Egypt's government aims to provide women and youth with lines of credit for small and medium enterprises (SMEs), Minister of International Cooperation Sahar Nasr said on Monday.
Although women make up around 50 percent of the country's population of 91 million, they constitute less than a quarter of the country's labour force, according to a March report from the state's official statistics body CAPMAS.
In a statement made on Monday at the Euromoney Egypt Conference 2016, Nasr added that women-owned SMEs are the key to female empowerment, both politically and socially.
Nasr also said that the ministry is conducting a survey to prioritise reforms, stressing that even though "my top priority for women in Upper Egypt may be to promote SMEs, their top priority could be to have water and sanitation for their children."
Egyptian women are the heads of 17.8 percent of the country's households, according to data released by CAPMAS in 2014.
Women have contributed up to 50 percent to the 1.2 million micro enterprises across Egypt supported by the Social Fund for Development (SFD) from 2009 to 2015, according to a CAPMAS study titled 'The Reality of Small and Medium Enterprises' released in September.
CAPMAS revealed that there are a total of 2.4 million small and micro-sized enterprises across Egypt with 6.3 million employees.
The international cooperation ministry announced last week that Egypt will sign a 500 million euro agreement with the European Investment Bank (EIB) to support SMEs, among a number of financing agreements in the second half of October.
In January, Egypt’s central bank announced the launching of a four-year programme to increase financing of SMEs nationwide, as these businesses are key contributors to the state’s investment and production sectors.
The cabinet approved in August a draft law allowing individuals to launch single-person companies without the need for more employees, as part of its efforts to support SMEs.
With the country's ailing economy and unemployment at 12.5 percent in the second quarter of 2016, analysts believe SMEs constitute a great opportunity to boost the economy and create jobs.
Egypt's economy has been struggling since 2011 due to a sharp drop in tourism and foreign investments, two main sources of hard currency for the import-dependent country.