GAIN Working Paper Series 11 - Supporting gender equity through food system businesses in lower-income countries

Supporting small enterprises in the food system is central to improving access to safe and nutritious foods in low- and middle-income countries (LMICs) - and therefore to improving nutrition. However, the ways in which such enterprises are supported can have important implications for achieving other social goals, such as gender equity and women’s empowerment.

Despite this, gender issues are often not considered when designing programmes and policies to develop food system enterprises. this paper reviews the literature on women business owners and entrepreneurs, with a focus on those in the food system and in LMICs, and uses the findings to develop recommendations for making such programmes more supportive of gender equity. Our review uncovered 90 relevant publications, 53 of which focused on LMICs (primarily in Africa).

These show clearly that while both men and women face barriers to entrepreneurship and business ownership, those faced by women are generally higher. Women face limitations on mobility, lack of access to finance, lack of access to business networks and mentors, limited leadership experience, lower literacy and numeracy, discriminatory gender norms and stereotypes, inadequate premises, and higher risk of harassment or bribery by officials as well as a dual burden of work stemming from home-based care responsibilities.

However, women entrepreneurs also face opportunities, and there are many examples of successful female entrepreneurs. As women are over-represented in the agri-food sector compared to other sectors, supporting food system enterprises offers a particularly important opportunity to support gender-equitable economic growth as well as improved nutrition.