HomeAnalysisAfrican entrepreneurship: Women at the frontline

African entrepreneurship: Women at the frontline

AKINWUMI Ayodeji Adesina, President of the African Development Bank (AfDB) once said, “Our goal is simple: To back women-owned businesses, spark innovation and unleash prosperity for women across Africa”.

As we celebrate women’s entrepreneurial achievements, let us not forget that many national governments across Africa have set a goal to support women entrepreneurs in a way that guarantees prosperity to societies.

Women are increasingly a highly visible part of the economy, venturing into many entrepreneurial endeavors through selling all types of products and services for gain.

Women’s entrepreneurial efforts are driving their economic emancipation and empowerment in many African economies, and it is interesting to note that Sub-Saharan Africa is one of the few regions where women make up the majority of self-employed individuals.

This on average suggests that most women-owned businesses have fewer employees, lower productivity, lower revenues and lower profits.

With such low profits, their contribution to the enhancement of African economies is also hindered in many ways.

Across many communities in Zimbabwe and Africa, women-owned businesses contribute little beyond basic subsistence.

This, to a greater extent, limits the potential of women entrepreneurs across Africa to create sustainable, intergenerational wealth and in turn subdues prospects for sound economic growth.

Women’s economic emancipation requires that they become the backbone of African economies with their business activities expected to account for the majority of Small to Medium Enterprises (SMEs) in basically many sectors of the African economies.

This then calls for women’s full economic empowerment to increase productivity levels, development outcomes as well as enhancing economic efficiencies, which will achieve inclusive growth and enable the SMEs to graduate to large conglomerates.

Thus, women owned businesses can play a crucial role when nations create or embrace policies and practices that prioritise efforts that are specifically directed at growing their businesses.

In general, African women represent the majority of the total population across the continent, and they contribute immensely to the economic sustenance of many families.

However, their productivity is comparatively lower than that of men because women often lack access to vital resources to improve their output, be it in manufacturing, services sector, agriculture or any other sector of the economy.

As if that is not enough, they are often excluded from the most profitable segments of the value chains that men participate in.

Their hindered access to resources invariably reduces their capacity to leverage entrepreneurial and other business opportunities resulting in a lot of women owned businesses struggling to compete at national and even on a global scale.

Various forms of discrimination often underpin women’s lower access to some assets.

A number of African governments have made huge progress in dealing with gender discrimination in business, but social norms and customs in some jurisdictions still give man more control over property and significant sources of collateral.

Even where nations provide equality at law, social norms continue to hinder effective implementation of meaningful women economic empowerment.

Due to many retrogressive social norms, most women in business are forced to operate in less profitable sectors and become victims of adverse circumstances as they divert most of their time and their hard-earned capital away from their businesses towards domestic needs, in children’s health and education.

As such these businesses have suffered a lot of stagnation thus failing to meaningfully contribute to the growth of their countries’ Gross Domestic Products (GDPs).

Sustainable Development Goal (SDG 5) Gender Equality calls for the end of all forms of discrimination against women and for their full participation in leadership and decision-making processes.

It fosters equal rights to economic resources, financial services and empowerment for women through technology and calls for enactment of the enabling legislation to foster greater gender equality.

To have a level playing ground in the business world, it is critical for national governments to implement strategies that put in place targeted economic enablers that ensure that women owned businesses can flourish and compete fairly.

This means women focused legislation should be considered in order to remove the old-fashioned ways of doing things and foster growth for women owned businesses.

It is a call to all lawmakers, policy makers and leaders across the continent and the world at large to spearhead a major push to close all potential economic gaps for African women, “…to unlock their entrepreneurial capacity, revolutionise the financial markets to lend to women and to scale up support for policy, legal and regulatory environments to support enterprises for women.”

Institutions should work with governments across Africa to implement significant policy and regulatory reforms to accelerate economic empowerment for women in different sustainable ways.

With the right policies and interventions, coupled with determination by African governments to remove this societal hindrance, there is a huge opportunity to successfully unleash women entrepreneurs across Africa and boost economic growth which will in turn lift up millions of people out of poverty within the next decade.

Whilst the process of removing barriers to women entrepreneurs might be slow, it is imperative for governments, central banks, funding institutions and international organisations to prioritise targeted interventions that ensure quick wins to women owned businesses.

These businesswomen are also the frontliners; don’t we forget that!

Chigunduru is the managing partner of Marianhill Chartered Accountants and the junior vice president of the Institute of Chartered Accountants of Zimbabwe (Icaz). For feedback and comments, she can be contacted onmanyaramc@marianhillca.com

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