Special Economic Zones: An Opportunity for Inclusive Development
The competitiveness of a country is a key factor in its prosperity and the improvement of its inhabitants’ quality of life. A Special Economic Zone is an area with geographical and logistical advantages to increment a region’s productivity. The Special Economic Zones have the potential to promote economic growth. It is an initiative that could reduce severe regional inequality in a country through industrial development, public and private investment, creation of jobs, and value-chain development. However, this development is inconceivable without gender equality. The exclusion of women will imply large economic and social costs.
These projects must include women and provide favorable conditions for them to participate actively and safely. Administrative advantages, preferential financing, geographic location, and fiscal incentives are not enough. Workers’ human rights must be protected, and the values of justice, equity, and respect must be promoted. It is not only about creating jobs; it is about ensuring the quality and dignity of those jobs.
In the late 1960s, various assembling plants called maquiladoras were placed on the Mexican-United States border; most of the work force were women. Many of them faced discrimination, injustices, and demeaning working conditions. The inclusion of women in this industry was not accompanied by other supportive actions such as daycare, flexible work hours and maternity leave. This led to unsafe conditions and continued disadvantages for female workers.
These regrettable situations must not exist in Special Economic Zones. To increase the region’s productivity, workers’ labor rights must be respected, the gender salary gap eliminated, fair salaries paid, dignified working conditions established, and social security provided. Special Economic Zones are an opportunity for eradicating habitual discrimination against women and not reinforcing gender inequality. They must function as a mechanism that values women as economic agents and stimulates their full development.
The growing participation of women in all sectors of society has a positive impact on a country’s competitiveness. Women represent half of the population and, therefore, half of the human capital, talent, and innovation capacity. Including women in the economy is not only just; it is good business and contributes to a nation’s sustainable development.
To truly move beyond a charity mentality to inclusive growth, women are an essential part of the process. A Special Economic Zone will not be successful unless it encompasses a gender perspective that stimulates female inclusion, prevents discrimination, guarantees security, and protects female workers’ rights.
Angélica Fuentes, Founder Equal Invest
Angélica Fuentes is a Latin American businesswoman and impact investor, who has been recognized by Forbes Magazine as one of Mexico’s most influential women.
Ms. Fuentes was appointed CEO of Grupo Imperial in 1992 and quickly positioned the company as a top player in Northern Mexico’s energy sector. Under her leadership, Grupo Imperial’s annual growth rate increased from 5% in 1992 to 9.5% in 2005. Ms. Fuentes served as President of the Business Energy Network of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation Agreement (APEC) from 2002 to 2004, and as President of the Mexican Natural Gas Association from 1996 to 2000. From 2007 to 2015, she served as CEO of Grupo Omnilife-Angelissima-Chivas. Under her leadership, the company became one of the top 100 corporations in Mexico.
Throughout her career, Ms. Fuentes has dedicated significant time and resources to NGOs, international organizations and professional groups that support the cause of women. She participated in the World Economic Forum’s Gender Parity Programme, and led the Mexican Gender Parity Taskforce. She currently serves on Secretary Clinton’s International Council on Women’s Business Leadership; is member of the Private Sector Leadership Advisory Council of UN Women; is a Global Advocate for the Girl Up Campaign, a United Nations Foundation program; co-chairs the PVBLIC LATAM regional platform; is member of the Latin American Program Advisory Board of the Woodrow Wilson International Center; and is member of the Global Dignity’s International Council of Advisors.
Her work in this field has been recognized by numerous honors and awards. In 2015, UN Women gave her the Women’s Empowerment Principles CEO Leadership Award; she was the first female CEO to receive this award for championing gender equality in the private sector. In 2016, PVBLIC Foundation, Ismael Cala Foundation, and the United Nations gave her the award for Latin Woman Empowerment. In 2017, she received the Corporate Social Responsibility Award from The Maestro Cares Foundation.
Gender equality, women empowerment and the eradication of poverty have always been a priority in all her endeavors. In 2014, she established the Angelica Fuentes Foundation. In 2016, she founded A Complete and The Imperative Fund. In 2017, she founded Equal Invest, The Beauty Station and A Complete Journey.