Goal 5: Achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls

A significant number of MSMEs are women-owned or led, and SDG 5 aims to improve women’s access to economic resources, promote gender equality and include women in decision making at all levels of society. Based on the findings from the International Finance Corporation (IFC)’s Enterprise Finance Gap Assessment Database, East Asia and the Pacific have the highest overall number of women-owned MSMEs, while South Asia has the least.34 Formal women-owned MSMEs are more likely to have a larger presence in the retail and wholesale, and healthcare, beauty, and cosmetics sectors. They have close to equal footing in the tourist, transport, hotels and restaurants, services, and trade sectors, and a slightly lower presence in the manufacturing, agriculture, and construction sectors.35

The IFC finds that women constitute a fifth of the total workforce in the MSME sector.36 Disaggregated data across MSMEs shows that women’s employment, like ownership, is the highest in the case of micro enterprises, followed by small and then medium enterprises. According to data available, the rate of women’s employment in registered MSMEs is 20 per cent and 13 per cent in unregistered enterprises.37 However, women are employed predominantly in low-skilled jobs and face low wages, adverse working conditions, and almost a complete lack of social security, maternity benefits or protection against sexual harassment. Improving employment conditions for women in MSMEs will therefore help to achieve this SDG.

Policy measures to support Goal 5:

  • The Women’s Empowerment Principles, promoted by UN Women and the UN Global Compact, provide a framework for promoting gender equality in the workplace, marketplace and community. Policy makers should consider how to encourage these principles to be implemented fully in MSMEs for the benefit of both businesses and women.38
  • MSMEs can be encouraged to adopt gender inclusive policies within their business practice and in their value chains. This includes ensuring equal pay and benefits for work of equal value, zero-tolerance towards all forms of violence at work, supporting women with flexible work arrangements, providing child and dependent care support, promoting women in management positions and increasing gender balance in the teams.39

34 IFC (2014). Women Owned SMEs: A Business Opportunity for Financial Institutions. A Market and Credit Gap Assessment and IFC’s Portfolio Gender Baseline. International Finance Corporation, the World Bank Group.

35 Ibid.

36 International Center for Research on Women (ICRW) (2014). Gender Issues in the Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises (MSME) Sector in India. The World Bank

37 Ibid.

38 UN Women (2020) The Power of Working Together: Emerging Practices that Advance Women's Economic Empowerment

39 Edwards, C. (2018). UN's Sustainable Development Goals for Small Businesses.