Challenges faced by urban Zimbabwean women entrepreneurs
Nani, Gwendoline Vusumuzi
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The primary objective of this study was to investigate the challenges that urban Zimbabwean women entrepreneurs face. The study was motivated by the theoretical findings that women have always been discriminated against politically, economically, socio‐culturally, legally, educationally and at work. Scholars of gender studies assert that despite the fact that over the last decades women had attained educational levels comparable to those of men, women still remained in relatively low paying jobs (Wirth, 2001:49; Carter & Silva, 2010:19, 20‐1). Due to frustrations and challenges faced in the workplace, some women in both developed and developing countries had left formal employment to start their own businesses. According to Coulter (2000:114), even in business where women had opted to be, they continued to face challenges. A review of literature further indicated that the historical background of women in developed countries differed from that of women in developing countries because of differences in environmental factors (Adler & Israeli quoted by Woldie & Ardesua, 2004:79). However, the challenges that women faced were similar except that in developed countries more gains had been registered in improving women’s lives compared to developing countries. Theoretical findings about Zimbabwe showed that historically, women were excluded from actively participating in politics and in decision making. Economically, women were denied ownership of resources such as land and were thus dependent on men who were regarded as bread winners. Socio‐culturally, activities were arranged according to gender; thus, there were activities strictly done by men and others reserved for women. Legally, women were regarded as minors and for that reason women could not enter into any contractual obligations in their own right. In regards to education, girls were encouraged to take up subjects that were not strategically linked to the mainstream economy, while boys were channeled towards subjects that would enable them to occupy meaningful and strategic positions in the workplace. However, it was worth noting that the Government of Zimbabwe, just like governments in other countries had instituted legal amendments to redress discrimination on the basis of sex and positive developments had been achieved. These developments had enabled women to start their own businesses. According to Ministry of Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs), Zimbabwe, 2010), in Zimbabwe, there are 20 665 registered urban women entrepreneurs. In the light of the statement by Coulter (2000:114) that in business women continued to face challenges, it was fundamental that the challenges faced by urban Zimbabwean women entrepreneurs be identified, hence the need for this study. Identification of these challenges would enable the government of Zimbabwe and other stakeholders to devise specific policies and strategies to minimise the impact of these challenges on women owned businesses. This would enable women entrepreneurs to operate viable and sustainable businesses. An empirical study was therefore conducted to investigate what the challenges women entrepreneurs faced were. This study was a combination of quantitative research design and descriptive research in which the simple random sampling technique was used to draw the sample. The sample comprised 580 registered women entrepreneurs drawn from the Small and Medium Enterprises sector in the four major cities of Zimbabwe, namely, Harare, Bulawayo, Gweru and Masvingo. The survey method was adopted as the data gathering method where a self constructed and self administered questionnaire was used as the data gathering instrument. A pilot study was conducted before the questionnaires were distributed for the main study. Reliability testing of the questionnaire showed a Cronbach’s Alpha value of 0.802 for all Likert questions based on the background of women of Zimbabwe and business challenges. These results indicated that the questionnaire was reliable as a data collecting instrument. Data collected was transformed for statistical analysis through the use of Excel software. After data processing, the Statistical Packages for Social Sciences (SPSS) was used for data analysis. Statistical techniques used in this study included frequencies, percentages, cross tabulations and Pearson chi‐square tests, descriptive statistics and Analysis of Variance (ANOVA). Relating to respondents’ demographic profile, empirical results showed that 50.4 percent of the respondents in this study are married compared to 24.5 percent single and 25.1 percent separated, divorced or widowed. Results further indicated that 83.8 percent of the respondents have children and 73.2 percent have dependent children. The average number of children is 2.26 and the average number of dependent children is 1.50. The average age of respondents in this study was 38.0 years. Results further indicated that respondents in this study are highly qualified, with 51.5 percent having tertiary education. The dominant religion in this study was Christianity. Most of the respondents owned businesses in the services sector compared to ‘other’ businesses (67.2 percent and 32.8 percent respectively). Results indicated that 54.7 percent of the respondents had been in business for 5 years and below. Results also showed that 37.2 percent of the respondents had relevant start‐up experience. In terms of start‐up capital, women entrepreneurs in this study used internal more than external sources of finance (79.2 percent and 20.8 percent respectively). Findings also indicated that women entrepreneurs were predominantly sole proprietors compared to those in partnership. The following empirical findings were indicated regarding women’s background. Firstly, women can now actively participate in politics and decision making processes in spite of the fact that women have more confidence in male than female political leaders. Secondly, economically, women can own property in their own right and the majority of women are no longer financially dependent on men. Thirdly, socio‐culturally, women are more confident than they were historically and can now challenge men on religious issues. Fourthly, women can now engage in activities that were previously done by men only, such as being formally employed. Men can also perform duties that were previously done by women only. Fifthly, legally, men and women are equal before the law. Sixthly, after 18 years of age, women can make any legal decisions without consulting male members of the family. Seventhly, some men do not accept women as their equals. Eighthly, some men still abuse their wives because they have paid lobola (bride price) for them. Ninthly, despite their legal rights, married women predominantly still have to consult their husbands before making any business decisions. Tenthly, regarding education, girls are now given equal educational opportunities by their parents and at school girls are free to study subjects and embark on courses of their choices. However, there are still some cultures and religions that expect girls to leave school young to marry. Finally, at work, both in the private and public sectors, there are equal job opportunities for both men and women. There are also fair promotional opportunities for both men and women in the public and private sectors. Men and women doing the same jobs are remunerated at the same levels and there is equal taxation for both men and women. There are no jobs exclusively reserved for women both in the government and private sectors. However, there are more educated men than women in the job market. According to empirical results, women started their businesses due to opportunity (pull) and necessity (push) factors. Findings also showed that some women have left formal employment to start their own businesses due to work related factors such as the “glass ceiling” that blocked their access to top executive ranks; gender role stereo typing, negative societal influences and pay differentials, lack of acceptance by men, sexual harassment, balancing home and family responsibilities, and stress. The following empirical results were revealed about the market environment: First, customers no longer look down upon women owned businesses. Second, male workers now respect women who have employed them. Third, suppliers now offer both men and women entrepreneurs the same credit terms. Fourth, bank officials in Zimbabwe give women the same treatment as men when applying for loans. Fifth, women entrepreneurs can easily access established private business networks. Sixth, male auditors have developed a positive attitude towards women running businesses. Finally, some men entrepreneurs have accepted women entrepreneurs as equal business partners. The study also revealed some challenges that women entrepreneurs still have to contend with in the market environment. Women still have a problem of lack of collateral. Another challenge that women entrepreneurs face is that of becoming members of formal business organisations. Women also find it difficult to access government networks. According to empirical findings on the macro environment, women now have equal chances of getting business tenders as men. On the socio‐cultural front women indicated that their religions allowed them to run their own businesses. There are now support services to enable women to operate their own businesses. Respondents also indicated that they registered their businesses without legal problems and that women can now own property in their own names. Women entrepreneurs also confirmed that amended laws have brought equality between men and women entrepreneurs. However, empirical results also indicated that at economic level, women still find it difficult to enter male dominated sectors like construction. Socio‐culturally, most women entrepreneurs indicated that they still face the challenges of balancing home and business responsibilities. Despite the availability of support services, the HIV/AIDS pandemic has also exacerbated their workload. Married women still have to request their husbands to co‐sign before they can get any loans. Conclusively, empirical findings indicate that most of the cases of discrimination highlighted in the problem statement in Chapter 1 Section 1.4, and in the historical background of Zimbabwean business women, have been reduced and in some cases eliminated.