Christa Case Bryant/The Christian Science Monitor
Women are breaking taboos and boundaries globally by forming businesses in the face of significant cultural resistance.
Female entrepreneurs like Myassar Issa in Ramallah, West Bank, are gaining a new sense of independence as the family breadwinner. Her husband has two other wives and can't provide for her and her three sons, reports the Monitor’s Christa Case Bryant.
Since Mrs. Issa’s shop opened with a microfinance loan of $1,400 two years ago, she has repaid that loan and gotten another, doubled her merchandise, and is saving money for her sons to get married.
Statistics of female participation in business are hard to come by, but estimates that women entrepreneurs are increasing in number and today represent 5 to 10 percent of business owners in the formal sector and 30 percent in the informal sector.
Still, they have a long way yet to go. The issue of equal pay for equal work, especially among educated women in the workforce, is a common battle:
Even with an educational advantage, women are still mostly employed in lower-paid occupations in Latin America such as teaching, healthcare, or the service sector, like restaurants. Comparing men and women of the same age and educational level, [an Inter-American Development Bank] study found that men earn 17 percent more than women do in Latin America. That number is actually down from 25 percent in 1992, but the pace at which the gap is narrowing remains slow.
When it comes to the higher-paying fields such as law, architecture, and engineering – where women hold just a third of the jobs – the gender gap widens to 58 percent.
Part of the problem is that the majority of the better-paying jobs available for high-school graduates in the region are culturally associated with men, says Isabel Londoño, an education and gender issues specialist in Bogota, Colombia.
In Europe, Italian women are more likely to get a temporary contract than a male with the same education level, reports the Monitor’s Giulia Lasagni, And since women are overrepresented in temporary jobs, which were the first to be slashed during Europe’s recession, they typically have suffered more.