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Creating a more even playing field for women entrepreneurs

In their regular column Cherie Blair and Pembe Al Mazrouei discuss gender equality for business startups in the UAE, looking at the problems, the progress and the people

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Empowering women business owners to be the best they can be helps them make the right choices for themselves, their families and the wider community

It will take 151 years before men and women achieve worldwide parity in economic opportunity, according to the World Economic Forum in its latest Global Gender gap report.

This is not only an economic wasted opportunity, it is also a social evil. 

At the Cherie Blair Foundation we are motivated by our determination that we will not wait 151 years before women have equal opportunities to start their own businesses and gain financial independence. 

We will use some sports jargon to make things vivid. 

How can such an uneven playing field be justified? Why are the goalposts narrower for women? Why should one gender struggle against the odds? Where are the referees and umpires to ensure that every player has a chance to display their innate skills and potential? 

Of course, the fact that there is headway at all is encouraging, but we want to accelerate this manyfold through dynamic change and a rethink of attitudes. 

Empowering female entrepreneurs

The Cherie Blair Foundation’s underlying remit is to empower women and to help female entrepreneurs. 

To do so, we are creating mentoring relationships. We match a man or a woman who is already successful at senior management or executive level with a striving woman entrepreneur whose business idea has a realistic chance of success. Mentor and mentee are chosen for similarity of transferable skills and business knowledge.

Volunteering as a mentor is a two-way relationship. Mentors tell us that they come away with fresh ideas about their own business. There are always transformative powers at work. 

The Foundation never simply throws cash at an issue or problem. Instead we work together with the women entrepreneurs and with our wider network of committed partners, funders and other charitable organisations to enable the individual entrepreneurs to obtain the right skills, networks, access to market and finance that enable their businesses to flourish. 

By empowering women business owners to be the best they can be, they in turn can make the right choices for themselves, their families and the wider community. 

Our fundraising leads to such ripple effects. When we support a business startup, it’s common for the new company to buy raw materials locally and the people employed by the new business will spend their income in the area, so giving the whole community an economic lift. This becomes a sustainable driver for community wide development.

One notable example of the Cherie Blair Foundation’s work in the Gulf is our partnership with Dubai immigration and corporate structuring firm Huriya Private.

As part of our Mentoring Women in Business programme, Huriya Private has facilitated an initiative through which 50 mentors from among its partner and associate companies are working with 50 aspiring women entrepreneurs in low or middle-income countries. The first phase has just finished, and another group of women will begin in May 2023.

The Foundation has also been working with women in Palestine and Lebanon to combat restricted mobility and socio-cultural barriers. 

Female business leaders in these countries are known to be constrained in terms of access to capital and routes to market, and we have worked on the ground and digitally in the northern West Bank of Palestine, Tripoli and Jerusalem, where mentees have included both Jewish and Arab women. 

Violence against females: a global pandemic

As the UN Women 16 Days of Activism against Gender Based Violence comes to an end, it is apparent that many women are stuck in violent relationships due to their lack of economic opportunity. 

If you are unable to support yourself, you are far more likely to be unable to leave an abusive relationship, particularly if this will also impact on your children. 

We note the current work that is being done by HRH Camilla, Queen Consort of the United Kingdom who recently held a reception at Buckingham Palace where she spoke eloquently and with conviction about this subject. 

We echo the Queen Consort’s warning that violence against women and girls is a global pandemic. We must never be desensitised by cold facts and figures, but should at all times focus on individuals.

Cherie Blair CBE KC is founder of the Cherie Blair Foundation for Women and Pembe Al Mazrouei is chair of the Middle East chapter of the Foundation’s board

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