Africa is building up a glowing reputation as the global leader in female entrepreneurship. Last year, MasterCard released its celebratory Index of Women Entrepreneurs to much fanfare. Uganda and Botswana topped the list, which further pushed the new narrative that women are rising above adverse circumstances to create businesses that will rev the engine of growth in sub-Saharan Africa.
Unfortunately, few have been willing to admit that this story, satisfying though it may be, is incomplete at best. The high levels of labour force participation that earn commendations mask the persistence of significant, structural limitations on female business-owners.
The potential for women to create and lead businesses that will drive African growth into the next century is massive, but women’s ability to deliver on this potential is tightly constrained by a lack of access to support services, sponsorship from business leaders, and supply chains. Pervasive sexism and structural inequalities have created a troubling dichotomy – glorification of African artisans and farmers who are women, but little true interest in cultivating rising female industry leaders.