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Glorifying multi-tasking by women entrepreneurs must stop

Hoàng Thị Bích, who runs a garment factory in Vietnam, with her staff. Photo by Quan Bui Hoang, CARE Vietnam

Hoàng Thị Bích, who runs a garment factory in Vietnam, with her staff. Photo by Quan Bui Hoang, CARE Vietnam

New research from CARE has revealed a stark truth about women entrepreneurs: Despite some progress, gender norms are still keeping women around the world from reaching their business ambitions.

For this study, CARE conducted a series of one-to-one interviews, focus groups, and surveys in Vietnam, Peru, and Pakistan to find out more about the beliefs and sometimes unstated behavior rules that continue to prevent women from reaching their goals.

What we found is that women are still being held back by outmoded ideas about who should be a “breadwinner” and who is a “caregiver.”

The research revealed how ingrained these “social norms” are, as well as who is upholding them and how these beliefs and behaviors continue to prevent women entrepreneurs from fully succeeding.

What’s holding women entrepreneurs back?

CARE's new gender norms research reveals that women entrepreneurs continue to face untold barriers in places like Pakistan, Peru and Vietnam. #GlobalEntrepreneurshipWeek

One of the main culprits holding women back is the community-wide glorification of multi-tasking by women entrepreneurs. The study showed how communities in these countries still expect women to be primary childcare givers and men to be the primary breadwinners, even when women were top-earners in the household.

In Vietnam, for example, 80% of men and 60% of women agreed that businesswomen should be the main childcare giver, despite the additional pressure of running a business.

And 76.6% of those aged over 51 agreed that men should be the main breadwinner for their households.

In Peru, 80% of women interviewed say they are bound by traditional gender roles and the expectations and pressures from the family and society as caregivers. Some of these women also shared that gender inequality and stereotypes are being upheld by women themselves, often influenced by the religious belief that the man is the head of the household.

In Vietnam, mothers-in-law were revealed as the staunch upholders of the norm related to childcare, the ones who would most disapprove if the man does more childcare than the woman. Surprisingly this was followed closely by the woman entrepreneur herself.

Alarmingly, in Pakistan, women indicated that if they start earning more than their male family members, they are overburdened with household responsibilities to the point that they are forced to cut down on, or even discontinue, their business.

Furthermore, women entrepreneurs who leave the house for business without a male family member are considered less moral and may be subject to harassment or sexual requests in return for work-related agreements.

One bright spot in the research was that only 36.7% of 26-50 year-olds in Vietnam agreed with the norm that women should be the main caregiver, showing a more progressive response by the younger cohort toward traditional gender roles.

Building new opportunities

Through a combination of far-reaching social media campaigns and in-person workshops, CARE is beginning to see small changes.

Media campaigns in all three countries, with male and female role models, have showcased shared responsibility in the home and normalized the growth and success of women entrepreneurs, with the campaigns generating a widespread appreciation for female entrepreneurs.

By working together with women and their support networks, CARE and its partners are promoting the importance of shared responsibility at home, and the enormous contribution women entrepreneurs are making to their families, communities, and economies.

By studying the barriers that are holding women entrepreneurs back, and then working closely with local partners to break down those barriers, CARE is building new opportunities for women entrepreneurs wanting to grow their businesses.

Despite the Ignite program launching in the midst of the pandemic, the program has unlocked 115 million USD in loan capital for women entrepreneurs, a twenty-two-fold uplift of the original program funding provided by the Mastercard Center for Inclusive Growth.

83% of Ignite participants tell us that the program has contributed to an increase in their business sales, helping to build their financial resilience.

Having conducted this research, we are making changes to our programming. We are developing new training, not just for women and their families, but also for our financial partners. We will also continue our campaigns and outreach activities which promote and normalize shared responsibility and women’s financial and digital independence.

A long-term commitment to tackling gender norms

Work on financial inclusion to date has been focused on products and services, without fully understanding and addressing what is preventing women from accessing or using them. Very few organizations working in this field are addressing the gender norms that hold women entrepreneurs back, as it requires longer-term commitment.

Time-poverty, for example, is a major issue interconnected with childcare and household duties. CARE’s experience shows that engagement at the household level, can result in a huge increase in shared household responsibilities and decision-making. This in turn gives women increased opportunities and time to focus on growing their own businesses and contributing to their local economies.

Join us in challenging the gender norms that hold women entrepreneurs back. Get in touch via email: entrepreneurship@care.org

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