26 September 2002

Zimbabwe: Some Challenges Facing Women Entrepreneurs

There is a growing number of women who are now running their own businesses in Zimbabwe.

For them, this road to riches has been scattered with many obstacles. While many of these women are entrepreneurs, they are often unable to become self-sufficient or to adequately support their families through entrepreneurship.

Male or female entrepreneurs usually require financial assistance of some kind in order to launch their ventures, be it a formal bank loan or money from a savings account.

Some women in Zimbabwe, particularly in rural communities have few opportunities to borrow money.

According to a report by United Nations Industrial Development Organisation (UNIDO) "despite evidence that women's loan repayment rates are higher than men's, women still face more difficulties in obtaining credit."

Part of the problem is the discriminatory attitudes of banks and some informal lending groups (UNIDO, 1995).

Imagine a rural woman who has a brilliant business idea and knows that her product will sell but cannot clearly articulate her plans on paper as expected by the financial institutes. Her idea will remain an idea and no one will benefit in the end.

In addition, these women might also lack the necessary information regarding the numerous financial institutions that are in the country and the different products offered by each. The terminology used during the business interviews in these financial institutions is really too intimidating for some of the applicants and this is exacerbated by the ambience within the institutions.

However, there seems to be some light at the end of the tunnel as some entrepreneurs have seen opportunities by offering products that meet the needs of women.

There are some formal and informal financial institutons that are willing to lend money with very little collateral and without letting the applicants go through the rigorous interviews. There is need however for such institutions to market themselves and be known by these women.

Another big problem facing female entrepreneurs is the fact that most enterprises they operate are of small or medium size. Even if they produce very good quality products, they cannot directly export their products to foreign countries.

In some cases they have to export them through bigger companies thereby paying high service charges. This creates difficulties for those entrepreneurs, as their businesses will not make enough profit to allow for growth.

The tendency to remain within the SME sector could also be partly linked to women's inability to borrow large amounts of money and their general limited access to critical information needed for survival in this competitive world.

One is required to have the latest information about product trends due to the constant changes characteristic of the market place. If such information is not available, it would be difficult to respond to the needs of the consumers.

Women's family obligations, as highlighted in the previous articles also bar them from becoming successful entrepreneurs. The responsibility of looking after young children, the home and older dependent family members, leaves women with very little time and energy to devote to their own businesses.

Traditional gender role expectations and sexist attitudes in many countries make it even more difficult for women to think of delegating their responsibilities to their family members.

Lastly, it has been established that women rarely support each other in business as well as in professional life. This, in some circles, is refereed to as the "Queen Bee Syndrome". This is where women who have "made it" find it difficult to support, encourage and mentor other women who have not. They (the successful ones) see those who have not made it as unable and incapable. The 'Queen Bee' feels that if she has done it, why can't these other women do it as well.

It is because of this attitude that the 'Queen Bee' feels little animosity toward the systems that have permitted her to reach the top and as a result she will isolate herself from other women because they are not 'capable' enough.

Women need each other so that they can form and support professional networks that will help them assist each others' developments.

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