Since the establishment of the Yemeni Businesswomen Council (YBC) in 2007, the number of women entrepreneurs registered with the Federation of Chambers of Commerce and Industry has risen from 52 to more than 400 as of November of this year.
YBC chair Fawzia Nasher spoke with Al-Shorfa about how her organisation has helped empower women and its plans for the future.
Al-Shorfa: How was the YBC established and what role does it play alongside the chambers of commerce and industry?
Fawzia Nasher: It was the result of a businesswomen's workshop in 2005, which recommended the establishment of an economic entity or bloc aimed at enabling women entrepreneurs to, alongside the men, contribute effectively to various fields and develop their performance and raise their competence in business and production management and practice.
The goal was also to raise social awareness and shed light on businesswomen's issues and on their important role in development; remove obstacles they face; include them in domestic and international conferences and workshops; and provide them with training, so as to improve their businesses.
And this is indeed what happened. In 2003, less than 40 businesswomen were registered with the chambers of commerce. In 2007, when the YBC was established, that number rose to 52. By the end of November 2013, more than 400 businesswomen were registered, despite the events of 2011, when many businesses suffered losses or had to close.
Al-Shorfa: How did the YBC help them cope with these losses?
Nasher: The YBC offers businesswomen consultation, training and development. It advises women on how to overcome difficulties and return to the market. We offer seven annual training and development programmes in areas such as professional project management and evaluation, marketing, productivity, crises management, technical and financial capacity-building, skill-building and workplace management. We give them cultural and legal skills specific to professional projects.
We also encourage their participation in Arab and international conferences to increase their interactions with businesswomen outside Yemen, so they can benefit from their experiences and create successful partnerships with Arab and international businesswomen to establish successful projects that will play a social role in fighting poverty and unemployment and raise domestic production.
We have worked on bringing Yemeni businesswomen into the fold of the Arab Women Investors Union and the Arab Labour Organisation (the Arab Women Labour Affairs Committee), as well as local entities such as the Small Industries and Establishment Financing Fund and the Economic Empowerment Network.
Al-Shorfa: What is the YBC's most notable achievement in developing women's businesses?
Nasher: Banks were reluctant to grant loans to women if the guarantors were other businesswomen, even if these women owned operational companies. We succeeded in persuading banks to abandon this practice after we held a workshop with the Ministry of Industry and Trade.
Here I would like to send a message for banks to facilitate giving loans to women, ease conditions and interest rates, and schedule repayments to begin at least six months after the funded project becomes operational.
Al-Shorfa: How does the YBC support women entrepreneurs who work from home?
Nasher: We plan to launch a programme that targets women working from home, to turn their work into a systematic and organised production and marketing venture, whether they produce sweets, incense or other household products such as perfumes and handcrafts. We will accomplish this through field visits to rural areas by holding capacity-building programmes in several provinces that seek to bring these women into the workforce.
These small-enterprise management and marketing skill courses are also designed to raise awareness among women about the importance of doing business.
Al-Shorfa: What do businesswomen want from the National Dialogue Conference?
Nasher: The conference represents a roadmap to a future with equal citizenship. We presented a list of demands to the government, during the conference, which included granting businesswomen tax and customs exemptions for no less than five years after the launch of their projects, and getting women who are in the private sector involved in drafting legislation.
We also called for establishing a special fund to finance women's enterprises, setting a strategy to train, develop and empower them economically, creating a special investment zone and allocating land grants for their development projects.
Additionally, we seek to lock the quota system, in which women were given 30% of the seats in legislatures and government and senior posts. We call for the same percentage to be given on the boards of the different chambers of commerce and industry, the Federation [of Chambers of Commerce and Industry] and in other economic entities.