Women In Doctorpreneurship in Africa; The Challenges PART 1


Hamza Asumah, MD

It is an undeniable fact that women in Africa have faced numerous challenges in most aspects of their professional lives, forcing them to continuously cry out louder in order to be heard and taken seriously. Despite the fact that much has changed in the last few years, the challenges remain, albeit at a lower intensity.

Women face greater challenges in professional careers and entrepreneurship in Africa than on most other continents. This is largely due to the traditional roles that women have been assigned over the last several decades. Recent attempts by women to redefine those roles have met with unimaginable backlash from society, which includes women.

photo by teamscopeapp

On the continent, men dominated healthcare, particularly medical training and practice. When anyone saw a man in a white coat in a hospital, he was automatically assumed to be a doctor, and unfortunately, any woman was assumed to be a nurse. Even patients, both males and females, had more trust in male doctors than female doctors, despite the fact that most female doctors are far smarter and safer than male doctors.

Female doctors in Africa, in general, set up non-profit gender specific businesses that do not require too much commitment because society expects them to be great wives and great mothers at the same time. There is a fundamental lack of support within the family system that provides the woman with the support she requires to pursue her doctorpreneurship ambitions.

I saw and experienced some of these when I was in medical school nearly 18 years ago. I witnessed the treatment of female medical students. This was only the beginning of what they would go through as doctors. Gender norms from the past still cling to the surface of our collective consciousness, giving rise to social standards and practices that perpetuate gender inequality.

Photo by commonwealth fund

Women who, beyond all these, venture into doctorpreneurship are faced with even more challenges of navigating this brutal choice of a lifestyle. According to the South African results of the latest Mastercard Index of Women Entrepreneurs Index (MIWE), as women try and move forward to overcome gender biases, the pandemic worsened social and cultural obstacles, taking them a few steps back.

Let’s talk about these specific challenges women face in doctorpreneurship:

First, Gender Bias
Because the doctorpreneurship space in Africa is largely dominated by men, women simply have fewer advantages. In addition to banks’ refusal to extend credit to them, women face negative socio-cultural attitudes and limited access to business and development services.
Women frequently shoulder the majority of household responsibilities. There is a subtle but strong belief and expectation that the woman will be the parent who raises the children while the man works.

It’s no wonder that women are generally more afraid of failure than men. This is according to the Global Entrepreneurship Monitor Women’s Report. This fear creates an inhibition in women and an unlikelihood that they will pursue the idea of starting their own businesses.

Second, Funding Access
Getting a loan to start a business can be difficult for women because they have less access to capital and fewer assets than men. Many African women do not own property, so they have no collateral to use in the loan application process.

Despite this, studies show that women manage credit better than men, and when invested in, women achieve a 27% credit turnover, compared to 8% in men-owned businesses.

The government has begun to recognize the importance of female entrepreneurs and is providing financial assistance to them as well as private enterprises. Structures like these will catapult women from dreaming of a business to crushing it.

Photo by search engine journal

Third, Networking 

It’s also more difficult for a woman to build her network in male-dominated communities. 

Lastly, Role Models

Starting a business requires important decision-making, and mentors can help to give advice and avoid mistakes.

In 2019, a global study mentioned in Forbes found that three in four women can’t name a successful female entrepreneur. Interestingly, though, the study found that women in South Africa can name female and male role models in equal percentages. This is heartening for our continent. The motivation here should be that, in the absence of role models, I believe every female doctor should aspire to break that glass ceiling and create in herself the role model she never had and thus, encourage the next generation into these possibilities.

Do share your experiences and thoughts in the comment section below


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