Why women in business are on the lighter side of the seesaw

Despite commendable strides registered by Rwanda in regards to gender equality, this positive trend has unfortunately not been fully reflected in the business sector when it comes to women.
A lady at her vegetable stall in Nyabugogo market. File photo

The focus of many discussions is often on the women – or lack thereof – cracking typically male dominated industries, such as engineering, but there is also the unanswered question of why there are few women in the business sector.

Despite commendable strides registered by Rwanda in ensuring gender equality in leadership, this positive trend has not been fully reflected in the business sector.


Current statistics on the number of female entrepreneurs are yet to be released by the Private Sector Federation (PSF), however, a 2014 census report by the National Institute of Statistics in Rwanda indicated that only 26.8 per cent of sole proprietorship establishments are owned by women, compared to 73.2 per cent owned by men.


Why are women entrepreneurs few?

Sarah Kirenga, the 1st Vice Chairperson for the PSF Chamber of Women, says that although more women are embracing entrepreneurship, they face different challenges. To shed light on some of these inconsistencies, she cites a number of challenges.


“The number one challenge women in business face is the fear of failure. Failure is a very real possibility in any business venture, but when it comes to women in business; fear to fail becomes a great concern to growing the business, hence, women are afraid to take up big risks. I believe you need to have massive failure to have massive success, you may need 100 ‘nos’ to get one ‘yes,’ but that one ‘yes’ will make you more successful tomorrow than you were today.”

Kirenga encourages female entrepreneurs to work through the moments of self-doubt that every business owner faces and stop comparing themselves to their male counterparts.

Another challenge, she mentions, is work-life balance. Work-life balance is a goal of many entrepreneurs regardless of their gender, but mothers who start businesses have to simultaneously run their families and their companies. And in this area, traditional gender expectations often still prevail, she notes.

“Women in business, especially those in the informal sector, still depend more on being sponsored to participate in international trade exhibitions or study trips. There is need for one to invest time and money in networking and gaining more exposure because nothing comes on a silver platter.”

She also points out the issue of limited access to finance and high bank interest rates that limit women in accessing loans.

“Banks need to develop products and services that are customised for women in business and it will be even better if interest rates charged on loans are reduced for women.”

Pierre-Celestin Rwabukumba, the chief executive officer at Rwanda Stock Exchange, says women are lagging behind in the business sector because of many aspects, mostly emanating from culture.

“It’s because of the general patriarchal kind of environment we have been living in for decades. Business doesn’t change because it is done in the same society,” he says.

He, however, notes others factors such as limited access to credit and limited financial inclusion.

In an article published in The New Times in 2016, it was noted that women complained that banks do not give start-ups easily, however, the reality was that substandard business proposals are forwarded, which makes it hard for banks to finance them.

What entrepreneurs say

Jackson Harlet Byamungu, the founder of Gravity Search LTD, says women think they don’t have what it takes to make it in business, that’s why they choose to be employed.

He recalls the time he made the decision to quit his job to start a company; he had invited a female colleague to partner with him but she turned down the offer because she “feared to venture into the unknown”.

“She was our secretary and I knew she had the skills, so I wanted us to partner and start the company but she told me she couldn’t because she didn’t have what it takes to run a business.  We were on the same level but I was ready to do it and she was scared. So I think many women are not confident enough to explore their potential,” Byamungu says.

He also believes that when running a business it doesn’t matter if you’re a man or woman, you just need to have the passion and the zeal to thrive.

Byamungu says it’s up to women to overcome their fears. “We go to the same schools, we are taught by the same teachers, we are given the same exact skills; they just have to go for it.

“The good thing is the Government is doing a lot to empower women and we appreciate that, so women just need to embrace this and utilise these opportunities,” he adds. 

Violette Iranzi, a business owner, says some women lack skills whereas others prefer the comfort and security of office jobs.

“There is a lot of uncertainty when it comes to business and it’s only a few women who can endure this. At times the market is tough and for one to survive, they have to work twice as hard yet very few women would choose to struggle,” Iranzi says.

What needs to be done?

Jackline Tumukunde, the founder of Jallyn Travels, says women empowerment and provision of financial facilities can help more women join the business sector.

“There is also need to keep educating women about the industry and how to run successful businesses, because women have great ideas but lack motivation or financial support,” she says.

She also calls to women to make use of the available opportunities in the country.

“Our country believes in women and gives them opportunities and the right platforms to operate, women need to utilise this chance,” she says.

Rwabukumba says a lot has been said in terms of empowering women, and it’s time to put it in action.

“We need to focus on competence and also work on changing the mind-set, and, providing equal opportunities for men and women,” he says.

He also says emphasis should be put in educating women and girls and also empowering them to be resilient.

Kirenga also adds that there is need for more marketing and advertisement, saying that women need to up their game by promoting their products if they are to survive in the business sector.

“I see it with Kenya, for example, the private sector boosts their products through advertisement and through that they have been able to convince the consumer’s mindset and hence grown their brand loyalty.  Our women in business need to emulate great brands’ culture of marketing and advertisement, otherwise it will always remain difficult to penetrate other markets outside Rwanda. 

“To perfect their business, for instance, those who deal in exports need more knowledge on how to improve their packaging. Good packaging promotes a product as it is easily identified.”

Kirenga notes that in Rwanda, since there is zero tolerance on corruption, tenders are awarded fairly, hence women just need to use the space available and cut off all barriers that affect them from reaching their potential.


What can be done to have more women in the business sector?

Diane Niyibogora, President - The Journalism Club, Akillah Institute
I think creating more awareness is important. Initiatives that are ready to support women are there, but many women are not aware of such opportunities. Women also need to be trained on how to be independent, since some are still very much dependent on their husbands. The government can help with this.


George Birungi, Comedian
Women are better entrepreneurs than men, and are also better at saving. But it all comes down to confidence; you need to believe you can achieve what you want. Some may call it being cocky but it’s not. Men tend to be daring and I think women can do the same.


Janet Gasatura, Proprietor — Slice&Cakes
The government should support women, for example, give them tax exemption for at least the starting years. Some people shy away from business because of taxes and women fear risks, so I think giving them a grace period can really be helpful. Also, they can provide them with skills in managerial and financial management.


Ismail Itinywe, Manager — Glory Shop
Women need to be ruthless if they are to succeed in the business sector. They need to be hardworking and tough enough to face the hurdles that come with self-employment. They can attend seminars and trainings to sharpen their skills. 


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