New research from CARE has revealed how gender role beliefs are deeply ingrained, how these beliefs are enforced and how they prevent women entrepreneurs from reaching their goals. And it is not just men who are piling expectations on women—it is also women’s expectations of themselves and other women.
Even more alarmingly, the study found that when women entrepreneurs start to succeed, they can face sabotage by their male family members and even face violence or sexual harassment.
Gender stereotypes are everywhere. The expectation that a woman should be the main childcare provider is a norm that is ingrained around the world. A woman’s ability to multi-task is put on a pedestal and glorified by both men and women.
A woman’s ability to run her own business, care for her children, run her household and do everything else in between is seen as a badge of honour.
This new research, conducted in Pakistan, Peru and Vietnam, reveals that expectations about women being the main childcare provider and men being the main breadwinner are as strong as ever. CARE, through its Ignite program, supports women entrepreneurs to grow their businesses through increased access to financial and digital resources. Together, we are taking action to challenge some of these harmful beliefs and the behaviours that go along with them that are holding women back.
Shadab Khan, a Pakistani businesswoman, in front of her shop. She is the first entrepreneur in her family and faced a lot of skepticism and criticism. Fawad Aslam/CARE
Belief: Women should be the main childcare providers.
- In Vietnam, 80 per cent of men and 60 per cent of women agreed that women should be the main childcare provider, even when they are running a business.
- In Peru, 80 per cent of women interviewed say they are bound by traditional expectations and pressures from family and society as caregivers.
- In Pakistan, female respondents said childcare responsibilities are one of their biggest challenges.
Belief: Men should be the main breadwinner.
- In Pakistan, women are criticized if they earn more than their husbands. 76 per cent of respondents felt that people, particularly family members, will disapprove if female entrepreneurs’ earnings are greater than their partners’.
- In Peru, 40 per cent of women believe men should be the head of the household.
- In Vietnam, 76.7 per cent of those aged over 51 agree with this belief, however, only 36.7 per cent of 26-50 year-olds agree, showing a more open-minded younger generation willing to challenge stereotypes
The consequences of success
In Pakistan, women indicated that if they earn more than their male family members, they are overburdened with household responsibilities and are forced to cut back on or discontinue their businesses.
Women entrepreneurs who leave the house for business without a male family member are considered less moral and may be subjected to harassment or sexual requests in return for work.
In Peru, 100% of the women entrepreneurs interviewed had either seen or heard about a case of violence within their circle of friends, family and neighbours.
Through a combination of far-reaching social media campaigns and in-person workshops, we are beginning to see small changes. Media campaigns in all three countries, with male and female role models, have led to shared responsibility in the home and normalized the growth and success of women entrepreneurs. Happily, the campaigns are generating a widespread appreciation for women entrepreneurs.
Nguyen Thi Thu from Vietnam runs an organic farming network, as well as her own food business. She attended a ‘Family Day’ organized by CARE, which promoted shared responsibility and more engagement from husbands and children in women’s success.
“I have struggled a lot with my husband’s lack of support. Now we are trying to find a new balance. Since we attended the Family Day together, I have seen a major change in him. On that day, for the first time, he acknowledged my work and my contribution to society and the community. Since then he is really helping out with the children and the household chores. He is cooking and cleaning, he’s very wonderful! Now I can travel much more for work.”
By identifying 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 wanting to grow their businesses.
So far, this 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.
Rathi Mani-Kandt, Director of Women’s Entrepreneurship & Financial Inclusion at CARE USA said: “Glorifying multi-tasking by women entrepreneurs has to stop. By working together with women and their support networks we want everyone to recognize the importance of shared responsibility at home, and to value the enormous contribution women entrepreneurs are making to their families, communities and economies.”
CARE is calling on other organizations working in financial inclusion to:
- Design holistic programming for women entrepreneurs that addresses restrictive gender norms.
- Promote the benefits of shared responsibility in the household and the economic contributions of women entrepreneurs.
- Collect data related to perceptions and expectations around gendered roles and how these present barriers to the growth of women-led enterprises.
- Advocate for policies that respond to the specific challenges that women entrepreneurs face.