Women entrepreneurs: what do they really need?

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Women’s development internationally is a relatively young initiative — it’s only in the late 70’s that it became formalised when the 1979 United Nations Convention for the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women was formulated.

It’s no wonder that a lot still needs to be done for women in general and women entrepreneurs in particular.

A good starting point to examine the issues affecting women in business in Lesotho is research done in May which was commissioned by the Ministry of Gender, Youth, Sport and Recreation in collaboration with the International Labour Organisation.

Titled, Assessment of the Enabling Environment for Women’s Enterprises in Lesotho, it clearly shows that the environment is far from enabling.

In the two sessions that I have attended so far where the findings were being disseminated I noticed the gap between what the various public sector bodies are doing for women entrepreneurship development and what the women themselves actually need.

For example, access to business premises was one of the areas researched and although there are offices and business incubation spaces provided by a number of institutions these are not easily accessible to women for a number of reasons.

Cost is one factor and also non-compliance with the Buildings Control Act of 1995 which specifies accessibility for people with disabilities.

Furthermore business incubators are not user-friendly for women as they lack exhibition space, child care facilities and kitchens.

But the issue that women attendees want explored is that of working from home.

Some of them have businesses such as consultancy, training and dressmaking which do not require them to have a dedicated office in town which is quite costly. In addition there are the transport costs involved and also childcare, as the woman would have to find someone else to look after her children while she is at the office.

Many women (and I am sure men too) are carrying out their businesses from home but they are forced to solicit sub leases from other office holders which are just pieces of paper in order to satisfy this requirement.

The home address can be the registered address of the business and this shouldn’t be a problem as long as the option to work from home is given to those with appropriate businesses.

Access to women entrepreneurs associations and networks was another one of the nine topics researched.

These were found to be fragmented with some existing in name but not functional.

Some of the women interviewed were not aware of the existence of the associations pointing to the need for associations to promote themselves so that women are aware of the benefits of membership.

There are some which are surviving despite the challenges but women attendees noted that the absence of an umbrella body for all women’s associations compromises on lobbying for a better playing field for women entrepreneurs.

Access to credit and financial services was such a big issue it required a sub report all on its own.

Women are generally not recognised as a separate market segment by the financial institutions and many are not able to meet the stringent lending requirements which a bank needs to enforce to protect depositors’ funds.

And yet women are a potentially untapped market.

One micro finance institution which was consulted in the research targets men and women and yet 85 percent of its client base is female and they have a repayment rate of over 95 percent.

One of the interesting issues that came out from attendees is that of the implementation of the Legal Capacity of Married Persons Act of 2006.

The interpretation of this law has resulted in banks requiring a borrower to obtain written consent from their spouse before approving a loan.

Apart from being a logistical nightmare, this practice potentially sets women back and this is an area which is perhaps in need of more investigation.

This is especially so because some women noted that this requirement is being selectively applied to women applicants only in certain instances.

There is much more contained in the report which would be useful to institutions and individuals interested in women entrepreneurship development.

If you would like the full report, please send me an email and I will forward it to you.

 afrikarizma@gmail.com

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