The Cherie Blair Foundation for Women has released its 2020 annual audit of research on women entrepreneurs in low and middle income countries for International Women’s Day on 8 March 2021. The comprehensive report draws on responses from 125 women across 32 countries. It illustrates the stark impacts of COVID-19 on women entrepreneurs and other major barriers they face—such as gender stereotypes, legal challenges and lack of access to finance.

The report’s most concerning findings relate to the impacts of COVID-19: most (83.8%) women surveyed reported that the pandemic had had a negative impact on their businesses, and nearly four in ten (38.5%) reported their business will or may have to close as a result. Nearly one in ten (9.2%) reported that the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic was the single greatest challenge they had ever faced.

The implications are startling: nearly half (46.9%) of those whose businesses are at risk of closing say they would struggle to support themselves if that happened, 43.8% would struggle to support their families, and over a third (34.4%) would  struggle to afford basic necessities, like food. 18.6% also felt that they would be very unlikely to become a business owner again. The report also uncovers further unacceptable challenges that women entrepreneurs face: a lack of access to finance, the prevalence of gender stereotypes, and legislative or regulatory barriers.

Women running MSMEs are integral to efforts to achieve gender parity in economic participation. They are also the backbone of many economies around the world, most crucially in low and middle income countries where women-run businesses have a key role in poverty reduction, employment generation and economic diversification.

The complexity of such challenging and interwoven obstacles requires co-ordinated action from numerous stakeholder groups at the local, national, regional and global level. With this in mind, we make an urgent call for action to the global community this International Women’s Day to invest in women entrepreneurs in low and middle income countries, both to support a speedy and equitable recovery from the COVID-19 crisis and work towards the full realisation of women’s human rights.

Sian Hawkins, the Foundation’s Director of External Affairs and lead author of this research report, presents the report’s findings, conclusions and recommendations in a 30 minute summary webinar:

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