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Equality for women is progress for all

Stacey Davidson

The 25th African Union Summit has been themed “Year of Women Empowerment and Development towards Africa’s Agenda 2063”. Minister Susan Shabangu, responsible for Women in the Presidency, said the agenda “represents renewed hope for women of our continent because it goes beyond the rhetoric on gender issues and focuses on implementation of concrete actions with visible and measurable outcomes of women’s socio-economic and political empowerment.”

Just as a business has to budget, manage its cash flow, do administration and develop human capital, so do women who run families. Women have always been in business and they have always been resourceful. It’s time to turn the idea that business is tough for women on its head.

I truly believe that women can become successful entrepreneurs. And I speak from personal experience. I remember very well how it feels to be the single mother of a three-year-old child with no money to buy him food. We used to fall asleep pretending we were at a party and describing the delicious goodies we were eating.

We can no longer as women sit on sidelines and expect opportunities to be created for us….we need to create our own opportunities. As much as progress is being made globally, women in business are still told how tough it is for them and what challenges they face as entrepreneurs. Excuse me: but how is running a business different from running a home?

A recent study by Grant Thornton tracked the proportion of business leadership roles held by women since 2004 through the International Business Report (IBR). Drawing on 5,404 interviews in 35 economies, the 2015 results reveal that the proportion of senior business roles held by women globally has dropped from 24% back to 22%, the long-run average. Seven of the top eight best-performing economies are in Eastern Europe, led by Russia, while Japan, Germany, India and Africa remain at the bottom.

Many people believe it’s impossible to escape poverty and become successful in business. It’s not. In Johannesburg a few weeks ago, the radio station Power FM interviewed a woman and her male partner whose lives have changed since they became waste tyre transporters for REDISA. They now employ seven people – and not long ago, they were unemployed themselves.

Over  180 small businesses, many of them run by women, have started up since REDISA began taking charge of the collection and recycling of waste tyres from the country’s tyre industry about two years ago. And the beauty of these small businesses is that they are making a living out of waste.

It takes an entrepreneurial spirit to see value where others see junk. In my book, an entrepreneur is someone who sees what everyone else can’t, takes the risk and goes for it.

I would love to see more women in South Africa stepping out and taking the chance. Contrary to what we are told, business is not that hard. It takes the skills we already have from running homes, determination and the ability to pay attention to your environment and spot opportunities that others miss.

Stacey Davidson joined REDISA in 2010 as a director, after working in various industries including finance. Davidson's interest in the economic empowerment of previously disadvantaged communities resulted in her volunteering for community-based organisations such as NICRO, CAFDA, and Triple Trust Organisation. It was Davidson's passion for community development which prompted her to join REDISA.