Researchers consider entrepreneurship to be indicative of economic progress due to its strong association with innovation, productivity, and job creation. Entrepreneurship offers the opportunity to explore and expand horizons, provide employment opportunities, and foster financial empowerment for the entrepreneurs themselves and the community at large, women entrepreneurs being no exception to this.
There are many challenges that Pakistani women encounter in the field entrepreneurship. Numerous social, financial, economic, and cultural impediments in Pakistan pose challenges for women in initiating and maintaining their entrepreneurial ventures. Based on research, women encounter numerous challenges including limited resources, lack of support from family, difficulties in achieving work-life balance, and fear of failure, etc. Despite the considerable potential for women to serve as a driving force behind economic progress in Pakistan, a substantial portion of their capabilities remains untapped.
Financial obstacles pose a significant barrier for women entrepreneurs, as it affects both the availability of resources and the effective utilization of funds. For any kind of startup, funds or capital is an essential component to meet expenses required for any business enterprise. One of the primary factors contributing to the limited entrepreneurial participation of women is the insufficient access to financial resources. The analysis of the gross loan portfolio of the State Bank of Pakistan (SBP) reveals a notable gender disparity. Specifically, the data indicates that a mere 3% of small-medium enterprise loans are allocated to women, while men receive the remaining 97% of these loans. In a similar vein, it is noteworthy that a mere 19% of microfinance loans are allocated to women, whereas a significant 87% of these loans are disbursed to men. In Pakistan, it is a requirement for a female entrepreneur to provide the name of her father or husband while opening a bank account, accompanied by a witness.
According to a study done by the Asian Development Bank (ADB), the existence of this disparity can be attributed to the preconceived views held by banks. These notions include the belief that women lack creditworthiness, are reliant on men, and present challenges in terms of collecting credible information about their financial reliability.
Women in Pakistan also face societal acceptance as a significant barrier when initiating their own economic ventures. Among the challenges that women experience are less-established business networks, and social and traditional constraints that restrict women’s participation in business. Talking about social constraints, a beauty salon owner said: “In 1980, when I first started my business, I took the initiative to personally visit each door in the neighborhood and introduce my salon. During that period, the initial phase was challenging. While I was introducing my beauty parlor to the neighborhood, one of the ladies abruptly shut her door upon hearing that I was her neighbor and that I was starting a beauty parlor. She made a derogatory comment, stating that women like me spread filth in our society. I was shocked and could not understand if it was related to my profession or being a single parent.”
The personal commitments and family responsibilities of women entrepreneurs can often pose significant challenges to achieving success in their business endeavors. Many women encounter challenges related to personal issues such as family support, balancing multiple roles, time management, travelling, etc. It is widely acknowledged that family support plays a crucial role in the success of women entrepreneurs; as with any individual in any sphere of life, you cannot do it alone.
A lady interviewed, shared her experience of pursuing her own business: “Actually my parents didn’t want me to work. They wanted me to get married after completing my studies. It was really hard for me to convince my parents to allow me to work. My degree was in accounting and finance but photography was my passion. They also had a problem with my choice of business. They told me that if I wanted to work, I should do something related to my studies instead of pursuing my passion of photography.”
Education and experience are crucial factors that significantly contribute to the advancement of women in business. They also have a positive impact on entrepreneurial performance. It is not possible for an entrepreneur to start and run a business without entrepreneurial skills. Most of them learn these skills from short courses but for others it is gifted by God.
According to a woman entrepreneur: “There is a perception in our society that men view women as weak. Indeed, I faced difficulties in engaging in effective communication with male individuals in the context of my entrepreneurial endeavor. However, I demonstrated my strength and proved to everyone what I am capable of. Now, people perceive me as a strong woman. In order to change others’ understanding, it is necessary to prove them wrong and strengthen oneself.”
Balancing work and family life has always been a challenge, but it is particularly difficult for women who are simultaneously striving to expand their business. Female entrepreneurs face not only the challenges of running their businesses but also the additional responsibilities of childcare, managing their households, and taking care of ageing parents or other family members. While it is true that balancing work and family life can present challenges, these obstacles should not discourage women from pursuing entrepreneurship. Female entrepreneurs can successfully manage both a business and a family by carefully planning and having a supportive network.
Gender-based violence in both corporate settings and society at large has a detrimental impact on the security of women, hence impeding and disturbing their entrepreneurial endeavors. Families are very often apprehensive about women working in close quarters with men, especially when they have to work late, as sometimes happens when you are trying to take your business off. What is needed is to trust women with their own security, and not subjecting them to social stigma if they come forward and take advantage of the laws that have been enacted for their security, if they might fall victim to gender-based violence.
Despite all the hurdles, in recent years, there has been a notable increase in the presence of female entrepreneurs in Pakistan who, in the process of becoming financially independent, are actively reshaping prevailing societal perceptions and norms. These women have established prosperous enterprises in Pakistan by challenging cultural norms and societal pressures, while focusing on addressing the unique needs of women. Some notable examples of business ventures being run by the Pakistani women are Kati Katai (start-up supplies pre-cut fruits and vegetables), Smart Women app (online educational videos), SheKab (ride-hailing service), The Method (self-defense training organization), etc.
The ascent of female-led start-ups catering to the needs of women in Pakistan stands as a significant catalyst for women empowerment. These start-ups have been established and are managed by female entrepreneurs, with the primary objective of tackling the distinct issues and requirements encountered by women.
Moreover, these firms run by women not only generate employment possibilities but also contribute significantly to the country’s economic progress. Through the provision of tools and resources, these enterprises are actively defying societal gender conventions and facilitating the empowerment of women, enabling them to assume control over their personal and professional trajectories.
We can foster a more diverse and inclusive business landscape for women by providing community-wide training on fostering a gender-sensitive atmosphere for women. Non-governmental organizations (NGOs) can also play a crucial role in promoting education on the prevention and protection against gender-based violence.
By facilitating increased access to entrepreneurial opportunities for women, we can effectively contribute towards reducing the gender disparity and fostering a more equitable trajectory of economic development. By providing increased support and investment in companies run by women, we can cultivate a corporate environment that is characterized by greater diversity and inclusivity, thereby affording equal opportunities for success and prosperity to all individuals. HH
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