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Caribbean women need stronger voice, easier financing

The Caribbean Community (Caricom) wants a strong network of women and easier financing rules if it is to spur regional business development, a according to a senior official of the Guyana-based headquarters.

“I’m advocating that you form these associations at the national level and then let’s have a regional association for women entrepreneurs,” Caricom’s Deputy Programme Manager for Private Sector Facilitation and Industrial Development, Leela Ramoutar.

While there are the fledgling Caribbean Association of Women Entrepreneurs and the Caribbean Women Entrepreneurship Network, she lamented the absence of strength and unity to jointly address issues and concerns. “The voice of women in the region is not a strong voice. It is not a voice which is coordinated as a body,” she said.

Addressing the opening of a Women’s Forum at the Caribbean Week of Agriculture (CWA) being held in Guyana, said the existing requirements were stacked against start-up businesses. She cautioned against speaking about economic transformation and women empowerment without being aware of the challenges that they face.

“The Achilles Heel of business in the region has been financing “It’s not availability. The banks are awash with liquidity. It is accessibility,” she said. Among the constraints she listed were limited access to donor financed programmes, high cost of financing, onerous loan application processes and collateral requirements related to commercial financing.

Ramoutar also gave the Caribbean low marks for providing “very little innovative sources” of funding such as lease financing, loan guarantee programmes, venture capital, debt factoring, angel financing.

She, however, noted that the Canada-funded Caribbean Local Economic Development Project (CARILED) was the only regional programme in seven countries that was providing financing to 500 entrepreneurs most of whom must be women.

Other bugbears cited by the Caricom official included an “unfriendly” business environment and “high level of government bureaucracy. “We have very weak business support organisations and business development programmes at national levels,” she added. Inefficient air and sea transportation as well as access to cheap energy were also added to the list of constraints.

The Caricom official’s concerns about the near absence of administrative and financial support for businesses comes against background that most member-states are experiencing a “clearly unsustainable” average of 60 percent debt to Gross Domestic Product (GDP) ratios and eight percent growth of merchandise exports which is
“lagging behind the world average.

“The major issue then for us in Caricom is how to transform our economies into high growth competitively globally integrated economic space and in addressing these growth challenges what is the role that our women can play in this economic transformation,” she said.

The Women’s Forum focussed on strengthening the image of farmers and farming. Also highlighted were successes in agriculture, rural experiences and specialty foods as the basis for regional branding, packaging and marketing. Participants also examined the successes in the Pacific Region in achieving national and regional certification and niche markets.

Caribbean Week of Agriculture 2013 is supported by the Guyana government, the Netherlands-based Technical Centre for Agriculture and Rural Development and the Caribbean Agricultural Research and Development Institute.

Caricom is made up of 14 former European colonies and Montserrat, a British dependency.