Women’s entrepreneurship and empowerment continue to be key focus areas of development initiatives and action in Africa. While an increasing number of women occupy leadership positions in political, social and economic sectors, this has not translated into the overall empowerment of women.
In part, this is because initiatives and policies to promote women to decision-making positions very rarely transform the systems and fundamental prejudices that create a gap between women’s formal and actual power. Strategies to empower women do not sufficiently change the perception held by those in power of women and their capabilities, and that this is only partly achieved by investing in women’s education and ability to generate an income. In addition, a sole focus on promoting individual women to strategic positions overlooks the important role women’s organising plays in challenging and undoing the beliefs and systems that prevent women from achieving equality in all spheres of their lives.
This study investigates the main drivers, obstacles and opportunities for women’s empowerment in Africa, specifically looking at the entrepreneurial activities of women in the Graca Machel Trust’s Women Creating Wealth (WCW) programme in Tanzania, Malawi and Zambia. Entrepreneurship, and particularly African women’s entrepreneurship, is increasingly hailed as one of the cornerstones of women’s empowerment and overall economic growth on the continent. While several studies have examined the structural barriers faced by female entrepreneurs in Africa, few have analysed the “internal” journey a woman undertakes from starting a business to operating and growing one.
This study analyses the interviewed WCW participants’ paths and concludes that the journey to empowerment starts with the self – with women building a foundation of self-esteem and confidence in themselves. This confidence is then nurtured and reinforced by specific actions the women take to grow their businesses and by key relationships in her business and personal life. For some women this journey culminated in these relationships pushing them to take collective action to counter the structural barriers female entrepreneurs encounter in growing their enterprises.
The findings of the study included the motivation for becoming an entrepreneur, as well as the key elements of developing self-esteem, confidence and emotional intelligence in the empowerment journey. It also found that the push for improved regulation and access to finance and markets resulted in a sense of pride. The study concludes with the need to develop a deeper understanding of how relationships impact an African woman’s entrepreneurial journey and ultimately her empowerment.