Wednesday, 01 December 2021 10:12 GMT

Prioritizing 'gender agenda', investing in women vital in rebuilding post-COVID economy: Egypt-ICF


(MENAFN- Mid-East.Info) Cairo, Egypt: A program to support women business owners in Egypt could provide a roadmap for global societies to drive gender-equality prosperity, the Egypt – International Cooperation Forum (Egypt-ICF), launched by the country's Ministry of International Cooperation, heard today.

H.E. Dr. Rania A. Al-Mashat, Egypt's Minister of International Cooperation, said the gender agenda is a key priority in Egypt and stressed that women have a vital role to play in a post-pandemic world, noting that female-led businesses need worldwide cohesive support to ensure they flourish.

“This is a topic close to everyone's heart – be it policy makers, the private sector or civil society,”Al-Mashat said, opening the panel discussion 'Women in Business: Supporting Female Entrepreneurship in Egypt'.

“Economic empowerment of women adds extensive benefits to the macroeconomy. It goes beyond the strategy of leaving no one behind,” she added, noting that Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 5: Gender Equality cuts across all 17 UN SDGs.

Egypt's Minister of International Cooperation introduced the Forum to the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) Women in Business program (WiB) in Egypt, aimed at strengthening the role of female entrepreneurs in the country's economy.

The program provides finance, business advice, training and mentoring to female-led SMEs through targeted credit lines and flagship advisory and skills development programs.

Continuing that thread, Mike Taylor, Director of Financial Institutions for the Southern and Eastern Mediterranean Region at EBRD, said the WiB program now exists in 24 countries, including Egypt and Morocco, with more than 90,000 women supported to date.

“We firmly believe giving women equal opportunity in business is not just about gender equality but is an economic priority,” Taylor told the Forum, revealing that Egypt is now home to the highest share of women-led SMEs in the MEA region. However, more than a half – 52 percent – meet their financing needs from private sources, leaving a“huge opportunity” for investment in their untapped market.

Keeping female entrepreneurs in Egypt and the wider MEA region updated with new technological skills could be achieved through better training and basic advisory services.

Taylor said it is important that women entrepreneurs can thrive post-pandemic through programs like WiB and have access to fiscal support packages designed specifically for women-owned MSMEs.

Dr. Heike Harmgart, Managing Director for the Southern and Eastern Mediterranean Region at EBRD, described supporting women-owned businesses as a“macro-critical issue”.

She stressed the need for a comprehensive global plan to be put in place to help female entrepreneurs – many of whom have been adversely affected in the wake of COVID-19 – get access to financing, knowledge and a network.

Dr. Maya Morsy, President of Egypt's National Council for Women (NCW), spoke of the paramount  benefits harnessed through women's economic empowerment, which boosts the overall performance of the economy and accelerates  growth steps.

In commending the Egypt- ICF forum's initiative, Morsy stressed that “The Egyptian government is very keen to support women entrepreneurs through new initiatives that develop women's capabilities to realize distinguished positions in Egyptian society.”

Ibrahim Laafia, Head of Cooperation at the EU Delegation to Egypt, also highlighted the potential setbacks of non inclusive economies, elaborating that“No economy can grow to its fullest potential without the participation of women.”

In the same vein,  Amro Abouesh, Chairman & Managing Director, Tanmeyah accentuated women's crucial contributions to businesses, stating that, “Women entrepreneurs were always an essential component of our loans ever since, and we are proud that 50% of the loans that were sustained are directed to women, especially women entrepreneurs, and we succeeded in including more women, attracting them and encouraging them to work, and we must look at the quality of projects.”

Suzanne Mikhail, Regional Director for the Arab States at UN Women, spoke of the proven track record of strong returns on investment that women-led businesses have. Firstly, women do well in business, secondly, they are more likely to employ more women – a positive“spin-off effect”, while thirdly, they do remarkably well in supporting workers' rights.

Mikhail added that“Egypt is qualified to support, adopt and sponsor women entrepreneurs. And we have already cooperated with the Ministry of International Cooperation and the National Council for Women to support all efforts aimed at reducing the gap between men and women.”

Christine Arab, Country Representative for Egypt at UN Women, noted that while women make up a third of the global workforce, during the COVID-19 pandemic, they also made up more than half of the job losses.

Andreas Schaal, Director for Global Relations at the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), offered a string of recommendations to assist female entrepreneurs. These included legal and social reforms; equal access to financial support and credit programs; and fostering a new generation of women in business.

About the Egypt – International Cooperation Forum :

The Egypt — International Cooperation Forum (Egypt — ICF) is a two-day global event that convenes the international community to drive a sustainable recovery through multilateralism.

Organized by Egypt's Ministry of International Cooperation, the Forum is being held in Cairo, Egypt, between 8-9 September 2021 in a hybrid format – allowing both physical and virtual attendance.

The Egypt — ICF provides a unique global platform in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region, to bring together international policymakers, multilateral and bilateral development partners, private sector stakeholders, civil society and think tanks to collaboratively reboot international cooperation through economic diplomacy in the post-pandemic era.

The Forum aims to foster a collective international commitment to accelerate the transition to a green and inclusive global recovery, catalyze social mobility in Africa and tackle climate change.

The Egypt — ICF is co-organized with leading international development institutions, including: the United Nations, the World Bank Group, Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), the African Development Bank (AfDB), and the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD).

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