As the country observes Women`s Month this March, state think tank Philippine Institute for Development Studies released two timely policy notes on women entrepreneurs as outputs of the APEC 2015 Research Project commissioned by the Department of Foreign Affairs. The author and PIDS consultant, Lucita Lazo, explores the different obstacles women entrepreneurs face in the Philippines. Her policy notes outline challenges and opportunities for policymakers to help women entrepreneurs scale up their business ventures in the backdrop of the ASEAN integration and freer trade.
Even with the Philippines coming ahead in international gender indices and local literacy rate surveys, affirming that Filipino women outperform Filipino men, experts say that translating these capabilities into business and leadership opportunities is still a work in progress.
There are more educated Filipino women, yet men`s employment still exceeds women`s significantly. The Philippines boasts of having the highest ratio of female-to-male business leaders, yet experts believe that opportunities for women continue to be held back by oppressive conditions, and most of all, by persistent economic inequality.
In the first policy note, "Challenges in the economic participation of women as entrepreneurs", Lazo cites a survey by the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) in 2009 showing that women make up 54 percent of small and medium enterprises (SMEs), which are known to be the foremost economic vehicle for generating employment. She also cites the Global Entrepreneurship Monitor Survey in 2006-2007 ranking the Philippines second highest for having entrepreneurially active women.
Lazo warns that the growth of these positive recognitions are hindered by several factors, namely, access to resources; the sustainability of their businesses; lack of a business discipline, preparation and readiness for changing economic outlooks; lack of women representatives on decision making levels; lack of access to health and socio-legal protection; and a simple lack of information for a nuanced understanding on the part of leaders and policymakers.
Despite all the government projects targeted to provide information, service facilities, technology, and innovation to women in SMEs and microenterprises, access is weakened by a network of problems.
Women are most vulnerable to cultural and economic hindrances that often force them to choose their families over their businesses. Their independent access to finance is restricted without their husband`s consent, as indicated by the Family Code. More women register businesses, according to the DTI citation, but more men renew licenses. Women`s decision are affected the most by health risks, economic instabilities and catastrophes, making them altogether less able to sustain their businesses.
The lack of organization and representation of women entrepreneurs and bureaucratic firewalls only exacerbate the situation.
Lazo presents her policy recommendations for both the national and regional level in a follow-up policy note titled "Promoting women`s participation in the APEC economies: some recommendations". She argues that merit often predominates all other judgment, and purveyors don a "blind" attitude toward gender issues.
"Where agency heads perceive gender as inconsequential or unrelated to their respective agency mandates, the talk of gender will not walk far enough to reach the frontlines where it matters," says Lazo. "If policymakers see the link between gender and national productivity and wealth creation, the case for gender will become a more attractive position."
Lazo identified three goals for policymaking at the national level: empowerment, enhancing competitiveness, and ensuring sustainability and resilience.
Leaders can empower women entrepreneurs by eliminating barriers to accessing resources, skills, protection, and other opportunities that allow women to build up the readiness, sustainability, and competitiveness of their businesses. Local leaders play an important role if they can provide services such as financial services, counseling, and strengthening linkages through trade fairs and training seminars.
Getting women entrepreneurs organized is essential, not only to help them share the wisdom and knowledge of doing business with other women in their category, but also making it easier to inform each other of the opportunities and challenges affecting them. Lazo specifically recommends incentivizing business registration with access to "the supply chain of government procurement programs".
It is also worth globalizing wome`s business outlook, by making them aware of the economic and geopolitical environment in which they operate. Standardizing the quality of their output through information campaigns and service provisions will enable women to make their goods more competitive in the national and international market.
On the matter of enhancing competitiveness, leaders must also tap information and communication technologies as part of a comprehensive capacity development. Lazo also highlights the need to inculcate business discipline, ingenuity, and creativity in women entrepreneurs--values essential to remain competitive.
Last but not least, national policymakers have to create social safety nets, such as improving access to credit and healthcare, to encourage women to sustain their business ventures and withstand threats of instability and catastrophes.
At the regional level, the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) has set programs in place, such as the APEC Women in Transportation, which aims to identify barriers to women`s entry in the transportation industry and focuses on "key areas of the career continuum", namely, education, access to job opportunities, and leadership development. On top of these initiatives, Lazo recommends that the regional business sector be continuously educated, to remind it that the region`s business climate relies on women`s increased access to productivity.
Lazo encourages an informed and dynamic dialogue and research, especially with regard to monitoring the effect of APEC free trade on women entrepreneurs. The effects will be different between men and women in the different levels and sectors of society, but women are always most likely to be negatively affected given their traditional roles in ASEAN and Filipino societies.
In summary, the author concludes that the economic contributions of Filipino women are not being harnessed to the fullest because of cultural and economic setbacks.
The rate of women who leave the country seeking better jobs for their family offsets the notion that the Philippines is a progressively equal opportunities country. Women often take on the lowest paying jobs with the lowest security, not just in terms of employment continuity but also in terms of health and wellbeing.