Entrepreneurship can play a pivotal role in advancing women’s empowerment in Africa but more needs to be done to remove the myriad of hurdles they face in starting and growing a business.
This is one of the key findings of research into “Women’s Empowerment in Africa” by Relifwe Mokoena released in Dar es Salaam today (Thursday) during the Woman Advancing Africa forum. This study was commissioned by the Southern Africa Trust to examine the main drivers, obstacles and opportunities for women’s empowerment in Africa. It specifically looked at the entrepreneurial activities of women in the Graca Machel Trust’s Women Creating Wealth (WCW) programme in Tanzania, Malawi and Zambia.
The research was presented by The Trust’s Project Manager for Private Public Partnerships Ulrich Klins who noted that while necessity was a main driver for African women to start businesses, the study also found that the motives were more nuanced.
“A desire for independence, the ability to work in an area they were interested in and the influence of role models also proved to be key motivators for the women interviewed,” said Klins.
While structural barriers posed a significant obstacle to business growth, the research also showed the internal and relational challenges respondents had to overcome on their path to empowerment . These challenges included overcoming self-doubt that stemmed either from their own initial lack of confidence or from the misgivings of others.
“Once they were self-assured, the entrepreneurs were better able to connect with others and begin to influence the prevailing business environment of their countries,” said Klins.
The research showed that family, parents and husbands could provide critical moral, financial and technical support to female entrepreneurs and well as inhibit such success.
Overcoming structural hurdles required a fundamental change in not only the business environment but also around women’s capabilities and own their perception of their capacity. The research suggested that there was untapped potential in the support and encouragement that respondents received from relatives.
The study pointed to the need for collective action to promote change.
“The road to women’s empowerment is complex and may differ for every context. What the research shows is that investing in a woman’s skill and education is important but is most effective when the woman already has a fundamental sense of her own worth and is operating in an environment where she can navigate the structural and relational barriers she will inevitably encounter,” said .Klins.