[Column] Phyllis Wakiaga: Invest in women entrepreneurs to improve livelihoods
Women entrepreneurs can transform the lives and livelihoods of communities and enhance the economic wellbeing of any society.
The resilience of women in entrepreneurship and business does not go unnoticed. It is their agility to overcome archaic beliefs and tough situations that have proven their worth in establishing a stronger and more sustainable impact on societal progress.
In fact, investing in women’s businesses has proven a worthy component to addressing social-economic issues. For instance, and as mentioned in an article by share.america.gov on 10 reasons to invest in women and girls, U.N Food and Agriculture Organization found that empowering women farmers with the same access to land, new technologies and capital increased crop yields by as much as 30 percent, estimating that a such a crop yield boost is likely to result in 150 million fewer hungry people.
According to a World Bank Report on Profiting from Parity: Unlocking the Potential of Women’s Business in Africa, sub-Saharan Africa is the only region where women make up the majority of entrepreneurs. Therefore, the potential to better transform our communities and societies is immense. However, there are challenges that continue to hinder the success and progress of female entrepreneurs that remain a detriment to more productive, sustainable, and safe communities.
The Report also indicates the major constraints faced by women including social norms, unequal legal frameworks, and differences in education, resources, assets, and networks. Adding that these factors negatively influence decision making, resulting in poor business
performance, and stunting economic growth. To remedy this, the Report further states that there is a need to incorporate strategies on psychology-based skills development, to encourage more entrepreneurial mindsets, supporting women with savings mechanisms, and providing large capital grants.
In Kenya, women industrialists have also demonstrated their ability to support local communities to thrive.
In Kisumu County, for example, Building Concept Founder Ms. Christine Jackino, in a KAM Women in Manufacturing Programme session, noted that she constantly acts as a cultural mediator. Having encouraged more women to work in her production process, she is often confronted by the partners or husbands of these women she employs in her community. Their main contention is that ‘their’ women are being exposed to working long hours away from their main duties at home: taking care of their children and spouse.
However, it is her management and support in providing onsite training and assistance for those who work with her, including women, that has resulted in better income earnings, therefore, better provision of basic needs and improved access to facilities in health and education.
Similarly, Rachel Miami the founder of RAMM Millers in Uasin Gishu County has made a deliberate move to seek employees from the community around her, adding that over 80% of these are women. Rachel has gone further to develop a SACCO for her employees, to provide adequate financing to allow them to run ‘side hustle’ businesses or break out and start their own milling firms. This provides increased revenue streams, better access to finance which will likely impact the economic development and progression of the community.
But they too are faced with a myriad of challenges that continue to affect their effective entrepreneurial growth and in tandem their ability to better their communities. The Women in Manufacturing Report 2020 indicates that gender-neutral policies, access to finance and information, and access to advanced skills continue to be major diminishing factors to the growth of women entrepreneurs in the country.
As a country, we need to take deliberate actions to strengthen women’s enterprises because of the positive effect they provide to our communities and the society at large.
Firstly, a review of major gender-neutral policies is required. The WIM Report 2020, further states that only The Constitution of Kenya (2010) and the Public Procurement and Asset Disposal Act (2015) are gender transformative frameworks. The majority remain gender-
neutral including the Employment Act (2012), and Micro and Small Enterprises (MSE) Act 2012. What this means, is that there is no preference given to some of the unique needs of women needed to assist them to advance their enterprises. To curb this, we need to create guidelines for gender-responsive implementation of the existing gender-aware laws and build collaborative engagements to ensure compliance.
Secondly, we need to strengthen women’s entrepreneurial skills. This can be done through developing strong mentorship and networking platforms and programs, providing training and capacity building as well as opening subcontracting opportunities. By doing so, we will enhance women’s businesses, their knowledge, and skills, resulting in increased employment opportunities for the community, more informed decision-making, and enhanced productivity.
Thirdly, the sexual, and reproductive rights of women are an important consideration in the formulation of policies and strategies to enhance their productivity. This can be addressed by practicing gender-aware economics and by simply focusing on developing policies that encourage the provision of quality health services and health education, as well as infrastructure that facilitates sectoral and occupational segregation.
Therefore, let us strive to enhance the participation of women in entrepreneurship and business. By doing so, we, directly and indirectly, influence the safety and sustainability of our communities.