All over the developing world, only 30 percent of formal small and medium businesses are owned and operated by women–this results in a $300 billion annual credit deficit, according to the World Bank.
Women in business, especially entrepreneurs, are critical to economic development, particularly for growth and job creation for the poorest 40 percent of the global population, according to a recent World Bank study.
“Women’s economic empowerment is critical to achieve the inclusive economic growth required to end extreme poverty, which is why it has been such a longstanding priority for us,” said World Bank President Jim Yong Kim.
While recognizing the susceptibility of women and girls to gender-based violence, ensuring that women are also recognized as a player in global business was discussed at this year’s annual Spring Meetings of the IMF and World Bank.
“Gender equality is good economics,” said CEO of the World Bank Kristalina Georgieva. “Equally,” she added, “we have to recognize the strength of women in conflict. She was part of a panel at a session named, “Empowering Women for Peace.”
For women in Iraq, who have in recent history lived through war and the scourge of ISIL, conditions were particularly hostile, said Thikra Alwash, who is the Mayor of Baghdad, Iraq.
“The continued security concerns in turn also further hurt the position of women socially and professionally” in Iraq, said Alwash, who is also the first female mayor of Baghdad. The Iraqi capital worked to create initiatives for women within the country, especially to give them greater freedom of education, movement and economic independence–starting with something as simple as driving lessons.
“The freedom of women within Iraq and Baghdad is not only a benefit for women, but for the larger economic and social framework for the country,” she said.
Part of the effort to empower women entrepreneurs globally is to ensure that girls are provided safe and stable access to education from a young age, according to Sigrid Kaag, who is the Minister for Foreign Trade and Development Cooperation in the Netherlands.
It is also important, Kaag said, to set high standards for women and girls in business. She cautioned against urging women and girls into “traditional” trades or industries like sewing or embroidery, but rather, “we also need to be forward-looking… give women access to the new market,” such as tech innovation.