Gender responsive ecosystem for MSME development

In light of the above discussion, the following broad five key areas are those which require urgent attention in order to effectively foster women’s entrepreneurship in most ESCAP countries:

  1. Incorporating the specific priorities and needs of women entrepreneurs within relevant national legislation, policies and programmes, with a view to foster gender-responsive enterprise development and promotion 
  2. Enhancing greater access to and use of innovative technologies for women entrepreneurs in line with existing E-Business Frameworks, as well as SDG 17 which calls for increased cooperation on, and access to, science, technology and innovation
  3. Removing the barriers facing women entrepreneurs in accessing finance and credit, through strengthening national financing policies, legal frameworks, infrastructure and institutional arrangements as well as exploring alternative financing approaches, such as crowdfunding, impact and gender lens investing, and capital markets
  4. Strengthening capacity at national and sub-regional levels to collect and analyse sex-disaggregated MSME-related data in order to enable policymakers and other relevant stakeholders evaluate whether the needs of women entrepreneurs are being met and make more informed policy decisions 
  5. Forging stronger partnerships between Governments, the business sector and civil society across the region towards creating an enabling environment for advancing women’s economic empowerment through entrepreneurship.

Strategic intervention in these areas will entail specific actions such as:

  • Addressing time poverty faced by women across the region through policies and measures to reduce the unequal burdens of women in unpaid care.
  • Enhanced social protection schemes which address the particular needs of women entrepreneurs, including equitable pension provision and access to health coverage. This can be aided by formalization of informal MSMEs.
  • Ensuring the provision of accessible and affordable quality childcare services.
  • Promoting gender equality in access to education and technical and vocational training at all levels, including ensuring relevance and quality of the school curricula.

For women-led MSMEs, improvement of the broader environment will mean focusing policies and financing beyond supporting retail and artisanal entrepreneurial activities to build capacity for growth and innovation, and to drive women-owned businesses to a higher level of revenue potential. This also requires identifying training and development programmes for women-owned business beyond the traditional sector of retail/social services/consumer services and providing technology and advanced training to launch tech ventures.334 Inclusive finance will help bridge the gender gap. Eighty per cent of women-owned businesses with credit needs are either unserved or underserved: there is a $1.7 trillion financing gap.335 Women entrepreneurs, particularly those from rural poor communities, are often disadvantaged in growing their businesses, lacking land deeds and/or collateral needed to access formal sources of credit. Evidence shows that women are stronger savers than men, more responsible borrowers and calculated risk-takers.336

Formal associations and professional societies are also an agent of change that can act to improve the business environment for women, and aid government in formulating better policy. Women entrepreneurs, however, are generally underrepresented in business associations and other fora. To appropriately leverage the abilities of these civil society and private sector players, governments should seek to:

  • Institutionalize engagement between women entrepreneurs and governments in developing relevant policies and regulations.
  • Support the development of women-based entrepreneur associations and include these in all relevant policy, programme and budgetary consultation processes.
  • Support stronger representation of women entrepreneurs in broad-based business associations and networks.
  • Increase the participation of women entrepreneurs in promotional and marketing opportunities such as trade fairs and international trade missions.
  • Facilitate access for women to networking and mentoring opportunities, and participation in business cluster and incubator initiatives.

As with many areas of policymaking, data gaps can mean that forming an adequate picture of the state of women’s entrepreneurship is challenging. Addressing gaps in the availability of up-to-date and reliable statistics on women’s entrepreneurship is part of a wider need to develop reliable gender statistics. Critical to progress in this regard is the relationship between National Statistics Offices; women’s civil society organizations (including women entrepreneurs’ associations); and academic and other research institutions. Increased availability of statistics on women’s entrepreneurship, including through national population censuses (which better capture informal entrepreneurship) and time-use studies, will help inform relevant policy making. One particular area for attention is the number, growth and failure rates of women-owned start-ups and small businesses.337


333 Recommendations in this section substantially rely on ESCAP, Fostering Women’s Entrepreneurship in ASEAN, Bangkok 2017.

334 Brush, C. & Greene, P. (2017). Closing the Gender Gap in Entrepreneurship: A New Perspective on Policies and Practices. Report commissioned by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD); Paris: France.

335 Care International, UK. (2019) Giving Women Better Access to Finance Could Unlock $330 Billion in Annual Global Revenue. Business Fights Poverty

336World Economic Forum (2020), To improve women's access to finance, stop asking them for collateral

337 ESCAP, Fostering Women’s Entrepreneurship in ASEAN, Bangkok 2017.