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The state of women entrepreneurship in modern day South Afrika

Historically, women in South Afrika have faced a number of oppressive circumstances that have led to a society with gross gender inequalities. These inequalities are not limited only to the South African economy but are present in many other sectors.

Based on the Statistics South Africa (StatsSA) 2017 half yearly population report, the nation’s population is estimated at 56.52 million people. According to the same report, approximately 28.9 million (51%) of the population is female. Seeing as how women are in the majority in this country, one would assume they have a bigger (if not equal) presence as men in the business sector.

According to research done by the Global Entrepreneurship Monitor (GEM) for its 2017/2018 Global Business Report, unfortunately this is not the case. The report found that only 31% of entrepreneurs in South Africa are in fact women.

In a more in depth report compiled through a survey conducted by Facebook in partnership with the World Bank and the Organisation for Economic Co-Operation and Development (OECD), on South African Small and Medium Enterprises (SME’s) it was found that 34% of SME’s were owned by women; 28% have balanced teams and 38% are male led.

Overwhelming figures indicates that women, though they are the majority in population, are in fact a small minority when it comes to entrepreneurship. This can be attributed to a number of challenges pre-existing within South African society. Challenges are mainly but limited to a greater social and domestic responsibility; lack of access to funding and/or capital; lack of cultural or religious backing.

Women are essentially deemed the backbone of every society, thus having greater social and domestic responsibilities. The balance between a women’s family and her business is often the biggest challenge, especially in a society as largely patriarchal as South Africa.

This is an obstacle which small business owner Nonthuthuko Thuso knows all too well. Thuso owns a bridal boutique and says that over time she has learnt to fight for both her business and family.

“When I first started my business, it was hard to find balance. I spent less time at home and more time trying to build my business. This was a move that I felt made me looked down upon by general societal standards for women,” she said.

Thuso also believes that when it comes to barriers, a woman’s domestic responsibility is only second to the lack of cultural and religious support. We spoke to another dedicated business women by the name Lindiwe Chomo* who totally agreed with this sentiment.

“I feel like I’m playing against what a woman in my culture should be. It’s even worse when you bring my religion into the mix. According to both my religion and culture I should be a subservient woman. Not a woman running her own business giving my male counterparts a run for their money.

“When it comes to access for funding or start-up capital, that may be due to lack of knowledge. I found it easier to acquire funding than my counterparts because I did my research. There are programmes such as FinFind that help entrepreneurs connect and laisse with over 400 funding initiatives, businesses and solutions. That’s something a lot of female entrepreneurs aren’t aware of,” Chomo explained.

Looking at all the circumstances that often hold women back in our society, it is still clear to see that there are women like Thuso and Chomo who have not let such hindrances derail them. As far as these two women are concerned, it is essentially a tough economy and even tougher patriarchal society to navigate but that should not stop you as a woman from starting your business. There are a lot of limiting factors in this male dominated society but you should not stop pushing forward!

~ Thabisile Ngeleka

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