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While the impact of COVID-19 outbreak on businesses varies depending on the industry, there's one group that has been hit particularly hard in the world; women-owned small-scale businesses.

A recent survey carried out by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce indicates how businesses have been impacted by the pandemic. For instance, the number of female-owned the business has fallen from 60% in January to 47% in July 2020 and male-owned business from 67% to 62% during the same period of time. This means females fell by 13 points and males by 5 points.  According to International Tarde Centre, more than 90% of women entrepreneurs reported a decrease in sales during the pandemic and have less than three months of cash flow to survive compared to 52% of men-led companies.

Such figures imply that women entrepreneurs were most affected by the stay-at-home orders issued early in the pandemic. After the closure of ‘’non-essential’ businesses (owned by most women), women were left with no option but to stay home and concentrate on their families. Due to the increased domestic responsibilities like homeschooling, child care, and household chores, they would not get time to do other works which could earn them a living. To add to that,  research conducted by the Facebook survey/inc.com, found out that31% of women had spent more time on domestic tasks since the pandemic started, compared to 26% of men. This affected their ability to focus on work thus a decrease in their growth.

As a result, women-led businesses were disproportionately hurt by the stifling effects of shutdowns, and more likely to close than those run by men. 

In Uganda, it is reported that 34.8% of businesses are owned by women which makes East Africa the top-performing country in Africa in terms of women entrepreneurship. It is also a country with the highest percentage of female entrepreneurs with 90.5 percent of women borrowing and saving money to start-up small profitable businesses with as little as what their pocket can afford. These small profitable businesses include; Salons, Fast food restaurant, Selling Clean Water, Tomato farming, Poultry farming, second-hand clothes, hawking, Photocopying, and Printing services.

It was unfortunate that on 30th March 2020, the president of Uganda, his excellency Yoweri Kaguta Museveni imposed a lockdown due to the pandemic that hit the world. This included the closure of non-essential businesses (owned by most women) apart from that selling foodstuff who were allowed to operate.

From that day, this has affected business people especially women since they carry the highest percentage of entrepreneurism in the country. It has been hard for men to regain their businesses, but harder for women because of unavoidable circumstances such as; businesses slowing down, some closing, and others have been forced to change businesses.

Joyce Atuhaire, the director of operations Agro Tourism Association said, “the pandemic affected women differently, some have lost businesses, others started new ones especially those dealing with perishable products due to lack of market.

 

The following were also various ways how women entrepreneurs were affected by the COVID-19 pandemic:

·         Most female entrepreneurs feel that increased family care demands have reduced their ability to focus their attention on their businesses, hurting their ability to generate income. For instance, women employees, especially during required home-based work were more inclined to resign due to increasing childcare needs.

·         The restrictions in the movement have led to more incidences of intimate partner and family violence, hurting the productivity of firms as they struggle to deal with its mental and economic impact on their work and employees.

·         In addition, companies do not know how to address the mental health and well-being of employees during the pandemic. More than one-third of women-owned businesses have expressed increased anxiety due to the uncertainty of COVID 19 and concerns on how to support the health and wellbeing of employees.

Together, these factors could affect women’s opportunities to cope with the crisis and widen differences in health and capital when the pandemic fades. Restrictions in the movement have increased family violence thus affecting both the physical and mental health of family members especially women. These differences affect the performance and focus of women at work(business) and slow down the economic recovery.

Deepening economic gaps caused by the COVID-19 pandemic between men and women will jeopardize a fast return from a recession through huge gaps in productivity. The pervasive inequality could further widen due to the impact of the current crisis. However, there are some solutions to that. These include;

·         Support home-based work, care options, and flexible work schedules. Recruit, retain, and promote women during and after the crisis to prevent loss of talent.

·         Enable women entrepreneurs access to working capital and insurance products  to help stabilize their businesses.

·         Ensure the safety of employees and suppliers by addressing violence and   harassment at the company level.

·         Invest in digital infrastructure to boost home-based work opportunities and mobile internet access, where women scientifically lag behind men. Innovative solutions should be developed and simplified digital solutions to adapt their business models to be more inclusive during the pandemic because the pandemic has revealed digital connectivity is a critical element for business continuity.

 

Since female-owned businesses are most affected, they are more likely to face a big challenge in future investment plans compared to their counterparts (males). However, with the above solutions especially digital connectivity (can help them to work from home, sell their products easily, and it is time-saving) can enable them to continue with their work.

Investing in women's economic empowerment sets a direct path towards gender equality, internet access, and use due to affordability of ICT tools, poverty eradication, inclusive economic growth and sustainable development. Women make enormous contributions to economies by participating in businesses, and agriculture, as entrepreneurs, employees, or by doing unpaid care work at home.

 

Photo: Picture from the African Women in the Informal Sector- Bing images


Compiled by;

Babirye Roseline, program officer Gender and ICT policy Advocacy

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