The equal participation of women in the workplace, in politics, in business, and in the general contribution to daily communal life is desirable in itself. However, there are probably many sceptics who oppose feminism or equality on the basis of archaic and arcane mores. In modern society it’s impossible for a community to fulfil its true potential without the full participation of women.
In the book The Shifting Global Balance of Power: Perils of a World War and Preventive Measures, Mahmoud Musa and Yana Korobko tell a story about the war in Darfur in Sudan: some men who were members of rival groups spent days arguing over control of the channel of a particular river, until one of the women among them piped up and said: “But the river is dry now. In this river there is no more water.” The men were fighting over something that no longer existed. But the women knew this because they’re the ones close to the ground – the ones who go to fetch water, who know what’s going on in communities.
One of the world’s most developed nations, Japan, reckons that if it’s going to pull out of a stagnant economy, which has lasted twenty years, it’ll have to make better use of its women. One of the main pillars of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s recovery plan is building a society where women shine. Sixty per cent of women leave the workplace prematurely, mostly because of childbirth, but also without enough support to bring them back into employment. The investment bank Goldman Sachs says Japan’s economy could be boosted by up to 13 per cent if the gap between men and women in the workplace (which is one of the widest in the OECD) is closed.
Microloans have become part of the fabric of development in poor countries. Muhammad Yunus from Bangladesh won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2006 for his work founding the Grameen Bank. Ninety-five per cent of the bank’s loans are given to women, and research shows they have an incredibly high repayment rate of 97 per cent – commercial banks would be happy to register 80 per cent.
Research also shows that women are more likely to invest the borrowed money in things that improve the lives of their families. For example, they buy seeds, or chickens, or goats. The milk, eggs and vegetables add nourishment for their children, with the remainder sold to earn an income. And reliable repayment is not unique to Bangladeshi women – James Mwangi, CEO of Equity Bank in Kenya, says that women have the best loan repayment reputation in their micro lending scheme.
Many African countries already know the potential of female entrepreneurs or of unleashing the potential of women in the workplace. I learned at the feet of my mother and grandmother in Nigeria, who always juggled several businesses. Indeed, in Kenya, school uniforms and books have been bought, and fees paid, by the toil of thousands and thousands of ‘Mama Mbogas’.
A little bit of encouragement and harnessing is all they need.