Keisha Hill, Sunday Gleaner Writer
Jamaica HAS been ranked as possibly the worst place for women to do business in Latin America and the Caribbean.
A study of 20 of the approximately 40 countries in Latin American and the Caribbean put Jamaica at the bottom of the list of best places for female entrepreneurs.
The study was conducted by the Women's Entrepreneurial Venture Scope, and was funded by the Multilateral Investment Fund, a member of the Inter-American Development Bank Group.
According to the index, Chile, Peru, and Colombia are among the best environments for female entrepreneurs, with El Salvador, Venezuela, Paraguay, and Jamaica at the bottom of the table.
The index examined and scored the 20 countries in five areas that either benefit or affect women in running small or medium enterprises.
According to the report, female entrepreneurs in Latin America and the Caribbean are potentially one of the greatest underutilised resources in the region.
The report said while Jamaica is a particularly challenging place for anyone to do business, the challenge is greater for women as the country has few formal institutions or programmes to support micro, small and medium-size enterprises (MSMEs).
Jamaica ranks last for the overall environment for female entrepreneurs. Social services, the entrepreneurial business environment, and high business operating risks are listed as the areas with the greatest need for improvement.
Access to finance and the availability of capacity and skill training for women in Jamaica also rank below average.
According to Yaneek Page, co-director for WEConnect International in Jamaica and immediate past president of the Women's Business Owners Jamaica, women in this country benefit from a wide access to business networks, and several organisations provide network opportunities and support to women entrepreneurs.
"Jamaica did exceptionally well when it came to business networks. We scored 100 per cent on that. We also did well when it came to educational levels. As you know, more and more women are becoming educated and high-skilled," Page told The Sunday Gleaner.
Women in Jamaica also benefit from moderate levels of education, accounting for 56 per cent of tertiary graduates.
TOP FIVE IN SCHOOL LIFE
School-life expectancy for women is among the top five in the region, while vocational and advanced degree programmes are highly prevalent in the island, with women's enrolment exceeding that of men.
"Where we did very, very poorly was with the lack of supply diversity programmes. So in many parts of the world, it is recognised that in order to empower women economically, we need programmes, because women were not traditionally in the workforce, especially starting businesses.
"Many countries have put in supply diversity programmes to reach those vulnerable groups and to ensure that other people have access to getting these contracts, especially from governments. We do not have any of that in Jamaica. So you find that women are not able to do well in business as there is no policy or legislation in place that proactively supports women," argued Page.
More women in the region have become active in the workforce in the past two decades, and national economies have expanded.
REDUCTION IN POVERTY
Between 2000 and 2010, income growth among women in Latin America and the Caribbean contributed to a 30 per cent reduction in extreme poverty.
However, Jamaica is among the poorest performers in the macro-economic risk category, and the report indicated that the country's weak fiscal situation is a major problem.
According to the report, the lack of supporting regulations compounds the challenges facing women managing MSMEs in Jamaica.
"We also scored low because we have no paternity leave in Jamaica, or any adequate childcare or elderly facilities. Women are the ones who take care of the family. We take care of our parents when they get older. We have our children to take care of. It is these things that we do that people take for granted that cannot be quantified," said Page.
Access to finance is another challenge for female entrepreneurs in Jamaica. The lack of credit availability often makes it difficult for MSMEs to expand.
The report noted that Jamaica does not have a formal dispute-resolution process specific to MSMEs loans, and firms often face long delays in resolving legal battles, which deters potential loan providers.
"I think what this says to us is that the women who are doing well in this environment, kudos to them, because they are operating in the worst business environment.
"We are at a competitive disadvantage because all the countries that we are competing with in Latin America and the Caribbean, they have a better environment than us. It is an explanation for some women, as there are many women who were wondering why they can't seem to make headway … . Now, we know it is because we are in the worst business environment. It is not an excuse; it is the reality," Page said.
Women lead 23 per cent of small businesses in Latin America and the Caribbean, but only nine per cent of large ones. The growth potential of women's businesses is also constrained by informality, as between 55 and 91 per cent of women's entrepreneurial activity in the region is in the informal economy.
The region comprises 41 countries that range from small island nations such as Grenada to large economies such as Brazil and Mexico.