Business Women Forum’s (BWF) long-term vision is that the role of businesswomen as leaders will be well recognized in Palestinian society and reflected in legislation, regulations, and financial markets. BWF seeks to empower businesswomen to play an equal role and contribute to their full potential within a democratic Palestinian community and a vibrant, growing economy through leadership training, policy advocacy, and networking.
In order to gain a better understanding of the current status of businesswomen in the West Bank and how businesswomen perceive and experience the business environment, Riyada Consulting and Training has undertaken a comprehensive, quantitative and qualitative survey with a large sample of women business owners. The survey included women owning registered and unregistered businesses, as well as executive women in senior management and/or decision-making positions. The survey explored the women’s perception of the current business environment, their priorities and needs, and their interest in respect to business association membership.
All research and data analysis were based on the following assignment objectives:
1. To collect data that could be persuasive to policymakers in future advocacy efforts.
2. To gauge the potential interest of women entrepreneurs in becoming members of BWF.
3. To identify women entrepreneurs in three areas of the West Bank, assess business capacity and available activities, and establish a database reflecting information on the ground.
4. To assess women entrepreneurs’ technical assistance and capacity building needs and expectations of potential services provided by BWF.
While official statistics show very low rates of female participation – 16.2% – in the formal labor force, recent studies have suggested that women are very well represented in the informal economy.
In order to gather a representative number of business women operating in the West Bank, the research team selected a purposive survey sample of 300 women in three governorates, namely Ramallah (28.1%), Nablus (32.1%), and Bethlehem (39.8%). The margin of error was maintained at (+ 5%) and the confidence interval stood at (95%).
The sample included: women entrepreneurs owners of registered businesses, women entrepreneurs owners of unregistered businesses, and executive women in senior and/or decision-making positions in government, NGOs and private sector institutions. Among the 150 registered businesses surveyed, the highest registration was with the Tax Authority (82.2%), followed by the municipality (75.3%), then the Chamber of Commerce (69.2%) and only 1/3 (34.2%) of all registered businesses have registered with the Ministry of Economy. Among business owners choosing not to register, a range of reasons were given: it is considered unimportant to the operation of the business; the process is perceived to be complicated and time consuming; avoidance of Tax Authorities.
In respect to employment, the 249 women-owned businesses surveyed, employed a total of 1,763 persons. On average registered business owners have 3 times more employees than unregistered businesses.
Generally, the quantitative and qualitative research has found that registered business owners perceive the business environment as positive, encountering not too many difficulties in their daily operations and interactions with the authorities. Unregistered business owners have described the business environment as much more difficult, especially in respect to obtaining commercial credit and paying taxes.
Notably, executive women have a more pessimistic outlook on the business environment than business owners. More than half of respondents perceive the business environment as difficult, especially in respect to marketing, the movement of goods and people, obtaining credit from donors, the government, and commercial banks, as well as enforcing intellectual property rights, and contracts with customers and vendors.
In regards to gender-specific challenges, executive women believe that cultural impediments are the most problematic, closely followed by financial and legal barriers.
Generally, the survey depicted that cultural and traditional barriers and pressures are decreasing. Women have stated that they feel much less pressure in respect to their work, generally face no restrictions in movement, and have indicated very little experience with sexual harassment. This all indicates that women business owners become culturally more acceptable, as well as an economic necessity.
Nevertheless, women have agreed that challenges and obstacles remain due to their gender and the most relevant are of cultural nature. Interestingly, more executive women (90%) than business owners (67%) see such challenges. This concludes that executive women are more likely to be exposed to gender-bias.
It was concluded that business owners with registered businesses are the most optimistic despite the difficulties they are currently facing, especially in respect to the registration process, paying taxes, complying with labor laws, and enforcing contracts. Business owners of unregistered women had a slightly more pessimist view, especially on the registration process. However, it seems that the main concerns were of similar nature, but in varying degrees. Executive women, however, while having an even more pessimistic view of Palestine’s business environment, expressed different concerns. Enforcing contract with vendors and clients, as well as enforcing intellectual property rights were perceived of greatest difficulty.
The main challenges that women identified are of structural nature and not directly related to gender. Challenges including access to permits, information on marketing and networking opportunities, and finance could be addressed on both the national level and the local level. There is great need for assistance to business women, as can be seen by the fact that the majority of women have never received a loan.
In respect to business associations and forums, the survey provided good indication to why businesswomen join networks and forums. Peer-to-peer mentoring and support (27%) was the highest ranking reason, networking with other business owners (21%), to receive training and technical assistance and join policy advocacy on joint interests (14%). Additional interests include information about the Palestinian market, export markets, and finance providers.
Generally, a sense of dissatisfaction and disillusion with existing women’s organizations and their ability to represent women on a national and local level successfully has been observed. This concludes that women seek more action-oriented, advocacy-driven forums that are very inclusive to a wide range a business women.
More about BWF:
BWF Advocacy Roundtable, January 20
Business Women Forum
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