Almost three-quarters of the way through the first decade of the 21st century, debates about women and their place in the economy are still taking place – and in some emerging markets, women are still regarded as second-class citizens. 

In South Africa, women constitute more than half of the population, but tradition still seeks to exclude them from the formal environments of business, potentially limiting the growth of entrepreneurial activity in this country.
The potential for women to boost entrepreneurship in South Africa is tackled for the first time in the 2006 Global Entrepreneurship Monitor (GEM), an annual Report which gauges the entrepreneurial activity in emerging economies around the world. In this edition, the sixth in which South Africa has participated, it suggests that programmes which encourage entrepreneurship among women may help to stimulate economic activity in the country.
Produced by the University of Cape Town’s Graduate School of Business and sponsored by Standard Bank, Liberty Life, South African Breweries Limited and the National Research Foundation, the South African GEM Report provides empirical data on the level of entrepreneurship in the country, and is intended to stimulate debate and inform policy.
Melt van der Spuy, director: business support, business & private banking at Standard Bank, says: “Financial services companies have traditionally not analysed customer needs in the business markets according to gender. For example there are no separate risk models for groupings based on gender. As a result, to date no specific products in terms of loans, transactional services or other financial instruments have been created to meet specific requirements of women.
“As the competitive landscape evolves, I believe organisations such as banks, which provide access to critical resources required by entrepreneurs, will seek to create specific products and solutions.”
He also says the question of whether or not the business world provides sufficient support to start up businesses run by women warrants serious examination, particularly given the prejudices which may exist  in  environments which are traditionally male-dominated.
“As such, awareness of and sensitivity to these realities is necessary when organisations engage with women seeking to innovate.”
Van der Spuy says that Standard Bank recognises that women entrepreneurs should be supported and encouraged to succeed.
“In an effort to inspire women we have developed initiatives that recognise the achievements of women entrepreneurs who have overcome the challenges of their circumstances to triumph.
“These include the Mompreneur competition in Living & Loving which acknowledged mothers who had successfully started small businesses to attain work-life balance, the Boost your Business series in True Love which encouraged fledging businesswomen to expand their businesses, and the aspirational stories of successful businesswomen profiled in Marie Claire,” he says.
Noting that the GEM Report has again indicated that South Africa’s total early stage entrepreneurial activity is well below the average of emerging economies with an opportunity index of 3.47% versus the average of 6.82% for all participating countries (putting it in 33rd position out of the 40 participating countries), van der Spuy says it is imperative for business to work in partnership with government to drive the entrepreneurial spirit.
“However, the reality is that entrepreneurial spirit is something which to a large extent comes from within the individual. As such, we want to stimulate entrepreneurial talent especially where it has been lacking through exclusion – such as within the gender group which makes up 52% of our population, but is not participating proportionally in the economy,” he says.