Empowering Disabled Women through Entrepreneurship Training

  • The ILO developed and honed the entrepreneurship business skills of disabled women by extending mainstream entrepreneurship activities to this disadvantaged group. The ILO gave disabled women the access to support services and systems they needed to participate in training workshops.
  • The ILO established strategic partnerships with organizations of and for disabled persons, international and government agencies, women entrepreneurs associations (WEAs), and others on the ground in Ethiopia to ensure the programme’s success.
The problem addressed by the campaign: 
  • The number of people with disabilities in Ethiopia is estimated at 8 million. Due to stigma and discrimination, many disabled people are excluded from their communities and live in poverty.
  • For disabled women, apprehension and misconceptions about people with disabilities is multiplied by gender bias. Disabled women are more likely to be poor than disabled men and non-disabled women. Their poverty is linked to their very limited opportunities for education and skills development.
  • ILO project staff worked with grassroots organizations in Ethiopia to develop an inclusive approach to entrepreneurship training and to the provision of business development services. WEAs played a key role in delivering these training workshops and in welcoming disabled women entrepreneurs as members.
  • At first, disabled women were hesitant to join training activities alongside non-disabled women. To solve this problem, leadership and empowerment training was provided before the larger training sessions to prepare disabled women for inclusive training.
  • Additionally, instructors underwent disability awareness training to ensure that they were sensitive to physical and social environmental barriers that preclude the participation of disabled persons.
  • Access to credit for disabled entrepreneurs was also an obstacle to progress. In the north of Ethiopia, the Dedebit Credit and Savings Institution (DECSI) was reluctant to provide small lines of credit to disabled veterans. At the encouragement of the ILO, the Tigray Disabled Veterans Association (TDVA) argued against this practice and presented data (taken from a study) to the DECSI to prove that disabled persons are credit-worthy clients with good repayment records.

Positive feedback from women, both disabled and non-disabled:

  • A disabled woman butcher from the town of Mek’ele who participated in a basic business skills training says: “Business continues to be good and is profitable. Over the years, with savings generated from my monthly revenues of ETB 15,000 [about US$ 870], I’ve been able to buy a plot of land on which we built a new home with an adjacent facility for my business. I’m happy to be able to feed my family and send my four children to school.”
  • Another entrepreneur says: “It was the first time that I attended this kind of training with non-disabled women. I was timid at first and considered myself inferior. But having seen people come and shake my hand and treat me like a mother, I was filled with joy. For the first time, I felt myself equal with others. Most importantly, I now have the confidence to interact with people without being inhibited by my physical appearance…. I am transformed from a beggar to a self-employed woman.”
  • A non-disabled woman entrepreneur who participated in an inclusive training said, “This kind of [integrated] programme should be repeated and segregated provision should not recur. It makes everything harder later on. By doing this, understanding disability becomes part of our lives.”
  • Women with disabilities are now welcomed as members of WEAs and benefit from activities and training organized as a result of project sensitization. A National Women’s Business Network has been initiated between a group of women entrepreneurs with and without disabilities – a real step forward.
Why has it worked?: 
  • The ILO developed close partnerships with disabled-persons organizations, international and government agencies and WEAs on the ground in Ethiopia to ensure success.
  • Disability awareness training for trainers, business development service providers and others to help build disability-related knowledge and skills on how to cater to disabled persons in mainstream programmes and services.
  • Existing ILO training tools designed to assist in the area of small enterprise development (from start-up to formalizing and growing a business) were adjusted to meet the needs of disabled women. There was close coordination at the headquarters and in-country level between the ILO’s disability programme and the programme on Women and Entrepreneurship Development and Gender Equality (WEDGE).
Conclusions and Recommendations: 

Disability awareness training is a key to breaking down barriers that hinder the participation of disabled people in the world of work and in society as a whole.

Foundational Issues: 
Widespread unemployability
Level of Collaboration: 
Level 4: Collaboration on a global or multistakeholder level
Middle East/North Africa
Economic and political context: 
  • This programme is based on a multi-year strategic partnership relationship established between the government of Ireland (Irish Aid) and the ILO to create greater opportunities for women and men to secure decent employment and income in developing countries and economies.
  • Ethiopian implementing partners included disabled and women entrepreneurship organizations: The Federation of Ethiopian National Associations of Persons with Disabilities (FENAPD); The Tigray Disabled Veteran’s Association (TDVA); Amhara Women’s Entrepreneurs’ Association; and the Adama Women Entrepreneurs’ Association.
About the Author(s): 

The International Labour Organization (ILO) is a UN agency with tripartite representation: governments, employers and workers that jointly shape labour standards and programmes supporting decent work for all. The ILO supports skills development to improve the employability of workers, productivity of enterprises and the inclusiveness of economic growth.