Gender and MSME development

Gender inequality is often a substantial contributor to every major problem the world faces. As a result, gender should inform every solution, from creating sustainable business practices, to expanding opportunities for youth, to addressing the ever-changing health challenges globally.318 For growth to be inclusive and equitable, it is critical to understand how to enhance the role of women in the economy and in particular in the MSME sector.319 Therefore, it is important to identify challenges and opportunities for inclusion of women in greater numbers and at higher levels of growth in the MSME sector. This section will help inform policy on more inclusive growth of the MSME sector, especially towards strengthening gender equality and economic empowerment of women in the sector.

To date, much of the focus of women’s MSME programmes has been on the poor and marginalized, with support targeted to assist women develop an income stream from a trading activity. Without strategic support to help them compete, many women may continue to struggle on the margins. Additionally, whatever barriers women face in starting and managing a small business is compounded by external shocks.

For many women, small-scale enterprise is not empowering. It can be marginal and can increase tensions in the family and create contradictions between the need to generate an income, repay loans and fulfil wider family and community responsibilities.320 Improvements in women’s productivity, mobility, access to markets, literacy, social status and control of household decisions takes time and requires considerable commitment by development workers. It also needs long-term investment in local-level processes of social change and a willingness to cope with the sometimes violent and disruptive consequences of challenging class and gender privilege.321


318 International Center for Research on Women, Main page:

319 “International Center for Research on Women. 2014. Gender Issues in the Micro, Small, and Medium Enterprise Sector in India. World Bank, Washington, DC. © World Bank. License: CC BY 3.0 IGO.”

320 Manoj Kumar Bhusal (2010). Does microfinance really empower? A study on the contribution of microfinance in empowering the poor women of northern Bangladesh. Järvenpää. Autumn.

321 Anne Marie Goetz and Rina Sen Gupta (1996). Who takes the credit? Gender, power, and control over loan use in rural credit programs in Bangladesh, World Development, 24, (1), pp. 45-63.