In Summary
  • Closely observing the entire supply chain of horticultural products that end up at City Market shows that men own the farms, women tend the farms, men are the wholesalers and women are the vendors at the tail end of the chain.
  • More often than not, women entrepreneurs live in disadvantaged neighbourhoods and have to be home early enough for fear of being raped by criminals. 
  • The practice and orientation of entrepreneurship is a product of our socio-economic environment that is underpinned by deep-rooted norms of behaviour. 

Across the world, there seems to be a quiet paradigm shift in the development discourse on women’s rights and empowerment.

In Kenya there is an intense debate on how to accommodate women’s constitutional rights. 

Policymakers have tried to create women-centred policies for empowerment, such as the Women Enterprise Fund. Academia, too, is closely pursuing women-related human rights and empowerment. 

However, all this discourse glosses over the deep-rooted cultural alienation of women.

In this article, I will focus on the gender gap in Kenya’s entrepreneurialism. In other words, I will explore the differences between men and women with respect to the numbers involved as well as the dynamics in entrepreneurial activity. 

I will also seek to show differences in business choices, growth patterns and performance.

I was motivated to write this article out of curiosity after my observations of mentees, as well as an ongoing longitudinal observation of five mama mboga (female vegetable vendors), and five male-owned micro enterprises at City Market in Parklands, Nairobi. 

Although the study is ongoing, there is enough evidence to hypothesise that the depth of marginalisation of women is deeper than is often imagined. My preliminary findings show that women’s progress is hindered by many roadblocks that are hidden behind culture. 

The gender gap (systematic differences in the outcomes that men and women attain in entrepreneurship) keeps widening, directly contradicting the narrative of women entrepreneurship that is dominating the media today. 

Closely observing the entire supply chain of horticultural products that end up at City Market shows that men own the farms, women tend the farms, men are the wholesalers and women are the vendors at the tail end of the chain. It is women who suffer losses from the perishable goods.

A few of the men who compete directly with mama mboga quickly move up the ladder by moving into sourcing the supplies from farmers. 

Women, on the other hand, do not have the flexibility to match their male competitors. Their options are limited by the extent to which their spouses can withstand the liberties the business requires.

Lack of flexibility in a volatile market of perishables means that women fail to get competitive information, especially when supply exceeds demand. In most cases, they are not able to respond to market dynamics, leaving them with excess produce that ends up in the garbage dump. 

While men have time to undergo training, family pressures and running a business leaves women with no time for any form of training from well-wishers. More often than not, these entrepreneurs live in disadvantaged neighbourhoods and have to be home early enough for fear of being raped by criminals. 

Men, on the other hand, have no such fear. They can work for long hours to the disadvantage of their female counterparts.  

Support from the family and society in general is hard to come by for women, since their spouses require that they be at home to cook for their family. Yet late evening, when people are leaving work, is the best time for their businesses.

Some of the enterprises run by women are not quite women-owned, since the decision-making process, including on finances, is often controlled by their spouses. Simple decisions, such as credit, become laborious when their spouses are averse to it.

With the advent of mobile money, lending is increasingly becoming inclusive so that lack of finance may be a thing of the past.

The problem is more about the cost of finance than access. However, women who borrow on a short-term basis to avoid conflict with their spouses pay more. 

Many work at the mercy of their spouses. Since their levels of education are often low, they cannot afford to oppose or go against their spouse’s decisions.

Although studies by the Global Entrepreneurship Monitor in 2012 show that on average the differences aren’t too alarming, there is concern when the comparisons are made at the country level. 

UNLICENSED ESTABLISHMENTS

Whilst men globally make up 52 per cent of all entrepreneurial activity, women account for 48 per cent.

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