Gender and Entrepreneurship in Nepal

ANUGYA KUNWAR, Daayitwa Fellow 2021


“Economic equity is an enormous empowerment of women. Having jobs that provide income means that women can be a more effective force, a more equal force, in the political process. Women with income take themselves more seriously and they are taken more seriously.”-Betty Friedan 

An inclusive and sustainable socio-economic transformation of the nation cannot be imagined without the equal participation of half of its population. Comprising 51.5% of the population, Nepali women’s economic inclusion is crucial for our Naya Nepal, which strives for uplifting the status of their women. Economic equity serves as a stepping stone for social empowerment of not only the present generation but also the future, who gradually liberalize their views on gendered roles. However, the goal of achieving economic equity in Nepal remains constricted to words on policy papers than actual materialization due to gendered constraints, inflexibilities, and systemic failures. One such group that faces the brunt of economic inequity is that of Nepali women entrepreneurs. Women entrepreneurship is an important tool to elevate the status of women in their communities, and to ensure their economic independence, helping in overall empowerment. While Nepal has seen a growth in women entrepreneurs due to the increase in economic activities, ensuring equitable access to resources and opportunities to women entrepreneurs remains largely limited. 

The 15th National Plan (2019-2024) of the country aims to create a ‘gender accountable’ governing system to ensure equitable access to resources, opportunities, and benefits for women leadership in the economic development of the country. However, gearing towards the specific needs of women entrepreneurs has been a challenge since most provisions are blanket approaches that are not gender-sensitive. Gender-blind policies and regulations fail to address the nuances of gendered oppression and barriers that are specific to Nepali women entrepreneurs due to the societal gender norms and expectations. Limited mobility, overburdened household responsibilities, higher rate of illiteracy, lack of business training, market knowledge and networking are some of the major challenges that women entrepreneurs face. Additionally, collateral issues due to lack of property ownership serve as an obstacle to access credit, which plays a crucial role in starting the businesses. While 56% of men have access to finances, only 36% of women in Nepal have the same accessibility, creating a barrier to start and expand entrepreneurial ventures.  Moreover, since most of the women-owned enterprises are in the informal sector, it makes it difficult for them to apply for credits and take advantage of the government-led initiatives. 

While the COVID-19 pandemic has affected the overall economy of the country, the extended periods of lockdowns have most significantly impacted women-led enterprises and threatened their survival. The pandemic has imposed serious challenges in the substantial growth and sustainability of these enterprises. Scarcity of raw materials has been one of the major challenges that have risen due to the disruption in global and local supply chains resulting in the halt of production. This pause has created anxiety among women entrepreneurs who are now struggling to repay their bank loans. Additionally, domestication due to the lockdowns has added responsibilities and workload on women due to the gender roles prescribed in our society. This over-burdening of work has made it difficult for women entrepreneurs to invest their time in their businesses. Given the unique challenges faced by women entrepreneurs, it is important to address these issues through evidence-based policy reforms, which also include green recovery from COVID-19. The policy reforms must cater to women entrepreneurs from different socio-economic standings since the existing provisions have been criticized for benefitting mostly urban middle-class women, failing to address the needs of marginalized women. The literature addressing ‘Nepali women entrepreneurs’ fails to recognize the intersectionality that exists in the category of ‘Nepali women’. Since women of different social positionings of caste and class have different access to resources due to our cultural history, it becomes important to view ‘Nepali women entrepreneurs’ as a heterogeneous group. This intersectional perspective needs to be adopted in our policy reforms to ensure that the facilities provided reach the most marginalized communities. 

The rise in entrepreneurial activities amongst women entrepreneurs in Nepal has been identified by the Nepal government, who have also highlighted the major problems with entrepreneurship development in the country. There have been several initiatives taken by the government to promote women entrepreneurship. The federal government has issued ‘Women Entrepreneurship Facilitation Center Operation Procedure, 2021’ to establish and operate facilitation centers at local units as a part of the Women and Children Section of the Ministry of Women, Children and Senior Citizens (MoWCSC) to make women economically self-dependent. These centers will provide information regarding loans from banks and financial institutions, registration procedure, market potential, preparation of business plans, available facilities for entrepreneurial training, etc. Currently, there are 70 such facilitation centers in different municipalities of Nepal, which have recently started working after the halt caused by the lockdown. The facilitation centers aim to help women entrepreneurs to be economically empowered by providing them with skills and knowledge regarding entrepreneurship. The centers still remain in their nascent stage; however, it is a notable initiative taken by the government to center the needs of women entrepreneurs in Nepal. While it is too early to document its effectiveness, it is important for these facilitation centers to collaborate with existing programs such as the MEDPA (Micro-Enterprise Development Program For Poverty Alleviation) program, and work towards bridging the existent gap. Additionally, it is crucial for the facilitation centers to include an intersectional perspective in their work to ensure that the government facilities provided by them are made accessible to women entrepreneurs who are in the lowest sphere of the hierarchical social pyramid. 

Economic equity is crucial for the judicious socio-economic transformation of the nation. Women entrepreneurship is an important tool for this transformation as it elevates the overall status of women in their communities. Considering the unique challenges faced by women entrepreneurs, it is important for policy reforms to be gender-sensitive and meet their specific needs. As much as half of the population cannot be left behind when it comes to economic empowerment, it is also important to note that empowerment of only certain socio-economic groups of women is not sufficient. Thus, an intersectional approach becomes crucial for such policy reforms, especially considering the diversity that exists in Nepal. As Alice Abrokwa puts it “When they enter, we all enter”, the venture for economic empowerment of women entrepreneurs in Nepal will only be successful when the needs of the most marginalized have been addressed.

For An Enterprising Nepal