MANAGUA – Ten years after creating the region’s first association of Nicaraguan businesswomen, female business owners continue to struggle for recognition and representation in this country’s male dominated private sector.
When the Permanent Congress of Nicaraguan Businesswomen was created in 2000, it marked a turning point in Nicaragua’s business community, according to Ximena Ramírez, president of the congress.
Formed as a “strategic alliance” to “visiblize the support that women give to the national economy and to create opportunities and solutions for working women,” the businesswomen’s congress has helped to give working women an institutional voice and foundation for support.
The success of the businesswomen’s group, which now represents thousands of women across the country, also helped deconstruct old gender myths and create a new image of the working woman in Nicaragua, Ramírez said.
“In the 1980s the term ‘businessman’ was a bad word, but the term ‘businesswoman’ didn’t even exist here. We were never recognized before, but now we are emerging as a movement that is strong, vigorous and vital,” Ramírez told The Nica Times.
Today, she said, businesswomen account for 40 percent of Nicaragua’s Gross Domestic Product, and represent 70 to 80 percent of the owners of small and micro-businesses, respectively.
Yet despite some advances, recognition has been slow. In 2000, all 17 members of the country’s main private business chamber, COSEP, were men. Ten years later, 16 are men and one is a woman.
Lucy Valenti, the president of the National Tourism Chamber (CANATUR) and the only board member of COSEP who doesn’t wear a tie, told The Nica Times this week that women’s advances in Nicaragua’s business sector over the past decade have been “too small and too insignificant.”
Although more women are now board members of different corporations, very few have made it to top leadership posts.
Part of the problem, Valenti said, is that even though women have gained more recognition and responsibility in the business world, they still have their traditional roles as mothers and homemakers. So for women to succeed in business, she said, they have to be willing to sacrifice more time and energy than men do by assuming a “double role.”
Despite Ramírez’s eternal optimism, even she admits that “our country doesn’t always advance forward; many times it goes backwards.”
Still, the women’s congress is determined that progress has and can be made.
“I think that poverty for many years had a feminine face, but I don’t think that’s so much the case anymore,” Ramírez said. “I think that women continue to become better trained and we’re learning how to manage our businesses more intelligently.”