• English

Warsaw, 21 November 2003
Statement by Mrs. Brigita Schmögnerová,
Executive Secretary

at the
Round Table Sessions on “Women Entrepreneurs in a Wider Europe”


I would like to welcome participants to the Round Table Sessions on “Women Entrepreneurs in a Wider Europe” on this third and final day of the CEI Summit Economic Forum. The sessions on women entrepreneurs organized jointly by UNECE and the Secretariat for CEI Projects in cooperation with host Governments, have been part of the CEI Economic Summit agenda every year since 1999. This year, the Round Tables on women’s entrepreneurship are organized in cooperation with the Government of Poland, Ministry of Economy, Labour and Social Policy, Department for Enterprise Development and I would like to extend warm thanks to the Polish Government, and especially to Ms. Ewa Swedrowska, Director, for the support in organizing these sessions.

The purpose of these sessions is to discuss challenges and opportunities for women entrepreneurs in a Wider Europe and to identify concrete measures and good practices to support women's self-employment. The sessions will also discuss how to develop the existing linkages between women entrepreneurs from accession and non-accession countries, and thus contribute to preventing new divides in Europe. Various geographic dimensions of a Wider Europe will be addressed: the eastern, southern and northern dimension.

Women-owned businesses have demonstrated their potential to provide jobs and contribute to economic growth in the region. Although a number of women run large companies, most women-run businesses are small ventures which are often the only source of income for a family.

However, women's entrepreneurial potential still remains untapped. A recent UNECE publication on women’s entrepreneurship points out that in eastern Europe and CIS countries for which we have data, men start their own businesses usually twice as often as women. For example, in the Czech Republic, self-employed women comprise only 9% of total female employment as compared to 18% for men. Longer term trends indicate that during the 1990s the gap between men’s and women’s entrepreneurial activities widened in many CEI countries. This trend contrasts with trends in other countries, especially the United States but also the United Kingdom, France and others where women-run companies are the driving force of the SME sector.

Women entrepreneurs are thus less numerous than men, and they face additional, gender-based barriers that affect their ability to obtain finance, find business partners, and access information and new markets. This explains the increasing interest in developing specific programmes supporting women entrepreneurs initiated by Governments, women's business associations and NGOs as well as international organizations, such as UNECE, and sub-regional groups, such as CEI. International financial institutions have become more active in this field. A good example is the Council of Europe Bank.

UNECE activities are region specific and benefit from its broad membership. UNECE is one of the five regional commissions of the United Nations, with 55 member countries in North America, western Europe and all transition countries - both accession and non-accession countries. It provides a forum for the exchange of experiences and facilitates the learning process.

UNECE concern for promoting women's self-employment and entrepreneurship reflects core UN values. Its activities aim at assisting member countries in reaching goals related to gender equality, poverty alleviation, social cohesion as well as sustainability of economic development. These goals are reflected in many UN documents adopted by member countries at global level, such as the Millennium Declaration, the Beijing Platform for Action and Financing for Development Resolution (the Monterrey consensus) but also region specific documents, such as the agreed conclusions from the Regional Beijing+5 meeting (2000) where support of women's self-employment was adopted as one of important priorities for all countries in the UNECE region.

UNECE pays special attention to problems of women entrepreneurs in transition countries within the context of a Wider Europe. UNECE supports efforts at national level through:

  1. Promotion of a regional dialogue and exchange of good practices in supporting women entrepreneurs undertaken by various stakeholders (Governments, women's business associations, NGOs, private sector). The bi-annual UNECE Forum of Women Entrepreneurs in Geneva discusses lessons in introducing innovative financial schemes, developing training, providing advice on access to markets and business networks at national but also local/municipality levels. The second UNECE Forum (17-18 March 2003) focussed on access to financing and ICT.

  2. Developing data and analysis to identify trends policy issues. See: Publication series: Women entrepreneurs in the UNECE region. The second volume on good practices in financing and access to ICT is forthcoming;

  3. Work of the Team of Specialists on women's entrepreneurship aimed at evaluating specific problems at national and sub-regional levels and preparing policy recommendations;

  4. Promotion of role models for women entrepreneurs through a virtual Gallery of Excellent Women Entrepreneurs (over 200 women from 30 member countries);

  5. Facilitation of the process of building networks among women entrepreneurs (virtual network of women's business associations).

The UNECE develops these activities in partnership with Governments, women's business associations from western Europe, accession and non-accession countries, civil society, UN agencies and international organizations. A special role in this cooperation is played by the worldwide association of women entrepreneurs FCEM (Femmes Chefs d'Entreprise Mondiale), represented today by Ms. Etta Carignani.

Certainly, the new economic and political situation in Europe after the EU enlargement will affect women entrepreneurs in both accession and non-accession countries. New markets and European networks will be opened up but it will be also necessary to adjust to more competition, new standards and regulations. EU enlargement may also increase the risk of new divides between "accession" and "non-accession" countries. This could have a negative impact not only on individual women entrepreneurs, but also on the dynamics of the development of the SMEs sector, economic growth and employment, which are the bases for stability, prosperity and security. We have to integrate our efforts in order to avoid any such divides.

Developing effective strategies to address these challenges and use new opportunities will require closer cooperation among the various stakeholders at national/local levels but also among international organizations active in this region. UNECE is looking forward to contributing to this process and strengthening cooperation with CEI as well as OECD and EC. The EC wider Europe policy, or new Neighbourhood policy, is a framework for cooperation with the enlarged EU and new neighbours. UNECE’s understanding of a wider Europe is broader: we seek closer economic cooperation of the EU enlarged and new neighbours, and also Caucasus and CA countries. To facilitate this, non-acceding governments will have to adopt a legislative framework which is not identical to but in conformity with the acquis communautaire. UNECE is ready to assist the governments in developing and implementing such legislation.

Once again I would like to thank the Government of Poland and the CEI Secretariat for the excellent cooperation and support in organizing these sessions.

I would like also to wish you success in your deliberations and express the hope that the discussions and conclusions that emerge out of these Round Table sessions will be a contribution to further strengthening and widening the economic and social development of our societies within a wider Europe.

Thank you.