Civil society leaders from Commonwealth countries began a three-day forum in Savar, Dhaka, Bangladesh with speakers vowing to strengthen ‘the voice of the grassroots’ and to press governments to ensure women’s empowerment and gender equality.
The forum is being held three days ahead of the 10th Commonwealth Women’s Affairs Ministerial Meeting (10WAMM). The Partners’ Forum (10WPF) will make key recommendations that will be handed to senior officials for action.
“Our voice will be considered as a tool for lobbying at the ministerial and other higher forums,” said Sheepa Hafiza of BRAC. “Challenges women entrepreneurs are facing need to be addressed.”
The forum on “Women’s Leadership for Enterprise” has been jointly organised by the Commonwealth Foundation and BRAC, the world’s largest non-governmental organisation (NGO).
“Civil society from across Bangladesh and the Commonwealth is here to re-assert its voice in tackling the critical issue of gender equality and women’s empowerment,” said Myn Garcia, Deputy Director of the Commonwealth Foundation. “It is timely because it is happening in a period where new global development goals are being crafted post 2015. And this process must have the voice of civil society from across the Commonwealth.”
There has been a considerable advancement of women participation in Bangladesh – 57 percent participate in national development sectors. Within political leadership in Bangladesh, the Prime Minister, Parliamentary Opposition Leader and the Parliament Speaker are women.
In her keynote address, Salma Khan, Chair Person of the NGO Coalition for Beijing Platform for Action said that the differences between men and women have been the main obstacle to women’s development. She pleaded that women entrepreneurs should concentrate on developing businesses in the service sector rather than hanging on to traditional businesses.
The speakers suggested that in order to create an enabling environment, all kinds of support like legal, banking, training, easing of collateral requirements and involving more financial institutions to be partners in development, have to be made available to women entrepreneurs. All of them stressed the basic need to build the capacity of women.
The forum is being attended by delegates from 17 Commonwealth countries who also discussed ways to advance women’s access to finance; the impact of micro-finance on women’s entrepreneurial development; building partnerships between governments, private sector and civil society to advance women’s empowerment; developing the entrepreneurship of women with disabilities; means to overcome violence against women and other social barriers.