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Meaningful economic development cannot take place without tackling challenges of gender imbalances in Swaziland. Women traditionally were regarded as minors: not accorded seniority status legally in society; perceived to be intellectually inferior to man, and that their place should be at home not in the work place. Legally, they are prevented from entering into some contracts, owning properties and or bringing legal suits. Husbands could prevent their wives from opening accounts or starting a business (Molosiwa (2010). Whatever skills women needed, they were expected to learn them by working in apprenticeship to their mothers (Carol, 1996: 116). The prevalence of this perception, exacerbated the abuse and suppression of women by their husbands, and to exploitation of working women, who most times had no choice but to take on low - end jobs like maids, textile or industry workers. They were also denied training in specialised skilled jobs as that would have led them to demand senior positions and higher pay. In Abbott (1998)'s view they were even discouraged from joining unions because that would have countered the culture of passive acceptance of low wages and poor working conditions. This situation hampered them from participating as equal partners in the economic development process of the country. Cultural influences coupled with the lower level of women's education and the general prevalent stereotypes against women have, to a great extent, perpetrated gender inequalities. For instance, women do not enjoy equal rights to access and control over resources such as inheritance, finance, land and social networks. Their perceived role at home has adversely affected them in having access to basic needs like education and shelter. Even when parents have limited resources, some would opt to rather educate a male child than a female child and force the daughter to get married at an early stage for dowry or wealth earning. Other adversities that they have been exposed to have included forced marriages and unconsented sex. For instance, in a polygamist situation some of the women are deserted, hence creating frustration and helplessness. Besides that, even if the woman is not deserted, the number of wives and children creates problems because the men cannot afford to give all of them what they need; including the most basic physiological needs such as food, shelter, education, and health facilities.
These problems exacerbate the gaps between men and women in terms of level of employment and education, hence exposing them to further suppression. Suppression of any person on economic and social spheres undermines Article 1 of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights whereby,
All parties have the right of self determination. By virtue of that right they freely determine their political status and freely pursue their economic, social and cultural development.
Women also have a right to equal participation in government positions (article 21 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the equivalent article 13 of the African Charter of Human and People's Rights). The New Constitution of Swaziland (2005) that was enacted in February, 2006; Section 28(1) accorded women the right to equal treatment with men and the right includes equal opportunities in political, economic and social activities. Section 28(2) further indicates the Swazi Government's commitment to the implementation of section 1, by its pledge to provide facilities and opportunities necessary to enhance the welfare of women to enable them to realise their full potential and advancement (though this is subject to available resources). Finally, Section 28 (3) removed the tradition of compelling women to undergo and be party to any custom to which they are opposed. Section 20(1), accords every person equal rights before the law in all spheres of life, while under section 19, they also have the right to own property as individuals or as an association a situation that didn't exist before. Section 20(2) also discourages any form of discrimination including gender discrimination. Despite these changes, Swazi law, customs, culture and prevailing attitudes against women militate against them because of the continuing prevalence of negative attitudes against women. Gender attitudes are deep-rooted in our society. As a result these stereotypes cannot be changed over night, despite positive moves in changing the role of women in the Swazi constitution. Pinson and Jinnet (1992) expressed a similar view that the emergence of women into power cannot occur overnight because of great personal related difficulties, legal barriers, ridicule and because they are perceived as a threat. Even where women rights are legally recognised, standing customs prevent their free expression thus experiencing subordination in political and economic debates particularly because of the expectation of strict obedience to men and their elders. DeBeheauvor (1983) argued that men dominate women psychologically as women are defined not as autonomous beings.
From these developments it is evident that Women in general encounter numerous impediments. It is especially so if they aspire to start a business. Women SMME proprietors and entrepreneurs are severely hampered from becoming vibrant economic entities. For instance, SMME Alert noted that 'there are thousands of laws, ordinances, by-laws and regulations which collectively create an unfavourable business environment by restricting the abilities of small businesses to start up and grow' (Rael Solomon and The Labour Consultancy, www.sundaytimes.co.za). That is worse for women because of their traditional subordinate role in Swazi society and the adverse gender attitudes and stereotypes. These stereotypes hamper their effective participation in the main stream economy. As a result they turn to small businesses mainly as a means to supplement their livelihoods rather than to establish a growing and profitable business. Women's role is mainly seen to be at home where by in the absence of structured full time wage employment they remain responsible for catering for their family needs through survivalist economic activity. Even when they succeed in accumulating surplus through business activities, men often have a right over the proceeds and they can demand the surplus if it pleases them.
Despite all the disadvantages some have still succeeded. Hence, there is much to learn from their success stories and that research should focus more closely on their strategies for success. In Africa it would appear that hardship makes one stronger as most of the successful business people in Swaziland are those who had to endure some form of hardship. Through perseverance, some have made a mark in society as evidenced by the output of their labour. The outputs include successful businesses, winners of business awards, active participation in social, economic and political arenas; and enhancement of their standards of living. In particular many have succeeded in raising the quality of life of their families as they manage to educate them and maintain their livelihood through incomes generated. A few of them, (a meagre number) now hold key positions as Managers, Directors, Business Owners, Politicians and are featuring prominently in the traditionally reserved professions for males. There is also representation of women at all levels of government. For instance, there are presently three Ministers who are women while others are Senators in parliament.
Other than the constitution, government is realising the need for promotion of all SMMES as evidence in the SME policy objectives and other recent developments in this sector ( (SME Draft Policy, 2003:29-30)
A priority of Government is to create policies that promote developmental initiatives. Some of the developmental efforts include creation of an enabling environment for SMMEs, economic empowerment of its citizens, creation of job opportunities to enhance its citizens' standard of living. This in turn is expected to create a tax-base to finance and facilitate availability of essential public services. With shrinking inward investment, SMMEs in Swaziland are regarded as an important sector for promoting meaningful economic development.
Different governments in Africa have adopted different strategies in promoting/regulating SMMEs' activities as influenced by their developmental agendas, their country's context and feasibility of approaches in enhancing the development of SMMEs. Strategies deployed are not static but are continually reviewed to meet the changing demands and needs of their countries and that of SMMEs. Similarly, Swaziland, is continuously reviewing its strategies. For instance, for a long time, the country did not have a clear policy on the operation of SMMEs, until recently. However the policy does not address the gaps experienced by women SMME owners. This is in contrast with developments in South Africa and in the Scandinavian context (e.g. Finland) where for instance, in their economic and employment agendas, relevant ministries make a major commitment in their objectives to promote female entrepreneurs though for instance, micro -loan programmes, specifically tailored for the needs of enterprises started by women or through establishing advisory bodies for the sole purpose of answering questions related to female entrepreneurs (Routamaa et al. 2004).
2.0 Research Methodology
The researcher used an evaluative research approach. The research established different roles, perceptions, and stereotypes, motives behind these stereotypes; and the nature of activities performed by female entrepreneurs in Swaziland. The status of women could not be clearly indicated without comparing it with that of their male counterparts. This was complemented with a review of existing policies and statutes that facilitate and impede women SMMEs' prosperity in Swaziland. The secondary information was complemented with data obtained through active involvement with various SMMEs projects in Swaziland such as Women in Development, Small Enterprise Development Corporation Ltd. (SEDCO), and the Small and Medium Enterprises Business (SME) unit under the Ministry of Enterprise and Employment.
3.0 Constraints faced by Female Small Business Owners
In addition to the constraints already discussed, there are many other barriers that do not allow women to fully utilize their potential in economic development in Swaziland. These include, inter alia, the following:
3.1 Lack of or low Level of Education
The 1986 census showed that women constitute 53% of the population in Swaziland. Only 8% of these women were found to be self employed, the number of those engaged in business has since increased as observed from the rise of SMMEs' stalls. According to Joubert and Akinnusi (1992), 52.4% of these women had either no education or only primary school education, 40.1% had secondary education while only 7.5% had post secondary education. The lack of sufficient and appropriate education in women has greatly affected their choice of formal work and general performance.
The education system in Swaziland aggravates the matter because if a girl falls pregnant, she is expelled from school yet her counterpart is not expelled. As a result, some of the girls never succeed in finishing their education and thus spoil chances for their future success.
Due to the low level of education and scarcity of employment opportunities in the formal sector, the unemployment rate for women is high. As a result, more and more women feature widely in the informal sector and are eager to learn skills which may help them to engage in cash generating activities. Female entrepreneurs engage in a variety of income generating activities like handicrafts, sewing and knitting, groceries, hair salons, street vending and selling of clothes. Many women are now going into street vending of fruits, vegetables and other foodstuffs. However, in our towns and cities, where there is a high concentration of people and high marketing opportunities, this is not yet a legally accepted practice. This is contrary to the practice prevailing in the other regions of Africa (especially West Africa) where street vending is a prominent feature in the market place.
Women's traditional role is changing because they are now venturing into "masculine" activities like operating garages and driving schools which were seen as only suited for men. Some are in the building industry where they perform artisan jobs like painting, carpentry, etc. Others are being employed by road construction companies for their labour intensive activities. In fact, some of the roles played by women in this regard fall outside normal cultural norms.
3.3 Multiple Responsibilities
Women at times do not take advantage of development projects because of the burden of multiple responsibilities and the fact that women's needs are not considered. The strong Swazi women have to fight aggressively for development. They cross the border with minimum protection; they sit on the streets of the cities to sell food and a variety of commodities such as handicrafts. Some travel under tiring environments to as far afield as Johannesburg and Cape Town in search of markets for their products. The Swazi women resort to these challenging options because they have a heavy financial burden. As Ginindza (1989:2) rightly puts it,
"Women need money for their children. Many want to improve their homes and standard of living. Many married women receive little or no financial assistance from their husbands. The husbands may be unemployed and spend most of their time drinking. Some women are the sole supporters of themselves and their children. They use the money generated from business to maintain their families. But women also desire and want to assert themselves and be independent of man as mature adults and to achieve self fulfillment."
The socio-economic changes in Swaziland such as urbanization, education and others have contributed to the changes in the traditional roles of women. There has been, for instance, an increase in the number of married women workers. The sad part, however, is that they are now victims of the situation because they are torn between two extremes. They are expected to be in the formal sector and also do something to subsidize the family income in addition to their traditional household and maternal roles. This has contributed to an increased workload for women relative to that of men. The multiple roles of women at home and work place indeed constitute a stumbling block to the enterprising woman. This is mainly caused by the fact that some husbands work in South Africa due to the unemployment and low wage problems in Swaziland.
3.4 Legal and Social Constraints
Women also face legal and social constraints which affect their performance. Under the Roman Dutch Law of marriage, women are regarded as minors who must seek their husbands consent to enter into a contract, obtain loans and acquire property. In the business world, there are a lot of contracts that need to be signed. If the man is not cooperative, the entrepreneurial woman is affected in her drive to engage in business ventures. The inability to acquire title to property prevents women from using property as collateral when applying for loans. As a result, some women form cooperatives and take advantage of group lending schemes now offered by some financial institutions.
Under the Swazi Customary Law, women cannot acquire property on Swazi Nation Land. Land "title" goes to men as head of the family. This leaves the woman with less economic security. The lack of land rights and poor access to other factors of production such as credit facilities have led to meager contributions of women to the overall development of the Swazi economy. It is worth noting that the bulk of the women in Swaziland reside in Swazi Nation Land where these constraints are paramount.
Another problem is that the Swazi women operate under the dual system, that is, the customary law and the common law. This poses a lot of problems more especially when the man dies.
Marketing is a relatively neglected aspect of economic development in developing countries. Research conducted by the author when ascertaining marketing skills among women in development, in a majority of cases women were found to be lacking in almost all aspects of marketing skills. Although 57% said they were good at pricing, 35% in finding new markets, 49% in competitor analysis, it transpired later that this was only lip service.
Business women have a problem of determining the kind of products that people want to buy and setting the price for their products and services. In most cases they tend to copy the enterprises of their peers without conducting a market analysis. As a result, the market place tends to be flooded with the same commodity or service. A case in point is that there are so many salons in the cities that some are now closing down due to tight competition. Women have a problem of gaining and retaining access to an appropriate market. One point to note also is that Swaziland, with her population of about 800 000, means there is a small limited internal market for locally produced commodities. In view of the above, women are simply not able to make enough sales within the borders of Swaziland. For this reason external markets have become attractive in recent years.
Venturing into external markets is a challenge to these women. It means equipping themselves with even more skills in international marketing. Internal markets are usually located in towns and other centers of economic activity and at the major bus routes throughout the kingdom. Some women have to travel long distances everyday to sell their wares in these cities. Furthermore, cheap imported products from the neighboring South Africa tend to create unfair competition with locally produced products much to the detriment of a healthy business environment for the enterprising women.
There are a few facilities in Swaziland for training in small business management. As a result, women tend to have limited managerial and entrepreneurial skills. They also lack skills in records keeping and control. Due to poor financial management, most of the cash generated from business is used for the general upkeep of the family. As a result, the women end up living from hand to mouth and in the process creating cash flow problems for the business. For example, the research findings revealed that only 39% know how to calculate profits, 24% know how to keep records for the business, 10% know how to raise funds, and 23% know how to make a business plan.
In some cases, the women cannot go for the training courses mainly because they need the consent of the husband. If the husband does not give a green light, then the wife will not go.
For women, access to credit is a difficult process because of the minority status, collateral and other problems. Since the majority of women do not have title to land or other property, loans from banks are difficult to procure. The loan conditions (including the size and repayment schedules) are, to a large extent, inhibitive to enterprising women. Other problems include lack of information, the time required to process the loans, illiteracy, deficiency in numeric skills and the complicated application procedures which tend to deter them from acquiring loans.
Added to the above, most banks do not want to deal with small business loans of less than E5000 because of high administrative costs and the risks involved. For this reason, some women have resorted to forming clubs, cooperatives and groups through which they can raise the operating capital because banks usually look at these groups with favour.
3.8 Poor Location of Business
There is generally poor availability of operating premises for small businesses in this country. For this reason, the majority of the women operate from their back yards. This enables them to carry out their domestic roles. Although this location is convenient from the family point of view, it is nonetheless far from the customers. Besides the high transportation costs of delivering the products to the markets, there is generally poor exposure of the products which might even render them dilapidated before they get to the potential customer. These women also devote less time on productive activities when operating from their houses (Joubert and Nkambule, 1996).
4.0 Women Empowerment Programmes and
Strategies that have in part aided in their success stories
A number of Non-Governmental Organisations through funding from UNDP, ILO and Women and the Law in Southern Africa, Human Rights, have mounted programmes intended to raise awareness of their rights and obligations. They have also formed their own strategic alliances for a collective voice so that their views could be incoporated in Decision making. Some of the organizations are Lutsango LwaboMake, Umtapo WemaSwati and Business Women Association in Swaziland (BWAS) and many other related groups. Through these associations they have fought for representation in politics, economics, business and other socio-political spheres of their lives. Thus some of them, though still few are now politicians, senior managers and are in key leadership positions in the country. They are proving a point that given an opportunity, Swazi women are capable of performing even the most challenging tasks normally performed by men.
In the assessment of women in senior management roles, it has been found that they tend to be more assertive and persuasive, have a stronger need to get things done and are more willing to take risks than male leaders (Caliper Solutions (2005)). They were also found to have a greater degree of empathy, flexibility as well as stronger interpersonal skills compared to their male counterparts, hence enabling them to accurately assess situations from all angles (Goleman: 1998) This does not underscore men capabilities, but is intended to prove that given a chance, women can be as capable or even do better on certain aspects of leadership. For instance, men have been also found to be more self-confident, optimistic, adapt easily to changes and have higher coping mechanisms to stress (Goleman: 1998). Further strengths of women are that they encourage greater collaboration or a more consultative approach to decision -making; and create a collegial workplace. Contrary to the positive qualities expressed, some studies have revealed a strong relationship to women management styles to the stereotypes images of women's traditional social roles endorsed in their culture. For instance, Downing (2006) found that women were less transformational, exhibit less emotionally balanced behaviours. Evidently, the socialization process of women and their non integration in mainstream development agenda, has affected their confidence, ego and emotional balance.
5.0 Conclusions and Recommendations
From the discussions, it is evident that women encounter immense problems ranging from cultural, political, economic, social degradation and other forms of suppression. To address these problems, strong collective voices are needed and some of which have already been formed to exert pressure for reforms in the manner in which women are perceived and treated. Civic groups including the University of Swaziland, Women in Law, Business Women Association, SHAPE, Non- Governmental Organizations(NGO's)/Community Based organizations (CBOs)/ Faith Based Organisations(FBOs), and other interest groups who have vested interest in tackling the plight of women can make a difference if they work as a coalition. The voices of the few have made a difference but the situation can still be better. For instance, The Forum for African Women Educationalists in Swaziland (FAWESWA), Women in Law and other Civic groups have played a role in educating women on their rights and in influencing policy changes. If pressure is mounting, the Female Small Business Owners will also indirectly benefit.
Another sphere of development should be training. The female entrepreneurs should be trained in general business management. Focus should be directed at subjects such as how to develop business plans, how to obtain financial resources, records keeping and basic accounting skills. This is a fundamental requirement for any successful business woman. There should be a vigorous fight against ignorance among women, which continues to cast a shadow in the way of their businesses. Due to this ignorance and fear of the unknown, some women have never ventured into the money market in order to augment their capital base. The European Union and the UNDP has played a great part in this regard in that they have financed training throughout the various regions with visible positive impact even through they have not been collecting information on the exact impact. Thus some women now sell their produce in markets in the US and in other countries abroad.
Universities also have a particularly important role in supporting women who wish to start, grow and optimize businesses, and in enhancing entrepreneurial and management skills. In this regard, the Faculty of Commerce in Swaziland, through the assistance of the Commonwealth has established an Entrepreneurship and Business Development Centre. An enormous amount of work has already been done with active involvement of all key stakeholders, including women organanisations to find further strategies that could be used in empowering them to handle these challenges. Our view is that the Centre could influence policy makers, financiers and other Small Business Service Providers (SBDS).
Furthermore, women must be apprised of the `marketing concept' which places the consumer at the center of business. They should be trained on skills for stimulating demand for their products. They should be trained on strategic location of business to ensure minimum production costs and ready access to markets.
The women should also be trained on team work as some of them work as groups or cooperatives which would enable them to take advantage of economies of scale. Procurement of inputs and disposal of outputs can better be handled through team effort. A case in point is the Khutsala and Shibani Poultry schemes where the women members operate individually in their respective homesteads but procure their inputs and market their eggs through an umbrella cooperative body. Training in group formation and operation is necessary in this regard.
Since most business women operate within the informal sector, there is no doubt that this sector needs special focus as a major provider of economic options in this country. The existence of the informal sector must be fully recognized and accorded the formal training opportunities it deserves. Women in the informal sector need to be trained in skills that will increase their productivity. It is only knowledgeable and skilful women who can increase productivity in a meaningful way.
Although some training programs are being conducted for women at grassroots levels by several organisations, such training tends to be biased towards reinforcing the traditional women activities such as sewing, handicraft production, cooking and knitting. On a positive note, the training orientation is changing; women are now trained in skills that were traditionally reserved for men. That way, they can compete with men on an equal footing in the open market and, as a result, can also contribute a great part to the economic development of Swaziland.
From the discussions, there is no doubt that training is very crucial in economic development of women. Other training areas which deserve special focus include project management, marketing, and general leadership. Government should invigorate training programs which are tailor made for business women in this country. The women on the other hand should also initiate their own workshops which would continually sharpen their skills in these areas. Women should also be trained on their rights and the law.
Availability of Finance is top on the agenda. Fortunately, banks have realized this need; they are extensively promoting different financial packages but are still inaccessible as they tend to suit working women than the self employed. Women in the informal sector lack the required capital and collateral. Where no collateral is required, their level of education inhibits them from writing acceptable business proposals, even if they have a good business idea. Government, through the financial institutions, has also established special loan arrangements that lay no emphasis on collateral but the necessary documentation can also be an inhibiting factor, hence he funds tend to benefit others than the target group. Besides, the funds often require husband's consent, which again become a disincentive. Also, there are no special funds that are directly targeting for women. Again, this has to do with the attitudes towards women. There is need for Financial Institutions and Government to start appreciating the role of women in Society; the rest will then fall into place. The present Roman Dutch Law of marriage should also be revised so that women are given a majority status. This will enable them to request loans from banks without a problem.
Other recommendations include providing special Extension Services, realization of power in collective voices, markets development, and provision of other support services. For instance, the Ministry of Commerce and Industry should launch a vigorous and effective extension service specially focusing on the female entrepreneurs. If this service is already in place, it should be improved to enhance its impact on the women business sector. Women should also be encouraged to form strategic alliances, associations with organization like Chamber of Commerce, Business Women Association of Swaziland and many other organizational networks because of the potential benefits of networking. The networks will extend into marketing activities. Through the alliances, women can get answers, and exchange ideas and have their dreams transformed into tangible products/programs. This in turn could uplift their status and increase their involvement in the economic development in Swaziland. In these alliances that can deal with a wide range of issues including policy, legal, finance, research and many other related issues that have a bearing on their business and their status as women. They can also think of the development of Small Business Women Centre, through which they could channel their needs and could solicit development partners' assistance.
Overall Gender stereotypes present a setback in the development of women, there is need to fight against this evil. People should be reminded that without a woman success cannot be guaranteed as "behind every successful man there is a woman". Let women be accorded their rightful position in society.