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Governments urged to support women in business urged to support women in business


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Experts ask governments to set up stimulus packages for women running SMEs

Global women development experts have called out governments' blindness to credit needs of women running micro, small and medium enterprises (MSMEs) whose businesses have borne the brunt of Covid-19 crisis. 

International Labour Organisation has already warned close to 25 million people globally would lose jobs due to the epidemic with women in the informal sector alongside those in low-paid jobs being among the most affected.

In Kenya, the government estimates 500,000 people will be jobless due to economic slowdown, a consequence of the outbreak of the deadly disease. And those to lose jobs are in informal sector where women are a majority.

CREDIT NEEDS

Women constitute 60.7 per cent of unlicensed and 31.4 per cent of licensed

MSMEs in Kenya according to a 2016 baseline survey by Kenya National Bureau of Statistics.

Despite this reality, governments have exempted women's credit needs from stimulus packages, the women development experts say.

"It's a great concern that of the 110 countries that have made more than 350 specific finance instrument available to small business...there hasn't been any that specifically addresses special needs of women in businesses," Chief Executive Officer of Women's World Banking, Mary Ellen said during a May 6, webinar organised by Echo Network Africa to discuss gender equality issues arising from Covid-19.

She said by virtue of women's MSMEs contributing greatly to Gross Domestic Product (GDP) calls for governments' deliberate actions to enable them become resilient to economic shocks.

ECONOMIC ENGINES

Women businesses account for 40 per cent of global revenue while in Kenya, they make up the 20 per cent share, a contribution Ms Ellen said cannot be ignored.

"To ignore those economic engines is absolutely a mistake," noted Ms Ellen.

Further, the pandemic has prompted digitisation of business operations, a shift she warned would disadvantage millions of women in MSMEs due to lack of access to technology.

On May 1, United Nations Economic Commission for Africa director of Gender, Poverty and Social Policy, Thokozile Ruzvidzo noted that women are crucial pillars in revitalising the African region's economy hence the necessity of stimulus packages responding to their specific needs.

“We are encouraging member States to put in place stimulus packages like start-up funds for women to start opening up their businesses,” she said during a webinar organised by the UN agency.

She said exclusion of women from fiscal strategies aimed at reviving the economy would further gender inequalities.

When President Uhuru Kenyatta announced tax breaks on March 25, none of them was specific to women in the informal economy.

Reduction of Pay-As-You-Earn from 30 per cent to 25 percent benefited the formally employed. Drop of Value Added Tax (VAT) to 14 per cent from 16 per cent equally advantaged manufacturers.

INFORMAL ECONOMY

These tax measures, Director of International Centre for Research on Women, Dr Cleopatra Mugyenyi said in an earlier interview that they excluded women in the informal economy, hence fails to cushion them from collapse of their businesses.

The President is however expected to announce more measures on jumpstarting the economy.

In April, women economic experts at United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) appealed to governments across the globe to bailout women enterprises.

Deputy Secretary-General Isabelle Durant and Director of Division on International Trade and Commodities Pamela Coke-Hamilton, said the pandemic presented an opportunity to institute systemic changes for protection of women from future economic shocks.

“Government bailouts and support measures should not only prop up large and medium-sized enterprises,” they noted on their co-authored article published on UNCTAD’s website.

“But also micro and small businesses where women entrepreneurs are relatively more represented,” they added.