Closing the gender inequality gap remains an economic challenge and necessity across the world. A lot of effort is being put into the gender agenda by governments, private sector and other institutions to narrow this disparity. In Africa, women are applying themselves in every field to financially support their families and communities.
Research has shown that one in four women is starting or managing a business, making Africa the continent with the highest percentage of women entrepreneurs in the world. A study by Forbes further indicates that 96 percent of women have primary or shared responsibility for their families’ financial decisions, and 70-80 percent of all consumer purchases are driven by women, through buying power and influence.
Even more importantly, women own and lead roughly 30 percent of all SMEs in the world, and SMEs account for 70 percent of employment worldwide. In emerging markets, these businesses contribute up to 45 percent of total employment and 33 percent of GDP. Although one third of registered SMEs globally are estimated to have been created by women, with close to 100 million women running established businesses, the gap between women and men remains significant.
In Kenya, women make about 52 percent of the country’s population and about 30 percent of registered businesses are women-owned but their financial inclusion remains slim. Women only hold less than 10 percent of the registered title deeds in Kenya, which makes it difficult for women-led SMEs to access higher amounts of credit usually supported by a collateral (secured credit).
One way to economically empower women is to fund female-owned businesses. To fast-track realisation of women empowerment goals, favourable policies must be mooted to support private sector efforts. Private sector investments and relevant technical support are required to expand opportunities for women to succeed in business.
As financial institutions, it is upon us to provide financial services to women entrepreneurs; while corporations find ways to support and bring more women SMEs into their value chains. There should be a deliberate effort to ensure that year-on-year there are more women-owned SMEs being supported in each corporate value chain. This means that it is a deliverable tracked at the highest level of business to ensure that each corporate firm contributes to SDG 5 that supports growth of gender equality. As this growth takes place then investors need to be mobilised to make more funding available for investments in women entrepreneurs.
This was the motivation behind the launch of the Absa SHE proposition which is tailor-made for the needs of the woman entrepreneurs. This proposition is built on four key pillars: Access to Finance, Access to Market, Access to Information as well as Access to Mentorship and Coaching. In addition, women will have access to trade opportunities within the local and international markets.
Through this proposition, we have committed to empower over one million women entrepreneurs across the country over the next five years with requisite financial and non-financial support to scale up and take their businesses to the next level. In fact, we believe that by one calculation — empowering women — we can improve our country's GDP by 20-30 percent.
The public sector has an equally important role to play in both addressing the constraints and biases that hold back women entrepreneurs and providing opportunities that help them grow. Governments can put in place policies that promote female entrepreneurship to increase women’s access to capital and networks that will enable them to realise their entrepreneurial aspirations. Working together with the private sector (being the power of Partnerships), governments can help create an entrepreneurial ecosystem that promotes gender equality and women’s economic empowerment.
Another way to encourage female entrepreneurship is by increasing women’s financial literacy as a move to close part of the financing gap. In sub-Saharan Africa, only 37 percent of women have a bank account, compared with 48 percent of men, a gap that has only widened over the past several years. Banks and digital financial services can establish programmes teaching basic financial literacy to their clients. Through these programmes, financial service providers can grow their client base, create greater customer loyalty and ensure more reliable returns.
For us, we have established partnerships with various institutions and instituted an internal Group-wide Women Manifesto, which outlines specific initiatives that promote diversity and inclusion across the bank. We also became signatories to the UN Programme — Target Gender Equality — whose main purpose is to continue bridging the gender gap.
Elizabeth Wasunna-Ochwa is the director, Business Banking, Absa Bank Kenya