Investing in women entrepreneurs should be a no-brainer. In South Africa as well as globally, women make up more than half of the population. It is only logical that by empowering women, you create economic prosperity and spread it wider. With Women’s Month coming to an end, it is important for South Africa to take stock of what we are doing to support women-owned SMMEs. While some data indicates that female businesses have been bolstered over the last year or so, we still have a fair way to go to equal the playing field between men and women in business.
Empowering businesswomen is critical as it does more than help achieve gender equality. Women statistically reinvest their incomes in their families and communities more than men do, and according to UN Women, women bring elements such as innovation, competitiveness, new values and greater returns to the table.
A look at the latest Mastercard Index of Women Entrepreneurs 2021, which was released earlier this year, makes for interesting reading. Despite Covid-19, the gender gap and South Africa being in a recession before the pandemic hit, South African women are making progress as entrepreneurs.
In fact, South Africa is one of the best African countries for female business owners in the small and medium enterprise sector. The country came second, behind only Botswana in Africa. SA was ranked 37th out of 65 economies, collectively amounting to 82.4% of the world’s female labour force. According to the index, the most significant factors that led to the increase in women entrepreneurs in South Africa in 2021 included:
- Availability of SME venture capital, which is a factor that plays a critical part in easy and fair access to finance
- Perceived opportunities and capabilities, such as a high representation of women in leadership roles
- Female necessity-driven entrepreneurship as the result of women losing their jobs due to the pandemic
- Female opportunity-driven entrepreneurship
- Higher education and entrepreneurial training
- Internal market openness, or positive attitudes to entrepreneurship
- Political stability and the absence of violence
But there is still vast room for improvement if we are going to match countries that are our economic peers when it comes to supporting women. The country ranked 55th on ‘Knowledge Assets and Financial Access’. Women are constrained by poor access to finance (ranked 40 out of 65, and down four places) and on government SME support, we stayed stable but ranked low, at 54.