Social enterprises in the fight against gender inequality

Entrepreneurship Campus

By Entrepreneurship Campus

Social enterprises in the fight against gender inequality

Why social entrepreneurship is more important than ever

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The world economy can hardly be understood as a fair place. However, this place is particularly unfair for women, whose economic activities are largely limited to the periphery due to ingrained gender and social norms. Entrepreneurship can be a way to create fair conditions for women and other marginalized groups within the economy. Social entrepreneurship in particular enables visibility, participation in the global economy and simply self-realization.

While 75 percent of men worldwide are employed, this proportion is only 50 percent for women. Working women earn, on average, 24 percent less than their male counterparts and are underrepresented in senior and middle management in all countries for which data are available. In addition, they do two to ten times as much unpaid care work. The value that this work has to the global economy is estimated at US$10 billion, but it is shortening the time women have left to participate in it.

Apart from those economic indicators, global gender inequality is also reflected in the fact that women only hold around 24 percent of the world's parliamentary seats. It is therefore not surprising that 49 out of 195 countries lack legislation protecting women from domestic violence – a fact which all too often leads to violations of their human right to physical integrity.

The willingness of the world community to take on these problems has increased in recent decades. Goal 5 of the 2030 Agenda, for example, deals explicitly with gender equality and strengthening the self-determination of women and girls.

Nevertheless, progress in the implementation of this project has been slow - progress that is now being jeopardized by the consequences of Covid-19. With a majority of women working in harder hit sectors of the economy, the crisis is pushing many of them into poverty and unemployment. In addition, government-imposed lockdowns for women have further increased unpaid care work and domestic violence.

Although these developments should not give rise to much optimism regarding the achievement of gender equality goals in the near future, the crisis can also be seen as an opportunity, as it makes those injustices more apparent and forces us to fundamentally change the status quo of our current economic system to question.

Social Entrepreneurship does exactly this by directing the entrepreneurial focus on creating socially sustainable effects and thus putting the common good before profit. The idea of ​​social entrepreneurship first emerged in the late 1980s as an alternative to traditional entrepreneurship and has grown in popularity over the past few decades. With the emergence of numerous initiatives and organizations, such as ASHOKA or the Schwab Foundation, the social enterprise sector has established itself as an important partner in solving social challenges and as a sponsor of socially disadvantaged groups.

In this respect, social entrepreneurship can represent an important, but hitherto underutilized, resource to strengthen women's rights worldwide. A 2017 British Council report highlights the different ways through which social enterprise can contribute to the empowerment of women and girls.

The most important include the following:

  • The social enterprise sector offers far more training and employment opportunities for women than the economy as a whole.
  • In the social enterprise sector, women are more likely to take on leadership roles than in the for-profit sector.
  • Social entrepreneurship can help provide affordable products and services for women.
  • Since women often also work for the social enterprises from which they benefit, this can help to promote their self-determination and thus break down prevailing gender roles.
  • As the majority of women's rights organizations are underfunded, social entrepreneurship could represent a source of funding independent of the priorities of public and private funders.

So that this potential can also be used in the future, collective efforts are now required to strengthen social enterprises in times of crisis and to promote the establishment of more such companies. If we seize this opportunity, social entrepreneurship can make a decisive contribution to making the global economy a fairer place for women in the future.

Against this background, the Entrepreneurship Foundation will provide an insight into the work of social enterprises with a focus on female empowerment in the coming weeks. Kicking off next week with an inspirational interview with Chetna Sinha, Co-Chair of the 2018 World Economic Forum and Founder of Mann Deshi Bank – India's first rural financial institution run by women for women.

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