Women Entrepreneurs - Opening Access, Increasing Opportunity

Gender barriers in the local investment climate often hinder women entrepreneurs from creating jobs. Compounded by other difficulties such as a lack of education and training opportunities and too little access to finance, they often lead to high levels of unemployment, under-employment, and poverty among women.

Overcoming some of these obstacles in ways that establish women’s full parti-cipation across all sectors of economic life is fundamental to development, improving the lives of individuals as well as communities.

In Pakistan, courts can take a long time to resolve business conflicts—typically 976 days, tying up considerable capital in the process. By helping introduce mediation onto the scene as a practical alternative, IFC helps women-owned SMEs break the logjam.

Sponsored by IFC with support from the U.K., the Netherlands, andlocal partners, the Karachi Center for Dispute Resolution (KCDR) helps resolve commercial disputes quickly and cost-effectively.

“Mediation saved my day,” says Rubina Rehman, owner of Karachi’s Lifestyle Gym. “I feel lucky to have come across KCDR. My case had been pending in court for a long time, involving many frustrating moments, and now it gives me great pleasure to recommend KCDR’s mediation services to other professional women who are going through the same ordeal.”

To date, KCDR mediators have successfully resolved more than 1,000 cases, releasing more than $21 million of assets that would have otherwise remained frozen in litigation.

Started as an investment climate initiative in Karachi in 2006, it is now expanding into Lahore, Peshawar, and Quetta as well.

Roughly a quarter of the center’s mediators are women, and more than 260 cases involving women-owned businesses’ disputes have been resolved to date. In 2009 the center undertook a special initiative to build the confidence of women, their lawyers, and the judiciary in mediation. As a result, $1.7 million tied up in family business disputes involving women litigants was released in three days on average, rather than the years of litigation that otherwise would have been the case.

As part of our broader effort to build inclusiveness, IFC mainstreams gender opportunities into all its investment climate reform efforts. Our experience also demonstrates that financing women entrepreneurs is profitable. This has led to gender being integrated into IFC’s flagship SME Banking advisory product and a commitment that 25 percent of our financial markets investments for SME lending will be targeted to women-owned businesses.