On November 19, we mark Women’s Entrepreneurship Day, a day spearheaded by the Women’s Entrepreneurship Day Organization to celebrate and support women in business worldwide.
Across the globe, women participate in paid economic activities less than men. The gender gap in labor force participation is around 14 percent in the median OECD country, 26 percent in the median middle-income country, and 13 percent in the median low-income country. When women do participate, they often work in lower-paying jobs and sectors and have less access to social safety nets. This is worsened by the COVID-19 crisis, which has disproportionate economic and social consequences on women and girls because of financial exclusion, the gender digital divide, a greater burden of unpaid care work, and other gender-based inequalities. At the same time, it is estimated that closing the gender gap in the workforce would add 28 trillion USD to the global GDP, and that’s only counting the monetary gains, not the human rights and other benefits.
We cannot afford not to invest in women and girls. We must work together to support and remove barriers to women’s economic recovery and empowerment, and entrepreneurship in its various forms is a powerful catalyst to make this a reality. Entrepreneurship can generate jobs for women and their peers and help them tackle the challenges faced by their communities. And as much as the COVID-19 crisis is a threat for women entrepreneurs, it has also provided an opportunity to do things differently, including creating a greater acceptance of remote working models, accelerating digitalization, and increasing the visibility of alternative forms of leadership. Women are important agents of change, and harnessing the potential of women entrepreneurs will be crucial for the sustainable and inclusive recovery of economies and societies from the crisis.
As a co-leader of the UN system’s socio-economic response, UNDP has prioritized gender-responsive social protection and women’s economic recovery in 46 countries, including through supporting women-led micro, small, and medium enterprises, digital solutions, and cooperative development. For instance, in Nepal, UNDP, together with ILO, IOM, and UNESCO, is working with women informal workers, migrants, and women’s cooperatives and assisting through cash transfers, livelihoods support, and reskilling. UNDP is also mobilizing governments to enact gender-responsive policies, including those that support women entrepreneurs. Our new COVID-19 Global Gender Tracker shows that 130 countries and territories have adopted 503 fiscal and economic measures to help businesses weather the crisis. Still, only 10 percent of these measures aim to strengthen women’s economic security by channeling resources to female-dominated sectors.
HISTORY OF WOMEN ENTREPRENEURS DAY
Women have been involved in entrepreneurial ventures for centuries, but they were not considered entrepreneurs because the term was exclusive to men. During the 18th and 19th centuries, most businesses owned by women were either from inheritance or supplemented personal income.
Eliza Lucas Pinckney of South Carolina was one woman who became a business leader through inheritance. She took over her family’s plantations when she was 16 years old, becoming the first female recorded to own a business in the U.S. Women began owning brothels, alehouses, taverns, and retail shops around the same time. However, because of the societal perception of what a woman should and should not do, these businesses were considered shameful. In the 1900s, public perception shifted toward the progressive, and feminism became a widely accepted movement. This allowed people to refer to women in business as female entrepreneurs. Black women became the most enterprising women in the U.S. during the early 20th Century. They established themselves in dressmaking, Black hair care, private home domestic work, and midwifery. Madam C. J. Walker, the first African American female millionaire, was one of the most successful women of this era. Various organizations launched in the United States were founded in the late 1980s and 1990s to provide education and financing to female entrepreneurs. Among these are the Women’s Business Development Center and Count Me In. But none of this was enough to put women entrepreneurs on an equal footing with their male counterparts. Since 2000, there has been an increase in support and attention for female entrepreneurs, and female-owned businesses now have more access to financing than ever before.
After returning to the U.S. in 2013 from volunteering with the Adelante Foundation in Honduras, Wendy Diamond started an initiative to empower women in business. This initiative became the Women’s Entrepreneurship Day Organization (WEDO). On November 19, 2014, WEDO celebrated the first Women’s Entrepreneurship Day in the U.S. and over 140 countries. Since then, New York City and Los Angeles have declared it an official day, the U.S. House of Representatives has recognized it, and the United Nations celebrated it.
WOMEN ENTREPRENEURS DAY TIMELINE
Eliza Lucas Pinckney takes over her family’s plantations in South Carolina, becoming the first female to own a business in the U.S.
Public perception becomes more progressive, and acceptance of the term “female entrepreneurs” grew.
Wendy Diamond launches Women Entrepreneurship Day Organization (W.E.D.O.) in the U.S.
The first Women Entrepreneurship Day is held in New York City, at the United Nations.