Women entrepreneurship is an important reality in African countries, especially when compared to similar activities in other geopolitical settings: 24% of African women create their business, a higher rate relative to 17% recorded in Latin America and the Caribbean; 12% in North America and 8% in Europe and Asia.
This data can be mainly explained by the need for the more revenue that African families require, due to the financial constraints they live in.
In fact, as reported by the document Women Entrepreneurship in Africa: a path to empowerment, published by the international company Roland Berger, a gap emerges between Sub-Saharan Africa and the remaining territory: the rate of women entrepreneurship in the region under the Saharan belt corresponds to 26%, while in northern areas it drops to 8%. This discrepancy is attributable to socio-economical, cultural and religious diversity.
A considerable part of the assistance given to African women comes from a non-governmental organization, operating in the territory.
With regards to South African countries, the story of Margaret Plaatjies is exemplifying, a twenty-one years old girl living in Rawsonville (in Western Cape province, in South Africa) with her husband and their two children. As for other women, having enough food for her family is the biggest challenge to face, since earnings coming from seasonal jobs in agricultural holdings, which are the main source of income for these populations, are scarce. Margaret was frequently forced to take difficult decisions regarding the welfare of her family; for example, she couldn’t eat to leave food to her children. Therefore, when the chance presented, she decided to join a cooperative supported by an Oxfam partner organization (Oxford Committee for Famine Relief), named Women on Farms Projects, which aims to increase revenue and improve livelihood options, by using the possibilities offered by farms in the territory. The Rawsonville Cooperative in which Margaret used to work grows mushrooms that are sold to farmers in Stellenbosch who, in turn, sell them to restaurants and retailers. This provides the members of the cooperative a small income to integrate with their earnings from their seasonal work.
Thus, many other women started working in cooperatives aimed to improve the use of land and crops, so that they can have at their disposal a wide nutrition source for their own families.
Ownership of land would also give them further possibilities: it would give them access to funds necessary to make the improvements required to make farms more productive, even if climatic conditions of the South African area don’t make it easy.
According to researches by FAO (Food and Agriculture Organization), in Africa, about 80% of food is produced by women, and they are also responsible for 90% of drinking water supply and storage of crops. These numbers show how fundamental female role in African societies is, despite their steady subordination to men.
Another story of success can be found in Zimbabwe where Kiva works, a non-governmental American organization that launched a campaign named Invest in her, invest in change. Kiva promotes micro-credit initiatives through online fundraising. This project is aimed to support women entrepreneurship for social change. The most important testimony of this programme comes from Lee, a 22 years old woman who, using the micro-credit offered by the American ONG, started her business in order to provide employment to more and more people, especially women like her.
Thanks to a training course provided by a Kiva partner organization, Camfed, and thanks to crowdfunding, Lee started three small business under one company, Lee Investments. She manages a poultry farming, a shop and the creation of Lee Juice. The latter produces fruit juice and soda, and every bottle is a trophy for the young woman, as a reminder of her humble beginnings, when she went to school with no shoes and not even a pen.
Although steps towards improving the figure of the woman are been taken in southern African society, there’s still profound discrimination that can be traced back to a general lack of human rights protection. In particular, with regard to the condition of South Africa, groups for the protection of human rights expressed concern about the government’s failure in developing a national strategy aimed to fight the high rate of violence against women and the general underestimation of rape cases.
According to the Freedom House report of 2019, in spite of the existence of a solid legal framework which criminalizes domestic abuse and rape, they are both persistent problems; only a small percentage of rapes is reported. According to the 2017-18 South Africa Police Service report, an average of 109.7 rapes a day were recorded.
South African levels of inequality are among the highest in the world. Only a small percentage of the population benefits from the big state-owned industries, and the economy is controlled by a relatively small number of people belonging to the political and business élite.
In fact, data indicate that women entrepreneurship brings to the African economy between 150 and 200 billion dollars. However, besides these positive data, elements blocking business development can be found. Problems arise mainly in relation to barriers to access to the financial resources necessary to launch projects. Then, the different national and local administrations should support these initiatives with ad hoc projects, giving more resources to women.
Female entrepreneurial creativity can represent the propulsive motor for the entire continent’s development.
Italian version by Sofia Perinetti
Translated by Elisabetta Castellotti