Economic Empowerment of Young women
By Angelique Pouponneau
On behalf of the Commonwealth Youth Council and the Commonwealth Youth Gender Equality Network
My name is Angelique Pouponneau from the Seychelles and currently I sit as the Vice-Chairperson for inclusion and engagement of the Commonwealth Youth Council and a member of the Commonwealth Youth Gender Equality Network. I also sit on the Executive Management Team of the Commonwealth Businesswomen’s Network for youth and enterprise.
I am a lawyer by profession in private practice and for a year I was trained that in order to be successful in my career, I didn’t have to just pass my exams, have 12 dinners at an Inns of Court but in order to be taken seriously I had to tie my hair up and as an advocate I had to make sure that my voice was lower, deeper and louder, basically I need to sound like a man to persuade a Court – my economic empowerment is dependent in taking on male traits or so I have been taught so it is an honour for me to be here at the inaugural Commonwealth Women Leaders’ Summit to speak on the economic empowerment of women. My presentation will be from the perspective and experience of young women and whilst we say young we are including teenage girls in schools, employed, unemployed and self-employed young women, and it will focus on the challenge faced by young women in starting and growing their own businesses, proposals of what we think the Commonwealth can do and our role as young people in achieving women economic empowerment of women.
Challenges hindering the start and growth of women owned businesses
Adolescent girls are among the economically most vulnerable groups and represent the majority of the 628 million unemployed youth with neither an education nor vocational training.
As a young girl in many countries of the Commonwealth systemic and cultural mechanisms that inculcate your role in society is itself a hindrance for women to start women owned businesses. It was recently population day and there was a call to invest in teenage girls. In the home there is sometimes obvious uneven distribution of resources among the children in a family which can lead to inequalities between girls and boys within the household which can determine their future social and economic inclusion and opportunities. Furthermore this does not end at home as young women are often disproportionally affected and discriminated against when accessing education and in the education system and later on in the entrepreneurship stage. The Commonwealth continues to host countries still practising child marriage and girls are often removed from schools to assist mothers’ and other female caregivers. They have limited access to and control over resources and social services.
A few years later we are seeing girls who have not obtained the crucial skills required for starting their own businesses such as literacy and numeric skills as well as an understanding of financial services, all of which are crucial to starting a business. For the young women who have obtained the abovementioned skills they have expressed a lack of support through advice and guidance and a deficiency of opportunities for trade in order to grow their business. They have also expressed the male chauvinism in the business world where men rather do business with men but also the sexual harassment when manoeuvring what has typically been a male dominated province.
What can the Commonwealth do?
I believe in always first looking to young people for the solution that they are proposing to resolve the gaps and challenges they are facing. In November 2015 recommendations were discussed by young people from countries across the Commonwealth. There were two recommendations on the economic agenda relating to today’s theme:
- The Commonwealth Youth Council, National Youth Councils and Youth Ministries to encourage the use of Information and Communication Technology in education and the establishment of inter- and intra-regional youth innovation and technology centres, as a means of disseminating knowledge, skills development, innovation and connectivity, thereby enhancing infrastructure in these areas.The Commonwealth may start a knowledge hub where information on financial services, develop skills on financial literacy, business models and sessions on innovation and creativity and connectivity or even careers guidance. There is a call to use technology to facilitate the dissemination of such information to young people across the Commonwealth. At this point I think it is proper to state that many young people do not have access to ICT and therefore leaving young women in rural areas at a disadvantage. It is evident that we must also call for sustained investments in women and girls, through access to health, education and essential services like energy, drinking water and sanitation, provide a starting point on which we can build.
- Another recommendation from the Commonwealth Youth Forum is for International organisations, National Youth Councils, donors and the private sector to foster a culture of youth entrepreneurship by advocating for youth entrepreneurship skills to be included in the education curricula and the creation of national and regional networks for youth entrepreneurs. This comes as a proposal especially with the Commonwealth Ministers meeting on education coming up in 2018 but perhaps we must start laying the foundation at the Women Ministers’ meeting if we are to have meaningful economic empowerment of young women.
- A young Grenadian, Miss Amanda Scott, a National Youth Delegate of the Commonwealth Youth Council proposed the creation of a support system for women by women. The #Sheforshe initiative calls for women to see each other as collaborators rather than competitors and then ensuring an inter-generational mentoring relationship. We sometimes do not realise how much wealth we have in the Commonwealth but we have many successful businesswomen (72 000 from CBW ) in the Commonwealth who through occasional meetings can provide advice, mentorship and supportive network for aspiring young female entrepreneurs. They do not necessarily have to be in the same country. Furthermore the Commonwealth can look at promoting role models of entrepreneurship so young women can aspire to be like them. The Commonwealth Businesswomen’s Network is also looking an initiative to link girls in school with women in business so this established relationship is sustainable and subsist to when girls endeavour to start their businesses and grow them.
Many ideas were posited but I will leave it there. Our theme is a crucial topic of discussion because SDG5 does not mention economic empowerment of women and therefore we cannot be overly reliant that SDG5 but look at the SDGs in its entirety. I’d like to end with the theme of the International Youth Day 2016: Eradicating poverty and promoting sustainable consumption and production. This is a call for the economic empowerment of young people and girls and young women remain the majority when it comes to unemployment and poverty but the theme comes with a solution that we must also look at social entrepreneurship as a means to solving our current unsustainable practices when it comes to consumption and production. I’m reminded of a young lady from Pakistan Miss Zainab Bibi, fellow Queen’s Young Leader and a social entrepreneur, who produces energy from waste materials – economically empowered and solving a global problem.
With 60% of the population of the Commonwealth aged 29 and below I hope we can achieve the economic empowerment for girls, young women and older women alike.