We have just 10 years to end all forms of discrimination against women and girls, everywhere, if we are to meet the sustainable development goal for gender equality by 2030. We only have to look at the ways in which society still treats women as unequal to men to see that much remains to be done. In many countries, women are still not safe on the street. They don’t have access to education or finance and they can’t choose whether to marry or even who they marry.
But there are many reasons to be optimistic. We see more and more women, all over the world, challenging stereotypes and taking control of their own futures. This month we’d like to celebrate some of the inspirational women who, with the support of our partners, are triumphing over the odds and showing what women can do!
Women leading the way
Louis Aliza Sharif is a South Sudanese woman who arrived at Kakuma refugee camp in Kenya in 2018. She quickly started a business tailoring and making clothes. She also sells perfume made from wood found locally.
Looking back, Louis Aliza says: “It was a challenge to start my business because I did not have money at that time, but one lady helped me with a few clothes. I sold them and later paid her back her money. The idea worked then I started to operate with the little profit I got from the sales.”
Thanks to training from our partner, the African Entrepreneur Collective (AEC), Louis Aliza learned book-keeping and customer relations skills. Before the training, she had fixed prices and often customers went away without buying. Now she knows how to negotiate a price and keep her customers satisfied.
By helping women entrepreneurs like Louis Aliza build new skills and access finance, AEC helps them to lead the way for other women and girls in their communities.
Thirty-year-old Da Ching, from the Bandarban district of Bangladesh, has also built an enterprise from nothing. Unable to find a job, she started her own business selling ornaments she made as a hobby. With training and support from B’Yeah, a member of our partner Youth Business International, she gained the skills and support to grow her business. Through her thriving enterprise, she now not only supports herself but also employs 14 people in her factory and shop.
Da Ching is always looking for opportunities to support her community. She pays women from her community to make traditional dresses, which she sells online and in her shop. She also runs courses at her shop, where she teaches others to create their own rickshaw art. These courses enable people to explore their creativity and learn a new skill.
“I am proud to present myself as a young female entrepreneur and not just be known as someone’s daughter. Every young woman should be able to have their own identity and run their own business,” Da Ching says.
Breaking down barriers
Getting a start-up to work is a challenge. In many cases, women are at an even greater disadvantage than male entrepreneurs.
Chetna Gala Sinha was born in Mumbai. She is an economist, farmer, activist—and an Ashoka Fellow. When she decided to pursue a career in farming, she quickly came up against some of the challenges faced by rural women.
When Chetna first submitted loan applications on behalf of women farmers, they were denied because the women were illiterate. This experience led her to start Mann Deshi Mahila Sahkari, a bank and microfinance institution that makes loans to women in rural areas. It has served more than 27,000 women and enabled more than 40,000 families to buy homes.
Her mission to give women control over their own lives has fuelled other great initiatives, such as a mobile school to teach women business and technology skills in their own villages.
Based on the insights and experiences of leading social entrepreneurs like Chetna, Ashoka is launching the Livelihoods for All initiative.
The IKEA Foundation is happy to partner with Ashoka on the Livelihoods for All initiative. This supports social entrepreneurs and young changemakers in India and Bangladesh to create employment and increase income for 100,000 women and young people.
When women have equal opportunities and control over their own assets, they can play a key role in transforming lives, communities and economies.