Women entrepreneurs have been a major segment of the economy. Many women have established various small businesses i.e. traditional handicrafts, food, and packaging online that supported artisans in rural Karnataka. After quite some struggle, they had a decent number of orders and have been looking forward to advancing the manufacturing equipment and scale the effect of their business by offering chances to local talent.
But all of this ceased to exist in March 2020. There were severe restrictions applied on business and travel due to the pandemic and the eventual lockdown. Unfortunately, the new equipment being ordered could not be delivered and had no means to move their existing inventory.
This has made it unsure about the way they would continue to offer basic income to their employees/artisans and staff and was slowly losing their savings too. Additionally, lockdown also added the extra responsibilities of their families.
2020 declares as 25 years since the adoption of the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action that was once declared as the most progressive blueprint for the advancement of women’s rights. Regardless of the years that have passed, this has become the reality of many working-class women, especially entrepreneurs, who had to adjust to considerable lifestyle changes in the face of the pandemic.
We all know that women are disproportionately affected during these crises. A huge percentage of health and social care workers are women and are in professions that are constantly on the frontline to battle against the pandemic. It has been proven historically that economic crises expand the existing inequalities for women around key occupations such as education, finances, and healthcare.
Lack of Social Protection
Around 40% of women lack access to social protection mechanisms in the wage employment criteria. There have been many articles and online webinars in the social sector in the past two months that have put the conditions of gender inequities across the board in the limelight.
However, does this effect extends to women entrepreneurs? Initial evidence suggests that it does so.
Factors impacting women entrepreneurs
1. Increase in unpaid care work
According to WeConnect International, one in four women entrepreneurs have been placed on by the increasing demands due to families being distanced and restricted to their homes which has decreased the time that they’ve spent on their businesses. As most of the Global South’s majority of responsibilities are traditionally molded into women this should not come as a surprise.
Support services like daycare facilities and domestic help are also being affected by the pandemic and women are now shouldering an increased domestic workload to try to keep the business running.
2. Gender Imbalance in Affected Sectors
One of the hardest-hit segments during the pandemic is the small and growing businesses (SGBs). There is a potential failure in the next half of the year for about 40% of SGBs in the emerging markets.
According to the latest reports from the Sixth Economic Census, 13.8% of Indian companies are owned by women most of which are self-financed and microenterprises. Although a majority of these women-led businesses are seen in sectors such as education, beauty, and tourism, they are also the ones that were most affected due to the recent physical distancing measures. Even though it’s still calculating the real economic losses, a survey conducted by Aspen Network of Development Entrepreneurs (ANDE) proves that the chances of women-led businesses considering to shut shops are increased two-fold.
3. Lack of Funding
Before the pandemic, catalyzing and supporting women entrepreneurship was a section that was attracting intermediary investment firms and organizations. Mainstream conversations were including the topic of gender-lens investing. All gears have now changed to concentrate on the immediate relief.
Women may take longer to resume their careers/businesses once we hit the recovery and rebuilding phase. This can only expand and reinforce existing investor biases and decrease investment in women-led enterprises.
4. An Assumption of Access
Many support services for entrepreneurs have changed online to make sure that they gain access to the guidance they need in the absence of physical meetings. However, the assumption is flawed in itself that both women and men have equal internet, time, and space to leverage their resources. Also, the network of peers to reach out for technical or moral support is not the same for women.
Offering access to scalable financing options and supporting women entrepreneurs with relevant pieces of training to keep their businesses running are somewhat some places to start. We have a chance to rebuild and pivot support structures. Some things to keep in mind are:
1. Make Gender-responsive Interventions
Make sure that with the consideration of gender roles, relations, and norms, the interventions we pose understand how these effects access to resources and provide remedial action to overwhelm these obstacles. A good way to work towards this is the collaboration with known professionals in the field. The Indian Women Social Entrepreneurs Network (IWSEN) organized one such collaboration around India with management and leadership skills to help expand their business in these times.
2. Make Inclusive Financial Services
Women often do not have the access to the same information, awareness, or skills in developing countries to completely leverage their financial services. Private and government finance providers have a chance to tweak or design existing financial services to be made more inclusive for female entrepreneurs due to the pandemic from both, urban as well as rural backgrounds.
Women entrepreneurs are the worst hit due to this pandemic! But with the right guidance and support, they would be able to roll with the punches.
– Mamta Sharma