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How is the ICR Facility supporting women entrepreneurs? And why is it still needed?




The ICR Facility is supporting its partners to lower legal and administrative barriers and increase access to finance for women-owned/led businesses. We are also mainstreaming an inclusive approach in industrial policies. Our new ICReport “How to make the Business Environment work for Women’s Economic Empowerment” builds on an earlier publication “Business Environment Reforms to support women-owned businesses in ACP countries” and demonstrates how the recommendations made can be implemented in practice with the ICR Facility. Where to start and how to make a change through short term technical assistance?

Lowering legal barriers

Legal barriers, such as unequal rights to land and property, pose formidable obstacles for women entrepreneurs, restricting their access to finance and hindering their economic empowerment. Discriminatory laws and cultural norms further compound these challenges, depriving women of the opportunity to leverage their assets for business development and economic independence. For example, in many countries, women face legal restrictions on property ownership, inheritance rights, and access to credit. Even when legal provisions grant women equal rights to inherit property, cultural norms often undermine their ability to assert these rights effectively. Customary laws may prioritize male inheritance, leaving women marginalized and economically vulnerable.

In Uganda, the ICR Facility partnered with the Uganda Association of Women Lawyers (FIDA-U) to support legal reforms that protect women’s property rights. Through targeted advocacy campaigns and policy dialogues, FIDA-U is lobbying for amendments to property laws, granting women equal rights to own property. These reforms would empower women to assert their rights effectively, providing them with a critical asset base for business development and economic independence.

Lowering administrative barriers

Administrative barriers exacerbate the situation, as women-owned/led enterprises struggle to navigate complex registration processes and access vital information and resources. Bureaucratic red tape and corruption are significant impediments for women entrepreneurs seeking to formalize their businesses. Limited access to information and networks as well as scarcity of time due to often unbalanced care and household responsibilities further compounds the challenges, leaving women entrepreneurs isolated and disadvantaged in competitive markets.

This leads to a situation where women are more likely than men to operate in the informal sector. In Rwanda, the City of Kigali wanted to improve the resilience of the sector. The ICR Facility conducted a study to understand the current situation of the informal workers, the challenges women face and the linkages to the wider local economy. Based on the study, an action plan was developed, which has prompted the creation of designated spaces for informal street merchants, offering safer operating environments, especially for women; one year after the intervention 28 markets are operating.  Read our story to find out how it has changed the lives of women street vendors

Increasing access to finance

Access to finance remains a critical challenge for women entrepreneurs. Financial institutions often lack mechanisms that consider the unique characteristics of women-owned/led businesses. Traditional credit assessment models may not adequately capture the value of social capital, networks, and alternative forms of collateral that women entrepreneurs often leverage. This results in a risk-averse approach from lenders, translating into higher interest rates, restrictive loan terms, and a general reluctance to invest in women-led ventures. Women entrepreneurs are more likely to face higher interest rates and shorter loan terms compared to their male counterparts.

 

The ICR is supporting the Small and Medium Enterprises Development Agency of Nigeria (SMEDAN) and its partners design and deliver gender responsive financial interventions for women-owned/led businesses in Nigeria. Its aim is to get more women-owned business access to finance and grow their business to improve their economic situation and create more job opportunities. By providing women entrepreneurs with the financial resources, they need to thrive, these initiatives are breaking down barriers and unlocking new opportunities for economic growth.

Mainstreaming an inclusive approach

Moreover, the ICR Facility is actively fostering economic diversification, resilience, and inclusivity through the development of inclusive industrial policies. In Eswatini and Seychelles, the ICR Facility has worked with governments to develop policies that promote women’s participation in the manufacturing sector. These policies include targeted incentives for women-owned/led businesses, access to training and capacity-building programmes, and initiatives to enhance market access for women entrepreneurs. By creating an enabling environment for women in key economic sectors, these policies are paving the way for greater gender equality and economic prosperity.

 

“The new policy will address issues such as the active economic participation of women, the youth, persons living with disabilities as well as MSMEs. Currently, the Eswatini economy is not inclusive, as these groups are not equally benefiting from the country’s manufacturing activities, and this has created a highly inequal society. The Industrial Policy can alleviate this challenge of low participation by; promoting the creation of other manufacturing sectors that can offer better quality of jobs and benefits to the society, promoting sectors and jobs that could bring higher women participation and trigger women’s economic empowerment, promoting laws, regulation and incentives to attract more MSMEs participation, and promoting jobs that can attract the youth and people living in disabled conditions and provide incentives to companies to hire them.”

Zamanyambose B. Mtetwa, Director of Industry, Ministry of Commerce, Industry and Trade, Government of Eswatini

 

Going beyond legal, administrative and financial barriers

The battle for equality extends beyond legal, administrative and financial barriers though. Social norms and deeply ingrained gender stereotypes can create a hostile environment for women entrepreneurs. Societal expectations often relegate women to domestic roles, undermining their entrepreneurial aspirations and limiting their access to support networks traditionally dominated by men. This lack of role models and mentors can further discourage women from pursuing entrepreneurial ventures. Furthermore, unconscious bias can play a significant role in hindering their progress. Investors, venture capitalists, and even customers may harbour subconscious biases against women-owned/led businesses, leading to underestimation of their potential and reluctance to invest.

 

The ICR Facility’s Knowledge Hub contributes to awareness raising of these needs by providing reports on women’s economic empowerment, including data, recommendations, tools and good practice. You can also find our offer of open courses here, to become a women’s economic empowerment champion yourself.

More information on how the ICR Facility promotes women’s economic empowerment here in our latest ICReport“How to make the Business Environment work for Women’s Economic Empowerment?”

This publication is part of an intervention supported by the Investment Climate Reform (ICR) Facility. The ICR Facility is co-funded by the European Union (EU), the Organisation of African, Caribbean and Pacific States (OACPS) under the 11th European Development Fund (EDF), the German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ) and the British Council. The ICR Facility is implemented by GIZ, the British Council, Expertise France, and SNV. The contents of this publication are the sole responsibility of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the donors or the implementing partners.

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