MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — Women across the country and world are unifying their voices to demand equality and respect.

International Women’s Day is taking on a more powerful meaning this year in the wake of the #MeToo movement. Women in Europe and Asia filled the streets calling for equal rights and the protection of women.

Rallies here across the country celebrated accomplishments by women entrepreneurs and lawmakers. And in St. Paul, supporters called for an amendment to a state law that would ensure legal gender issues are treated in the same way race and religion are.

Here in Minnesota, an organization that helps women start their own businesses is celebrating 40 years of service.

Three years ago, Connie Sheehan stepped out of her comfort zone in a corporate job to become the driving force behind her own business.

She’s a personal trainer and the owner of Push Fitness in St. Paul.

“It was too difficult to have a foot in two worlds. It just wasn’t working,” she said. “So I decided to put both feet in one world.”

Connie launched her business with the help of Women Venture, a Minneapolis agency that helps women start and grow profitable businesses. They offer training and provide loans.

“I went through their guided business plan to create a business plan for myself. That’s the main service, but so many others since then,” she said.

Elaine Wyatt is the executive director of Women Venture.

“About 35 percent of the small business owners in Minnesota are women. Unfortunately those women are not producing as much revenue as male-owned businesses,” she said. “We are really helping women beat those odds. Primarily it’s that delivery of capital. Being able to give them a loan to grow. That’s really a key piece to helping them.”

Five years ago Women Venture had about 350 clients. Today more than 1,200 women are enrolled, and learning how to be the boss.

Connie is so excited to be able to offer a gospel spin class at her gym.

Women Venture is holding an event Thursday night in honor of International Women’s Day. It’s reception that starts at 6:30 p.m. at North Garden Theater in St. Paul, where they will be showcasing the products and services of 10 women-owned businesses.

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