Economic power

Artemis Toumazi

Global: Can you tell us about the work that you have been doing to help women entrepreneurs in Cyprus

Artemis Toumazi: I have always been working on gender equality issues and when I saw that women, especially in Cyprus and then at the European level, are not fully occupied in the economy, I decided that we needed a practical way to help, and to make the rest of the community realise that they are very important for the sustainable development of their countries.

The research we did showed that women were lacking the capital to start their own businesses, so we created the first women’s cooperative bank in the world. We give loans that are tailor-made for the needs of these women – they have a very low monthly payment, with special interest rates, and they are given advice on their plans, on strategic ways of starting up their own business, with a follow up procedure by our team.

When did you set up the Women’s Cooperative Bank and what challenges did you face?

We started back in 1999 and the challenges were from both men and women, because men had to realise that they needed women in the economy, and women had to be encouraged to understand that they can also be entrepreneurs, and not just mothers, wives and carers. So the basic challenge was not discrimination as such but the problems every society faces with stereotypical attitudes. When we started, it was very difficult to persuade them but now, 11 years after, I can say there is a very big change of attitudes and they really understand that they can help their economy to progress.

What impact has the bank had on the lives of individual women in Cyprus?

When we started there was only 12 percent of women involved  in very small businesses. After 11 years, with special schemes and grants we’ve managed to get from the government to assist these start-ups, we’ve reached 29 percent women entrepreneurs in our economy. The examples are many. They have come to us, even if they are educated, with the fear that they don’t know what to expect, how the rest of the people will receive their ideas, and now we have very successful businesswomen in all areas of the economy.

Do you think the model you’ve developed in Cyprus could be used in other countries?

This is my hope and I have been trying very hard to promote the idea with the European Union and the Commonwealth. I truly believe that this is a model that can be very successful and can be adjusted to [local] needs. There are countries with very small budgets or very small capital that can do miracles.

Why is it important that women are fully engaged in the economy?

I believe the economy needs them for sustainable development. If we want the gender gap to become smaller we have to understand that if women have economic power then they will slowly get the social status they need and also political power. If you don’t have money, today, you go nowhere, but if you’re successful, and you are recognised and visible in your economy, then you can take steps forward, and this is the most important thing.

About the author:

President and CEO of Cyprus Women’s Cooperative Bank


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