Study on Women's Roles in Private Sectors

May 12, 2014

For women in the Somali business sector, education, specialized business support, and enabling legal and policy environments  are key to success--- says new UNDP study

09 May 2014, Nairobi - Although women make up over 60% of business owners in Somalia, they severely lack equal participation and representation in government and the private sector. Despite these obstacles, women across Somalia are challenging traditional barriers to representation and leadership in the private sector, according to a new United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) study on the Role of Women in the Private Sector in Somalia presented today in Nairobi.

‘‘The study analyses the barriers to effective integration of women in the workplace and the market place. The results of this study will be used to further enhance our economic empowerment initiatives for women at all levels. This includes support to the poorest and most marginalised groups through micro grants, small capital and basic training; support to educated women entrepreneurs through specialised business support services; and partnerships with the more established wealthier groups of women to support other female business owners,’’ said David Akopyan, UNDP Somalia’s Deputy Country Director.

‘‘Gender mainstreaming is a key focus of UNDP across all of our programming: including state building, capacity and institutional development, conflict resolution, poverty reduction, security and justice. We must work with all partners to ensure gender mainstreaming across UNDP’s projects that can increase sustainable livelihoods opportunities and improve natural resources management amongst Somali men and women --- stimulating the private sector and encouraging growth across the board,’’ he said.

Panelists from Danida, UNDP, UN Women, the Ministry of Women and Human Rights Development, and Somali civil society the discussed the possibilities for investment and increasing the prospects for gender equality and women’s empowerment in the Somali private sector. 

The Hon. Khadija Diriye, Minister for Women and Human Rights Development, opened the discussion. ‘‘In Somalia, the government is working on policies which increase women’s empowerment in all areas, particularly in the private sector. We are making sure our work plans in areas such as constitution-making and governance strategically prioritize gender issues, and we are making sure that all of our work has a positive impact on women’s empowerment,’’ she said.

In Somalia, women face a number of barriers that limit their abilities to fully participate in socio-political and economic sectors. Insecurity, illiteracy, lack of support and limited networks are some of the factors which affect women’s full integration into the private sector. Further, women are systematically discriminated against in formal employment in Somalia. 

‘‘The representation of women in the private sector, or bodies supporting the sector, remains meager. For example, female employment in dominant telecommunication and financial institutions is as low as 1%, discounting the large number of female staff often employed as cleaners by firms. Reasons stated for women’s absence include the reproductive functions women are burdened with, their lack of technical skills,

clan-biased recruitment practices, and the private sector being not yet providing female- friendly working environments,’’ says the 44-page UNDP study. 

However, increasing numbers of educated female Somali entrepreneurs (both local and returning diaspora) are breaking into new sectors such as livestock, fishery and petroleum importation across Somalia. These positive changes impact the visibility of women in business and grant women access to influential people and networks, the study says. 

Zahra Mohammed, from the Somali Women’s Development Centre noted the emergence of a strong female voice in the business sector. ‘‘Although they are few, there are women in the business sector. They have knowledge, they have education,’’ she said. ‘‘There are many educated women coming from the diaspora, and there are many examples of women helping other women to get involved in business.’’

The study highlights the importance of education and experience --- often gained through international exposure --- as determinant factors in shifting the role of women in the private sector,  from their participation in traditional subsistence-based economy to leadership in non-traditional, business-oriented (still typically male-headed and managed) enterprises. Nevertheless, women struggle to function in an environment where strategic networks and strong clan connections (from which they tend to be excluded) persistently determine success.

The UNDP study provided recommendations around policy, programming and advocacy, and advocates for providing comprehensive business development support services to women. Achieving gender-balance in the business sector will require the establishment and reform of legal and regulatory frameworks for the private, financial and energy sectors. These will help shift economic empowerment activities away from micro-enterprises to ‘educated risk takers’ --- women with the potential to grow their own businesses from subsistence to viable enterprises. These enterprises can create jobs and contribute to overall economic growth in the country. 

‘‘We need to make sure that women are getting involved in more sectors, including a stronger voice in the private sector and in banking. We must support the government to achieve their goal of women’s empowerment. For example, government can provide incentives to companies to ensure they have equal hiring practices,’’ said Lotte Mindedal from the Danish Embassy. 

However, the further advancement of women in the business sector in Somalia requires commitment for long-term support from donors and UNDP to individual women entrepreneurs, cooperatives and business associations/networks that promote gender equality and women’s empowerment in the private sector. UNDP remains committed to women’s empowerment and equality, and is working closely with a range of government and civil society counterparts to ensure a gender-balanced approach to development in Somalia. 

The full report will be available online soon.

UNDP partners with people at all levels of society to help build nations that can withstand crisis, and drive and sustain the kind of growth that improves the quality of life for everyone. On the ground in more than 170 countries and territories, we offer global perspective and local insight to help empower lives and build resilient nations. 

Victoria Nwogu

For additional information, please contact Victoria Nwogu, UNDP Gender Specialist: , (+254 703 118763).

UNDP Around the world

You are at UNDP Somalia 
Go to UNDP Global