Women and entrepreneurship

More power to you
Founder, Cherie Blair Foundation for Women

Cherie Blair ©OECD

Discrimination against women hurts everyone. As Founder of the Cherie Blair Foundation for Women Cherie Blair explains, women entrepreneurs are an economic resource that economies, rich and poor alike, can ill afford to overlook.

Across the globe, increasing numbers of women are striking out on their own and setting up new businesses. In OECD countries, more women than men start businesses. The number of women being educated to degree level and above has also risen internationally. With the Arab Spring and growing interest in women’s rights around the world, women’s economic empowerment and the recognition of its importance have notably progressed too. Yet a lot of work remains to be done.

While no country in the world has achieved parity of income between the sexes (in the EU, the US and the UK, for example, the gap between the earnings of men and women is around 20%), in developing countries the gender pay gap is much bigger. However this is relatively inconsequential compared to the many other inequalities women face. Women are twice as likely as men to live in poverty, two out of three illiterate adults are women and less than 2% of the titled land in the world is owned by women. The consequences are devastating, not just to the women themselves or their families but to the health and prosperity of their whole society.

Inequality is rooted in many justice systems too. As UN Women points out, women are more likely to be unemployed or, where they have a job, forced to work in the informal sector without job security. Where women do aspire to change their economic circumstances, they find it more difficult than men to access skills, networks, finance and education, as the World Bank’s 2012 Development Report confirms. The businesses that few women manage to run are likely to be smaller and have difficulties in expanding.

Why does this matter? Why is it so important that women are employed and empowered economically, able to earn their own income? Because studies have shown that unlike men, women return 90% of their income to their families and their communities. When women are financially independent, their families flourish. They have the power to make household financial decisions and gain greater control over their own lives and the lives of their children. Even being seen to earn money gives women a status, a more influential voice in their own communities, to tackle injustice and discrimination, to drive advances in health and education. Put simply, empowered women can and do change societies.

I have seen the potential that is being wasted, as well as the role that women can play if given the chance. One of the huge privileges for me when my husband became prime minister was the opportunity to travel, both with him and on occasion on my own, to meet people, many of them women whom I would simply never have known otherwise. I’ve met highly motivated female entrepreneurs and heard how, despite the prejudice or the difficulty they’ve faced in getting business loans, they are supporting their families, putting money into their communities and driving their country’s economic growth. But there simply aren’t enough female entrepreneurs.

That is why I set up my Foundation for Women, to support women entrepreneurs in the Middle East, in Africa and in Asia, and why I am determined to do what I can to help women overcome prejudice and to lift the barriers stopping women entrepreneurs from setting up their own businesses.

And I believe that to make a real difference on a global scale, we need to look beyond micro-finance and foster more women-led small and growing companies. Women are often described as hapless human beings. Aid organisations tend to focus on the bottom of the pyramid or the few unsung heroines, while the women in between rarely feature in development strategies. We need collectively to do more to support those women who have taken the next step and are trying to translate that potential into formal labourmarket participation. Multi-sector efforts are required as no single sector can do the job alone. We must argue more loudly for change.

The OECD’s gender initiative and the 2011 G20 Girls Summit are excellent examples of worthy efforts. The research and policy discussions of the OECD’s initiative focus clearly on diversity in leadership positions and on entrepreneurship. And the Girls Summit brought together individuals and organisations to pool resources and address empowering girls and women.

In the current economic climate, now more than ever, the world needs new sources of employment generation and wealth creation. We cannot afford to dismiss half the world’s population. And the benefits of women’s economic empowerment are clear.

We need to seize this moment in time where momentum is building and work together towards a co-ordinated global solution. No one organisation, government or company can do this alone; it will take co-operation and drive across borders, across sectors. This is the time to make it happen.

Cherie Blair Foundation for Women: www.cherieblairfoundation.org

See also: 

World Bank (2011), World Development Report 2012: Gender Equality and Development.

The OECD Gender Initiative

The G20 Girls Summit

©OECD Yearbook 2012

Economic data


Stay up-to-date with the latest news from the OECD by signing up for our e-newsletter :

Twitter feed

Suscribe now

<b>Subscribe now!</b>

To receive your exclusive print editions delivered to you directly

Online edition
Previous editions

Don't miss

  • In Iceland, geothermal power is being used for almost everything. Scientists and engineers from around the world are participating in a course at the United Nations University (UNU) to learn how to use geothermal energy in their own countries.
  • They are green and local--It’s a new generation of entrepreneurs in Kenya with big dreams of sustainable energy and the drive to see their innovative technologies throughout Africa. blogs.worldbank.org
  • Pole to Paris Project
  • Send a message from #EarthToParis.
  • From the World Bank: Managing the Impacts of Climate Change on Poverty
  • Black carbon causes millions of deaths every year and contributes to the warming of the planet. The United Nations Environment Programme explains how reducing black carbon can save lives and help combat climate change.
  • In order to face global warming, Asia needs at least $40 billion per year, derived from both the public and private sector. Read how to bridge the climate financing gap on the Asian Bank of Development's website.
  • How can cities fight climate change?
    Discover projects in Denmark, Canada, Australia, Japan and Mexico.
  • 10 climate-friendly habits everyone should adopt: Although the main aim of COP21 is to reach an international agreement on climate change between government stakeholders, it is also the perfect opportunity to remind citizens of how everyone can help to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in their day-to-day lives.
  • Climate: What's changed, what hasn't, what we can do about it. Lecture by OECD Secretary-General Angel Gurría, hosted by the London School of Economics and Aviva Investors in association with ClimateWise, London, UK, 3 July 2015.
  • Do you know the OECD’s web ending? Or which Serbian American engineer is famous for his electric cars? Try our latest OECD Observer crossword. It’s full of fun facts, simplex in style, and gives you the solution at the tip of a button. You can time yourself too.
  • French Economy Minister Emmanuel Macron came to the OECD on 18 September for a webcast discussion on economic reforms, inequality and the outlook, with OECD Secretary-General Angel Gurría. You can watch the event by clicking on the photo.
  • Climate change: “We should not disagree when scientists tell us we have a window of opportunity–10-15 years–to turn this thing around” argues Senator Bernie Sanders.

  • In the long-run, the EU benefits from migration, says OECD Head of International Migration Division Jean-Christophe Dumont.
  • Is technological progress slowing down. Is it speeding up? At the OECD, we believe the research from our Future of ‪Productivity‬ project helps to resolve this paradox.
  • An employee prepares breakfast in front of the Eiffel tower at the Parisian luxury hotel Le Plaza Athenee, France July 30, 2015. Nowhere in the world has more accommodation available on Airbnb than Paris. Now the home-sharing website that has transformed budget travel to the French capital is giving its super-deluxe hotels a fright too (©REUTERS/Stephane Mahe).
  • Is inequality bad for growth? That redistribution boosts economies is not established by the evidence says FT economics editor Chris Giles. Read more on www.ft.com.
  • Low interest rates here to stay for half a century, says OECD director Adrian Blundell-Wignall.
  • Bill Gates visited the OECD on 26 June. He met with the Secretary-General Angel Gurría to discuss areas of collaboration with his foundation and participated at a briefing session on official development assistance modernisation with OECD experts.
  • The People’s Republic of China decided to enhance longstanding collaboration with the OECD and to join the OECD Development Centre, in a historic visit by Chinese Premier Li Keqiang on 1 July to the OECD in Paris.
  • Catherine Mann, OECD Chief Economist, explains on Bloomberg why "too much bank lending can slow economic growth".
  • Interested in a career in Paris at the OECD? The OECD is a major international organisation, with a mission to build better policies for better lives. With our hub based in one of the world's global cities and offices across continents, find out more at www.oecd.org/careers .
  • Come va la vita in Italia? How's life in Italy? The OECD Better Life Index is an interactive online platform in seven languages that goes beyond GDP by offering important insights into measuring well-being and quality of life. Try it for yourself!

Most Popular Articles


What issue are you most concerned about in 2015?

Euro crisis
Global warming
International conflict

OECD Insights Blog

NOTE: All signed articles in the OECD Observer express the opinions of the authors
and do not necessarily represent the official views of OECD member countries.

All rights reserved. OECD 2015