Government performs u-turn on supporting female entrepreneurs

For the last three years, the Czech Ministry of Trade and Industry has poured millions of crowns into supporting the country's female entrepreneurs. As recently as last month, the ministry was coming out in praise of the 'Women in Enterprise' initiative and its results. But now it has been decided that when the scheme ends in October, it will not be renewed.

The Ministry of Trade and Industry are calling it a rationalisation of their support system. Women's groups are calling it a step in the wrong direction. I asked ministry spokesperson Tomas Bartovsky why the government set up the Women in Industry scheme in the first place:

"The Woman in Enterprise support-programme was set up by the Social Democratic party in 2004. Its goals were to support consultancy services, educational activities and workshops and conferences concerning the problems faced by women in industry. The aim was to create a platform for women who were active in business, and to support those wanting to start their own businesses. Last year, there were some 1.2 million CZK (60 thousand USD) paid out through this programme. This year's subsidy has reached 1.5 million CZK."

But despite the initiative being hailed a success by groups of female entrepreneurs, and the ministry of Trade and Industry itself, it has been decided that programme should be stopped. Again, Tomas Bartovsky:

"Every government has its priorities, the programme was set up by a Social Democratic government, which had different priorities than this one, which is Liberal Conservative."

The move has been criticised by Czech women's groups. Here's Mona Nechvatalova, head of the Moravian Association of Women Entrepreneurs:

"I'm really very sad and disappointed about the decision. We are a non-governmental, and non-profit, organization. This means we have no other sources of finance for our work. So this funding, which was given by the government, or to be more precise, by the Department of Trade and Industry, was very important for us. Our organization received such funding in the past several years, and it was thanks to this funding that we were able to organize specialised training for our members."

The government insists that this is not the end of funding women in enterprise. According to spokesperson Tomas Bartovsky, the Ministry of Trade and Industry is cutting back its spending on this project, but replacing it with European funds:

"The ministry aims to use all the European funds that it can to support small and medium enterprises. We realise that there are some 100 billion CZK that can be used over the next 7 years, coming from the European Union Structural Fund. So it seems more logical for us to use this money to support small and medium enterprise, than to use money coming from the national or state budget."

Mona Nechvatalova responds that organizations such as hers are already using European funds, and can't survive on them alone. She finds it disappointing that while other European governments are encouraging women to become entrepreneurs, the Czech government is, in her view, taking a step backwards:

"Many European countries support their women entrepreneurs, for example Italy has a special law, which focuses upon women entrepreneurs. And Spain has certain legislation in place, and special laws regarding gender and so on. The reason for all of these laws and the support found for businesswomen at European level is not down to charity, I'd like to stress this. The governments of those other European states are aware of that fact that there is a hidden economic potential in women, and this is the reason why they support women entrepreneurs. This is why they help them found their own companies and use the potential which is hidden in them."