclusions will be included in draft recommendations to a ministerial meeting of the MENA-OECD Investment Programme in Amman in November 2005. The workshop was held at the OECD’s Istanbul Centre for Private Sector Development on 11-12 July.

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©OECD Observer No 250, July 2005

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