Education empowers women in Africa

Women attend a face mask distribution event in Maputo, Mozambique, on July 31, 2020. (LEO PEDRO / XINHUA)

ADDIS ABABA-Educational attainment gaps have limited the success of women-owned businesses in Africa, according to a report newly published by the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa, or UNECA.

The “Women’s Entrepreneurship Report” studied data from tens of thousands of African entrepreneurs and firms to establish links between education, access to finance and improved productivity.

“Increasing women’s educational attainment can improve their ability to own a bank account and save for business. Women with secondary education are 51 times more likely to have a bank account and 22 times more likely to save than those with lower attainment,” reads the report.

Women with primary education or less are 27 times more likely to have started a business by necessity than those with higher attainment driven by opportunity.

United Nations Economic Commission for Africa

The commission revealed, among other things, that “education is a critical factor for productive female entrepreneurship in Africa”.

“Women with primary education or less are 27 times more likely to have started a business by necessity than those with higher attainment driven by opportunity,” it said.

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While Africa leads the world in terms of the number of female entrepreneurs, they largely start a business by necessity and face more barriers in securing support and investment, according to the report.

Transforming businesses

The UNECA pointed out that necessity-driven entrepreneurs lack productive and innovative activities which could transform their businesses.

In comparison, opportunity-motivated entrepreneurs are more likely to operate in profitable sectors and are expected to add about 17 more jobs on average in the next five years.

The report showed a positive link between access to finance and women’s business practices and performance.

The UNECA’s Director for Gender, Poverty and Social Policy Division, Thokozile Ruzvidzo, said: “Women’s entrepreneurship is recognized as the biggest yet underutilized opportunity for sustained economic growth and social development.

“Successful female entrepreneurship is not only a catalyst for women’s economic empowerment and regional self-sufficiency but is also essential to recover from the economic impacts of COVID-19,” Ruzvidzo said.

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The UNECA recommended in the report that African countries to focus on increasing women’s education beyond primary schooling and enforcing laws to remove barriers to education.

It also proposed market-specific vocational education, soft and hard skills training, and mentorship opportunities which prepare young women for opportunity-driven and high-value entrepreneurship.