The number of businesswomen in Egypt is still limited when compared to the number of businessmen; some have attributed this to the stereotyped image of women as housewives.
But businesswomen believe that this stereotype image is nearing its end and that women are starting to prove themselves in the business world despite the obstacles that they face.
Local and international non-governmental organisations (NGOs) are trying to provide different forms of support that will help Egyptian women who wish to establish their own businesses, either through professional consulting or financial support.
Among these NGOs, Businesswomen of Egypt 21 (BWE21) association that supports female economic empowerment through different methods.
Moreover, it holds an annual conference under the slogan “Women for Success”, with the aim of creating a dynamic platform in Egypt for networking, capacity building, and international trade through bringing together leaders from around the world. Daily News Egypt sat down with the president of BWE21, Yomna El Sheridy, to learn more about the activity of the association, the obstacles that businesswomen face in Egypt, and her opinion about the economic environment in Egypt.
What is the objective of BWE21?
First of all, BWE21 is an NGO dedicated to empowering women and enhancing their contribution to the Egyptian economy, in particular, and the Arab world’s economy in general, through providing the tools and the resources that will enable the women either to grow their existing businesses or to enter the small business industry.
Furthermore, BWE21 is trying to provide all the services that enable the women to overcome the daily problems in their businesses.
It’s worth mentioning that BEW21 is the biggest membership base of businesswomen in Egypt that includes about 250 businesswomen.
What kind of services does BWE21 offer to its members?
BWE21 is a platform for awareness and for discussing the new updates in the business, such as during crises or the issuance of a new law, BWE21 holds discussion meetings with officials in order to provide businesswomen with a deeper understanding of the ecosystem for growing and sustaining small and medium enterprises (SMEs).
Furthermore, BWE21 helps women solve their daily problems in business and offers capacity-building workshops in the fields of branding personal leadership style and work-life balance in order to help women increase their access to the market.
Moreover workshops and courses, such as how to use e-commerce, how to improve their business products, how to increase their exporting rates, etc.
What are the conditions for joining the association?
Either a woman who runs her own business or wants to start one can join.
In your opinion, what are the most notable challenges or obstacles that businesswomen face in Egypt?
Once you start working, there is no difference between a man and a woman, meaning that women have a lot of similar challenges to men. Meanwhile, I think the additional challenge that women have is that they never waive their responsibility for housework, which adds an additional barrier compared to men—balancing between work and domestic affairs.
What is the role of BWE21 in increasing investments into Egypt?
I always say that women’s image is a society’s image. I think that women’s image always reflects the stability of the country and how attractive it is to investors.
So BWE21 holds an annual conference under the slogan of “Women for Success”, which reflects Egyptian women’s image and assures that the Egyptian woman can manage her own business and can be financially independent.
Thus, this provides investors with a positive image of Egypt in general, and for the Egyptian investment environment in particular, so they will be encouraged to inject more investments into the country.
In your opinion, what does Egypt need to be a more attractive investment environment?
The government took positive steps in improving infrastructure so we have to encourage this.
However, I think the environment needs to be much better; we need more security stability, cleanliness in the streets, and better traffic.
Moreover, Egypt needs more airports and a much better trained labour force.
Do you think that the new Investment Law contributed to improving the investment environment in Egypt?
I think that issuing the Investment Law is something good as having no investment law in Egypt was a problem. However, there are many disadvantages in this law that need to be amended.
What are these disadvantages?
Retroactive enforcement of laws, meaning for example, people that have existing projects are surprised by new fees.
I think that there should be a way as not to apply things retroactively so as not to affect the existing investments.
Finally, having successful investment projects in Egypt is what attracts further investment.
Is there a particular field that is still limited to men?
Yes, the fields that need physical efforts more than mental efforts such as the contracting field.
The majority of women prefer the services, food, fashion, and design fields, but of course, there are some exceptions.
In your opinion, what is the sector benefiting most from female economic empowerment?
The whole society is benefited by women’s economic empowerment as women’s role is not limited only to the sector that they work in, but also affects the whole society.
How do you see businesswomen in the Arab world’s success?
The society can’t grow or achieve renaissance if half of it is working while the other half, which is women, is not productive and staying at home, so actually, I think that there are many Middle Eastern women who are growing and achieving economic power in many countries.
Moreover, BWE21 has done a great job through its network of many businesswomen from the Arab world countries, such as Saudi Arabia, Lebanon, Algeria, Tunisia, etc.
Are there any non-Egyptian members in BWE21?
Yes, about 10% of the members are not Egyptians. We have members from Libya, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Iraq, and Syria, but they are residents of Egypt.
Earlier, the president announced that 2018 will be the year for disabled people; what activities will BWE21 provide disabled women entrepreneurs?
BWE21 has an annual celebration on World’s Women Day (8 March), during which we celebrate and honour the disabled women who have contributed to enhancing the Egyptian economy through successful projects. It’s our theme every year, regardless of the year for disabled people.
What are the priorities of BWE21 in 2018?
BWE21 pays attention to two axes, the first is to increase the number of women in business who trade and export through the initiative “She Trades”.
Meanwhile, the second axis is to increase the number of women in decision-making positions through “More Women in Boards” initiative.
What is your evaluation for 2017, which was the year of women, in terms of business and women rights? What were the radical changes that happened?
In general, there is a great interest from the leadership to integrate women into the economy and include them in decision-making positions.
Recently, there became many women-led ministries for the first time, and even ministries that are not led by women consist of women staff.
Meanwhile, in terms of economics, the biggest initiative was the Central Bank of Egypt (CBE)’s initiative to provide easy financing for SMEs at an interest rate of 5%. This initiative contributed to opening bridges and channels between entrepreneurs and the government.
On the other hand, savings certificates, with an interest rate of 20% without risk, have decreased economic activity.