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Scot highlights how Uganda's women beat the odds to win in business

IN Uganda fewer than half of the women who work get a wage for what they do.

Hardly surprising, then, that for female entrepreneurs in the country, the business climate is a harsh one.

In this East African nation women are still expected to run the home and take on childcare, while bank interest rates for them are prohibitively high.

Bank loans are based on land ownership and, with 90% of land owned by men, accessing finance is tough.

But despite the odds, Ugandan women are forging ahead with pioneering business ideas.

Glasgow-based documentary maker Carol Cooke has filmed the efforts of a group of women who were nominated for Female Entrepreneur of the Year.

Cooke said: "This is a country where just over half of the female labour force receive no wage for their work, and where 40% of businesses are owned by women and yet just 7% of all credit is allocated to them.

"Women are the unsung heroes of Uganda's economy. The women in Uganda put businesswomen like me in the UK to shame.

"Learning about their lives was a privilege, as was having the chance to film them. They are all truly extraordinary women."

Cooke's documentary Barefoot In Business has just had its UK premiere at the Scottish Parliament.

Among the documentary's stars are Daphne, the self-titled Queen of Sales; Regina, Uganda's first-ever funeral director; and Benedicta, a former banker turned straw-bag designer, whose products are made out of rubbish.

Barefoot In Business, which took two years to film and edit, was shown last year on Al Jazeera, the Middle East-based news and documentary channel, and next month it will have its American premiere in Washington.

Cooke hopes the film will attract attention to the women's businesses and help them expand.

She added: "I don't like to just parachute in to a place and then parachute out again. As a businesswoman myself, I wanted to do something to help these women.

"I hope to help them network and meet potential investors, customers and mentors, both in the UK and abroad, as well as giving them business support.

"In Uganda, there are frustratingly simple challenges that stand between them, success and a truly sustainable business.

"But the way they persevere and ensure that they all help other women is really remarkable."

Cooke has also set up website www.indiegogo.com/projects/barefoot-in-business to help raise funds for the film.

COMMENT

By Carol Cooke, Creative Director Scrumptious Productions

My background is in news journalism and documentary and in 2010 I took the plunge and set up Scrumptious with big ambitions but absolutely no business experience.

I figured, "how hard can it be, this whole running your own business malarkay?" Four years on I can confirm that it is difficult. Very. Until recently I used to think I had it pretty tough here with the endless funding applications and utterly overwhelming tax returns and accounting, but that was until I went to Africa to meet my Ugandan counterparts who are defying statistics and credit restrictions and taking the business world by storm - and at the same time, putting so called 'hard working' business women like me in the Western world to shame, on a daily basis. After all, this is a country where just over half of the female labour force still receive no wage for their work; where 40% of businesses are owned by women and yet just 7% of credit is allocated to them; and don't even get me started on the power blackouts, the traffic jams and that internet connection!

Yet in spite of all of this, Uganda is home to some of the most incredible female entrepreneurs on the planet whom I have learned so much from. I have been so inspired by their approach to business - where giving back and empowering those around you is just as important as making money.

This project is about trade, not aid. These women aren't asking for sympathy or hand outs, they're simply asking to be taken seriously and to be given the chance to compete on a level playing and show the world what they're capable of. So what are you waiting for? Let's get trading...

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