Ignoring the Care Work African Women Do: How CSR Initiatives Geared Towards African Female Entrepreneurship may be Missing the MarkYolandaAD
“Supporting women entrepreneurs is just good business”. These are the words of the Senior Vice President and Head of Sub-Saharan Africa at Visa, Aida Diarra. And while many companies would agree, are they doing enough?
According to the 2019/2020 Global Entrepreneurship Monitor (GEM), the African continent has seen the largest rise in female entrepreneurs across the globe in the last five years. Ironically, the continent with the fastest growing number of female entrepreneurs also has the least CSI initiatives focused on female entrepreneurship. This is not to say that companies and non-profit organisations that operate on African soil are not paying attention to the needs of African women in entrepreneurship. For the last several years, private-sector-funded initiatives and government initiatives have been helping women in Africa create and grow their businesses. De Beers Group, Visa, Mastercard, SHEquity, and SME South Africa are just a few of the organisations that continue to invest in female entrepreneurship.
While organisations have begun to realize the importance of investing in the people who form the backbone of society – women – many initiatives fail because companies do not adequately understand the financial and cultural barriers that women entrepreneurs face. Millions of women across Africa continue to struggle and fail in their business endeavor’s due to a lack of access to quality education, funding, and financial services, high barriers to entry into male-dominated industries, as well as cultural barriers that restrict women to their households due to domestic chores and child-care needs.
More often than not, African women are driven to entrepreneurship out of necessity rather than by choice or passion, but this does not make them any less deserving of corporate and state support. Their entrepreneurial activities, regardless of motive, put food on the table and clothe their children and communities. Paradoxically, the group of people who have been historically labelled as the least economically active group, are often the sole breadwinners of their respective households. Female-headed households and communities are a common occurrence in Africa. As of 2015, nearly one in four households in Sub-Saharan Africa were headed by a woman – far higher than any other region in the world.
Unlike men, a woman’s contribution to the household isn’t limited to income. Women are also responsible for the reproduction, childcare, domestic needs, love, and nurture needed to build a happy and functional home – all of which is forgotten and unpaid work, but work nonetheless. Essentially this is the work that enables the mainstream economy to exist and thrive. Disadvantaged women with families and communities who look to them for income and care do not have the luxury of searching for formal employment. They are often bound to their homes, forcing them to embark on an entrepreneurial journey that brings in income, but that does not require them to neglect their homely duties.
CSR initiatives typically focus on the mainstream economy – an economy that is patriarchically centred on men with women’s contributions consistently ignored. It is time both private and public organisations conceptualise CSR programmes that not only aid female entrepreneurs but also support and highlight the other equally important work they do that goes unnoticed and unrewarded.
To ignore care work is to ignore African women. Companies therefore need to ask themselves: How can our CSR strategies and initiatives be adapted for an expanded, feminist definition of entrepreneurship that takes account of the broader role of African women in society?
About the Author:
Yolanda Gossel is the Founder and Programme Director at Five Tulips, a South African based sustainability and corporate social investment (CSI) consultancy. Five Tulips forges partnerships between communities, public and private sectors and individuals for social upliftment and preservation of our planets resources and ecosystems.
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