I refuse to talk about women's empowerment before addressing an important matter on the topic. Most of the time, when talking about gender equality and women's rights, we try to discuss the benefits it will have on society and on economic development. It isn't wrong in the sense that empowering women will definitely improve these two, however this isn't the reason why we need to do it.
We need to give women the same chances as men have to lead, create, innovate, and build their own projects, just because that is the fair thing to do. Women's rights isn't an economic or development question. It is mostly a question of justice.
I really love the quote below, it summarises my thoughts on the topic:
"Where, after all, do universal human rights begin? In small places, close to home - so close and so small that they cannot be seen on any maps of the world... Such are the places where every man, woman and child seeks equal justice, equal opportunity, and equal dignity, without discrimination." - Eleanor Roosevelt
Now, let's focus on our topic: female entrepreneurship.
First of all, the Kauffman Foundation November 2014 report states that empowering women to build their own start-ups can have as much positive impact on U.S. economic growth as the entry of women into the labor force during the 20th century. Meaning, a game-changing economic impact, which will especially affect positively developing countries.
Unfortunately, and even though women are nowadays more likely to have attended school and university, they are still underrepresented in leadership positions.
How can we encourage women to become entrepreneurs?
Improve access to capital: discriminatory regulations and some gender-unequal cultures often reduce the chances of women to access loans and other financial services, according to the World Bank.
Microfinance is a great tool to provide women access to small loans, which sometimes is everything they need to start a project. Check out this article from UN Women, it gives an example on how microfinance is supporting women to become entrepreneurs in Central America.
Improve mentoring / networking opportunities: guidance plays a crucial role in entrepreneurship. Unfortunately, women are facing entrepreneur networks that are mostly male, which makes it often difficult to insert the inner-circles. In addition, a lack of female leaders means that women do not have as many role models as men when entering the labour market.
However, this trend is changing for the better. Many women entrepreneur networks are being brought to life all over the world. For example, the European Commission has developed support networks for women - check it out on their website.
Improve global access to education for girls: worldwide, 774 million adults still cannot read or write. 2/3 of those are women. Girls are less likely than boys to even start secondary education in developing countries, according to the 2012 OECD report on Gender Equality in Education.To learn more about education and training of women, I would advise you to check out this really cool infographic made by UN Women.
Education is crucial to empower women to become entrepreneurs. Great programmes are created globally to develop women's business training. For example, the Goldman Sachs Foundation has developed in 2008 the 10,000 Women Initiative, which provides business and management education to women from across 56 countries.
How does female entrepreneurship is related to social change?
An interesting trend is being observed by the GEM Report on Social Entrepreneurship. While male-owned businesses still outnumber those owned by women around the world, the gap is closing when it comes to social entrepreneurship.
In the U.S., Latvia, Finland and China, the rates at which women and men start a social business are almost equal. In Russia, Malaysia, Iceland, Israel and Argentina, women social entrepreneurs are already surpassing men.
We can then wonder why there is such a close relationship between women and social ventures. In this matter, we have to be particularly careful about the notion that women are more "suited" to be social entrepreneurs because they are more likely to be caring, empathetic and socially-minded than men. According to Simone Bresi-Ando, founder of I'mPOSSIBLE, it is more about the way women are socialised -with the traditional role of caregivers in society- rather than an inner trait of personality that pushes women to become social entrepreneurs.
Thus, developing female social entrepreneurship will have a strong impact on social change because so many more social projects are being brought to life by women.
Organisations, initiatives, governments and individuals are nowadays creating many programmes to empower women and girls to found start-ups, develop innovative ideas, and take on leadership positions. These tools will enable women around the world to redefine the meaning of entrepreneurship, and business as a whole.