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    Bridging the Research Gap: A Profile of Women Entrepreneurs in Uganda


    © International Trade Centre, International Trade Forum - Issue 4/2003

    Ugandan women form the majority of the country's business people, in farming and small to medium-sized firms. Supportive national and local policies, and targeted international assistance, could help Ugandan women entrepreneurs increase exports and benefit the whole country.

    Public sector employment opportunities have declined sharply in recent years, leaving self-employment as the main way for most Ugandan women to make a living.

    Because there was little research about Ugandan entrepreneurs, my colleagues, students and I interviewed 74 businesswomen to establish who they were, how they became business people and what were their constraints.

    We found that Ugandan women are doing business in the urban informal economy and in micro, small and large-scale firms. As farmers, artisans, manufacturers and service providers, they create wealth, but face obstacles to higher growth.

    Women farmers feel the pinch

    Non-traditional agricultural exports offer opportunities for Ugandan women farmers, but they are unable to exploit the full potential of these. Because traditional exports fetch low prices in today's global market, non-traditional exports are attractive.
    Yet heavy workload, family responsibilities and discriminatory land ownership, which reduces women's access to credit, mean they are unable to reach the production volumes and competitive levels necessary in global markets.

    Agriculture is the mainstay of Uganda's economy, employing 80% of its people. Women form the majority of agricultural workers. They produce 80% of food crops, 60% of traditional exports (coffee, tea, cotton, sugar, tobacco) and an impressive 80% of non-traditional agricultural exports (such as maize, beans, cereals, vanilla and flowers).

    A niche in textiles

    In Africa, women are the majority in the small-scale economy, which accounts for up to 40% of gross domestic product. Many choose textiles and clothing, although those businesses are threatened by imported cheap new and second-hand clothing. In response, some entrepreneurs find a market niche and use business networks to expand sales. Ida Wanendeya, for example, produces kikoi, a multi-purpose East African cloth. She exports to Ghana, and cherishes her membership in the African Federation of Women Entrepreneurs because she "gains market" at its meetings.

    Scope for growth in services exporting

    Services make up 8% of micro and small firms in Uganda. Women's services tend to be in health, education, food and shelter, and target the domestic market.

    Address land ownership

    Only 7% of Ugandan women own land, a fact that has prompted them to campaign for new legislation. Our study shows that most women who own businesses are landowners, which encourages farm improvement and allows them to access credit.

    Level the playing field

    Based on the experience and advice of the respondents, strategies for an economic growth model for women entrepreneurs begin to emerge.

    Apart from land ownership or guaranteed land use, education is the most obvious contributing factor to successful entrepreneurship: 82% of the small to medium-scale entrepreneurs have some post-secondary education.

    Access to labour and capital are also important variables influencing women's businesses, and membership in professional organizations is a strong asset.

    Women's economic activity empowers future generations and contributes to grass-roots economic growth. Women invest their wealth, whatever its size, in the health and education of their families. That is why Bradford Morse, former Administrator of the United Nations Development Programme said: "To fail to pay attention to women's economic activities is both morally indefensible and economically absurd."

    Margaret Snyder was UNIFEM's Founding Director and served there for more than a decade. She was a Fulbright scholar at the Department of Women and Gender Studies at Makerere University in Uganda when she wrote Women in African Economies (2000) which served as the basis for this article. The book is available from Fountain Publishers, Kampala (e-mail: fountain@starcom.co.ug); ABC, London (e-mail: krisia_cook.abc@dial.pipex.com); and WomenInk, New York (e-mail: wink@womenink.org).