Gender equality is good for business and there is a compelling and strong business case for supporting women-owned and run enterprises. This includes: i) at a national level, higher rates of gender equality in business is associated with a higher GDP; ii) women-owned businesses increases diversity of goods supplied into the economy; and iii) women have qualities and skills that bring added-value to businesses including knowing their female customers.

A 2018 survey of small business carried out by the World Bank Group (WBG) and the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), which included South African respondents, provides a snapshot of the entrepreneurial world through women’s eyes as follows: Women-owned business are: i) generally newer/younger (mean age 2yrs) as compared to men-owned business (mean age of business is 45 yrs.); ii) they employ fewer staff and: iii) most often women are the single employee of their company. However, women entrepreneurs are more likely to use on-line tools for advertising, showcasing. communication, selling products and accepting payments.

A key issue facing the design and implementation of gender positive programmes is that research reports rarely disaggregate data. It is essential to understand where policy is succeeding or failing so that mitigation measures can be introduced to ensure the impact desired. Seda reports that 72% of micro-enterprises and 40% of small enterprises are owned by women. An IFC report (2018) gives a figure of 5,78m SMMEs in South Africa, of which only 14% are formalised and noted that female ownership of SMMEs declined significantly over the past decade to 38% in 2017 from 48% on 2008. According to the latter report, women-owned business is concentrated in micro and small business and only 27% of medium sized enterprises are owned by women. While data is not consistent across all sources, it is clear that most women-owned businesses are micro-sized and that women are less successful than men at expanding their business to the small and medium size.

A recent report with data on the gendered impacts of COVID-19 on women is the NIDS CRAM study. It shows that women were disproportionately impacted, and the study showed that of the 2,9 million job losses during the strict lockdown period, three quarters of them were women. The same study showed that during the same period, 3.4 million women (versus 1.7 million men) said that “looking after children in June prevented them from going to work or made work difficult”. These statistics do not disaggregate the impacts on women running their own enterprises, but it is expected the challenges would have been similar. Women’s role in the home, particularly more traditional homes, is as the producer, and often provider of food. A woman’s ability to earn has an impact on the nutritional status of the home, particularly in traditional communities and cultures.

While this EDSE Programme paper focuses on access to finance, it should be remembered that there is an intersectionality between access to finance and general business development support. For instance, if the administration of a business is not efficient and legally compliant, if the supply chain is broken, if the business struggles to access markets, these and other business related issues will impact on a business and its ability to secure access to finance.