Changing the status quo
One morning last week, while driving my son to school, he asked "Mum, why is it mostly the mums who drop kids to school in the mornings and do the pick-ups in the afternoon?"
I instinctively responded, "Well the men work..." and then it hit me ... I WORK. In fact, the vast majority of the mothers I know also work, and do school pick-ups, give lessons, ferry the kids to extra curricular activities, do homework, plan sleepovers and the list goes on.
What struck me, and left me pondering on it for the past few days, was the automaticity, the virtual knee-jerk explanation that I proffered in response to his innocent query. But, I think I have figured out why.
I, too, have drunk from the cistern of 'what mothers should do, and their role in the household', and I have come to the realisation that the tragedy is that it seems as if there is no amount of higher education, professional accomplishments, or accolades capable of uprooting this ingrained acceptance of gender roles in our psyche, and which is often manifested in reality.
I was having a conversation with a colleague about the recent appointment of the new Barbadian Senator Carol Lady Haynes, and the striking photo on the cover of the Nation News Barbados, mid-stride with her family in tow, looking every inch the powerful, incredibly accomplished, dynamic and innovative leader that she is. My colleague, having not seen the photo, upon seeing it, remarked, "Oh, this is Richie's wife!" Need I say more?
I believe that it is critical that we, as a region, urgently realign perception with reality. And perhaps that is the difficult part because it also means that we, as women, are just as much facilitators of a status quo that maintains traditional roles, while the entire environment in which we now live has dramatically changed, placing inordinate demands on women to not only battle it out in the workplace, but also be "Stepford Wives" and "soccer mums". Surely this cannot be sustainable.
As we celebrate International Women's Day 2015, one area that is certainly changing the status quo is the growth of Caribbean women in business; a fact that cannot be ignored.
Under the 10th European Development Fund (EDF), which Caribbean Export is currently implementing, the Direct Assistance Grants Scheme (DAGS) provided funding to 282 regional firms totalling some EU5.8 million, of which 38 per cent were female owned or led. In fact, between 2012 and 2014, the funding awarded to female-owned firms increased by 54 per cent.
In addition to the DAGS, the agency also provides special funding assistance to priority sectors. In 2014, this support was provided to agro-processing firms to the tune of EU197,000. A total of 22 firms were awarded funding, of which 50 per cent were female-owned businesses. This signifies continuing commitment by Caribbean Export Development Agency to support women-led businesses where it matters the most.
It is generally difficult for all small businesses to obtain financing in the current environment, but women-owned businesses face greater challenges. As a result, most women start companies using more of their own money and less capital from outside investors. Also, women can be more reluctant to apply for loans and are more likely to expect rejection. Research shows that more than 10 per cent of men seek external equity financing versus just two per cent of women. Yet, when women are the direct beneficiaries of credit, their repayment rates are higher in all regions of the world.
The empowerment of women entrepreneurs has become the focus of global governments within the last few decades. In fact, it is posited that helping women-owned businesses is a smart investment, as data from the World Bank, and the World Economic Forum demonstrate that women-owned businesses can be the tipping point for a global economic comeback.
As we celebrate another International Women's Day, let us commit to changing our perspective from the inside out, and in that transformation of our minds, achieve the radical shift that we so desperately desire.
n Pamela Coke-Hamilton is the executive director of the Caribbean Export Development Agency