Glorifying Multi-Tasking by Women Entrepreneurs Must Stop


Thu from Vietnam runs an organic farming network. After participating in a 'family day' run by CARE, her husband how supports her at home, allowing her to grow her business.

How many times this week have you heard someone rave about an amazing mother who is simultaneously juggling her business with childcare, while running a household? This is constantly happening. Everywhere across the globe. We all do it – men and women. Glorifying multi-tasking by women entrepreneurs must stop.

Gender norms are everywhere. The expectation that a woman should be the primary childcare giver and that the man should be the breadwinner are norms that are so ingrained they remain consistently unchallenged. New research from CARE’s Ignite program confirms that women entrepreneurs worldwide are so bound by these norms, it is stunting their business success.

  • In Vietnam, 80% of men and 60% of women agreed that businesswomen should be the main childcare giver, despite the pressure of running a business.
  • In Peru, 80% of women interviewed say they are bound by traditional gender roles and the expectations and pressures from the family and society as caregivers.
  • In Pakistan, 76% of respondents felt that family members will disapprove if a woman entrepreneur’s earnings surpass her husband’s.

One of the most alarming findings was that when women entrepreneurs start to succeed, they can face sabotage by their male family members, sometimes even violence or sexual harassment. In Pakistan, women told us that if they start earning more than their male family members, they are overburdened with household responsibilities to the point that they are forced to cut down on, or even discontinue, their businesses. Furthermore, women entrepreneurs who leave the house for business without a male family member are considered less moral and may be subject to harassment or sexual requests in return for work-related agreements.  In Peru, 100% of the women entrepreneurs interviewed had seen or heard about a case of violence in their close environment. Other research has estimated the cost of gender-based violence in Peru: women micro-entrepreneurs lose around $9,000 each year, causing a loss of 5.72% of GDP.

Revealingly, it is not just men who are piling expectations on women – it is also women themselves and their female family members. In Vietnam, mothers-in-law were revealed as the staunch enforcers of the norm related to childcare, who would most disapprove if the man did more childcare than the woman.  In Pakistan, it is predominantly the husband’s mother and sisters who pressure women to be at home taking care of the children and the household and the man to be the main breadwinner.

It is clear that little is being done to shift these norms, and the time to act is now. Many fantastic initiatives focus on helping women gain better access to finance to grow their businesses. But very few initiatives try to understand or address the deeply entrenched gender norms holding women entrepreneurs back. Time poverty is one of the women's biggest challenges, a condition deeply intertwined with childcare and household duties. Admittedly, shifting gender norms is not easy, requiring a longer-term commitment and won't necessarily provide a short-term return. But that shouldn’t stop us. At CARE, we know that engaging directly with families can be transformational, increasing the time women can spend on their businesses and decision-making power.

We recently met with Thu in Vietnam, who runs an organic farming network and her own food business.  She told us that she was really struggling with a lack of support from her husband, which was affecting her marriage and her business. Following an event that we ran for women entrepreneurs and their families that promoted shared responsibility at home, she told us she had seen a transformation: “On that day, for the first time, he acknowledged my work and my contribution to society and the community. Since then, he is really helping out with the children and the household chores.  Now I can travel much more for work.”

Through a combination of far-reaching social media campaigns and in-person workshops, CARE is beginning to see small changes. Media campaigns in all three countries, with male and female role models, have showcased shared responsibility in the home and are normalizing the growth and success of women entrepreneurs, with the campaigns generating a widespread appreciation for female entrepreneurs.

We know that giving women increased opportunities and time allows them to focus on growing their own businesses to further contribute to their local economies. We also know that women employ women and invest their incomes in their families and communities. The benefits are indisputable.

Our message to NGOs and financial institutions working in financial inclusion is clear:

  • Design holistic programming for women entrepreneurs that includes addressing restrictive gender norms.
  • Design programs that promote the benefits of shared responsibility in the household and the economic contributions of women entrepreneurs.
  • Collect data related to perceptions and expectations around gendered roles and how these present barriers to the growth of women-led enterprises.
  • Advocate for policies that respond to the specific challenges that women entrepreneurs face.
  • Investing in women will always provide a return.

Having conducted this research, we are also making changes to our programming. We are developing new training, not just for women and their families, but also for our financial partners. We will also continue our campaigns and outreach activities which promote and normalize shared responsibility and women’s financial and digital independence.

By studying the barriers holding women entrepreneurs back and working closely with local partners to break down those barriers, CARE is building new opportunities for women entrepreneurs wanting to grow their businesses.

Despite the Ignite program launching amid the pandemic, the program has unlocked 115 million USD in loan capital for women entrepreneurs, a twenty-two-fold uplift of the original program funding provided by the Mastercard Center for Inclusive Growth. 83% of Ignite participants tell us that the program has contributed to an increase in their business sales, helping to build their financial resilience.

By working with women and their support networks, we want everyone to recognize the importance of shared responsibility at home and value the enormous contribution women entrepreneurs make to their families, communities, and economies.