One hundred women entrepreneurs, Non-Resident Nepalese Association (NRNA) members, civil society members and supporting actors participated in the program organized in Kathmandu today (8th March, 2015) on the occasion of 105th International Women’s Day. NRNA and Foreign Employment Promotion Board (FEPB) jointly hosted the program.
The program started with a welcome speech by Mr. TB Karki, Vice-President of NRNA. It was followed by Mr. Raghu Raj Kafle, Executive Director of FEPB, who highlighted the need for women to be trained before leaving for foreign employment and also talked about the necessity of providing skills and knowledge training to returnee women migrants.
Honorable Sunil Thapa, Minister for Commerce and Supplies, inaugurated the program. Minister Thapa opined that the government needs to now focus on “how” to support women entrepreneurs as we already know that it is necessary. He highlighted that rather than reserving quota for women, we should focus on ensuring that women have a qualitative representation in all sectors of the society.
Anita Poudel of Biruwa Ventures gave a presentation on the topic of women entrepreneurship in Nepal based on its pre-event held on March 3rd among aspiring and successful women entrepreneurs from agriculture, handicraft, fashion, IT and social enterprises. Federation of Women Entrepreneurs Associations of Nepal sponsored the pre-event.
Two panel discussions followed the presentation. First panel discussion was based on Women Entrepreneurs in Nepal; Real stories and challenges. Sapila Rajbhandari moderated the discussion among Shanti Shakya Dolma, Bimala Dahal, Rajani Pradhan and Milee Shrestha. Sunita Nhemaphuki moderated the second session on Strategies to create enabling environment for Women entrepreneurship. Mahalaxmi Shrestha, Charu Chada and Malika Shrestha participated in the second discussion.
Building a society that is friendly to women entrepreneurs is only possible if our culture evolves to the need of women in the 21st century. Individual citizens, especially men, have to understand the pressures women are under while balancing their entrepreneurial aspirations and family obligations. Men have to support women in maintaining the household as much as women support men outside the home if they are to be successful women entrepreneurs.
Panelists also highlighted security issues as a major hurdle for women to succeed with their enterprises. Women have to think twice before taking on business meetings in the evening or taking overnight trips for business purpose. Though security is the responsibility of the state, change in attitude of men is necessary for women to feel safer while conducting business in our society.
Change in society is necessary not just in the family but also in our education system. Traditional gender roles are reinforced when our schools encourages boys to participate in sports and girls to participate in dancing. Only when our young boys and girls start thinking of themselves as equals will the society progress towards a more gender neutral treatment of both sexes.
At the same time, women have to themselves break the traditional gender norms. They should start businesses in non-traditional sectors. They should become business leaders. To break such norms, women who are already successful in business need to mentor other younger aspiring women entrepreneurs so that they can dream bigger and achieve bigger. Charu Chada, one of the panelists, highlighted this point by stating “women have to learn to live without fear”. Only bold women can break shackles that the society has put upon us.
The civil society can also play a role by conducting training and providing support to women entrepreneurs in a more practical manner. The private sector can play a role by introducing mentoring program for women staff and ensuring that women get equal pay for equal work they perform.
Government, on the other hand, can ensure that both men and women are treated equally by the law. Women feel discriminated because citizenship is not passed through mothers but only fathers in Nepal and as a result women are also discriminated in property issues. This creates a major hurdle for women as they do not have collateral to put in financial institutions to secure business loans. Though the government, is now mitigating some of these issues, a more concrete effort is required to create an enabling environment for women entrepreneurs in Nepal.
The organizers aim to convene a follow-up session to support women entrepreneurs in collaboration with institutions like Federation of Women Entrepreneurs Associations of Nepal (FWEAN) and United Nations Women (UN Women).