March was the month of celebrating everything woman. It was also a time of reflection of the continued danger women face by simply being women. This is a global phenomenon and a social shame. In this quick read, I share the findings of investigations into the harassment and violence women are exposed to in enterprising.
The statistics are shocking and seem unfitting for a 21st century world.
Although the phenomenon is more prevalent for informal women entrepreneurs, those in the formal sector are not much better off. For instance, in 2019, the State of Women in Entrepreneurship survey conducted by Fast Company in the USA revealed that of more than 600 female entrepreneur , nearly 56 percent had experienced some form of harassment in their capacity as formal business owners. Studies in Africa, Asia and the Middle East that have examined this phenomenon have found as follows:
- A 2018 ILO report found that women entrepreneurs in the Middle East and North Africa are suceptible to both sexual harassment and physical violence particularly in public places and on public transport with effects of restricting their mobility and the entrepreneurship opportunities they consider.
- A 2004 ILO report on women’s enterprising in Africa found sexual harassment from corrupt government officials to be a hindrance in women’s enterprising efforts.
- A 2019 UKAID report shared findings on polyvictimisation of women cross-border traders in the horn of Africa at the hands of border and customs officials
There is consensus in the key findings of these studies that:
- Women entrepreneurs experience more economic violence and coercion, including discrimination when obtaining enterprise related paperwork, delays in completing transactions, unwarranted impounding of their goods, and bribery and corruption, more than male entrepreneurs.
- Women entrepreneurs experience sexual violence, harassment and exploitation, ranging from verbal sexual harassment to rape, and often citing pressure from various male officials to provide sexual favours in exchange for better treatment e.g. to avoid being detained, or goods being impounded. Transactional sexual relationships for women entrepreneurs are a common coping mechanism to manage and mitigate the risks of sexual violence and harassment.
- Beyond economic and sexual violence, there are also reports of other forms of violence, including physical violence and verbal harassment, such as physical assaults, robbery, insults, threats, being stripped and spat on.
- The perpetrators of violence and harassment against women entrepreneurs are numerous, intimate partners, public officials, gangs, transporters, strangers…
Tackling this disgrace should be a cummunity and global effort. I found inspiration in some of these efforts reported here from Uganda and Tanzania:
I remain optimistic that what we have witnessed in the objectification and treatment of women will only be a relic of the past in time to come. I am hopeful that my son will grow to know a world where women are valued as much as men and protected by all manner of informal and formal institutions.
Stay safe, keep well and be kind to others. Respect and Protect Women.