Online business brings old problems along with new opportunities for women entrepreneurs


Author: Priyal Keni, 30 for 2030 Network

Priyal Keni, 30 for 2030 Network. Illustration: UN Women/Hala Makhlouf

Shifting business online has proven benefits for women entrepreneurs, the wider economy, and even society as a whole. But women are still held back from seizing these opportunities by long standing gender inequalities as well as newer, online forms of harassment and abuse.

The internet has revolutionised the way businesses work, by building a global marketplace for entrepreneurs. It has also proven to be an effective tool for empowering women entrepreneurs in both rural and urban areas to drive economic development. Traditionally, women entrepreneurs have faced systemic barriers and biases that limited their access to funding, networks, and mentorship.

However, the internet has served as a lucrative level playing field to promote women-led businesses and increase their chances of success. Online marketplaces have made it possible for women entrepreneurs to reach customers beyond traditional retail channels. By using social media, women entrepreneurs can reach a wider audience, increase their visibility, and engage with customers in real time.

Additionally, the internet provides access to resources that can help women entrepreneurs develop new skills, grow their businesses, and stay up-to-date on the latest industry trends. Online networking has made it possible for them to connect with other entrepreneurs, potential customers, and investors regardless of their location to build relationships and find mentorship and support to access new business opportunities.

  • Women entrepreneurs who use digital tools in their businesses are twice as likely to expect to see revenue growth of more than 15 per cent over the next three years compared to those who do not.
  • Campaigns run by women on crowdfunding platforms are 32 per cent more successful than those run by men.
  • Women who use online lending platforms are more likely to receive loans at lower interest rates than those who use traditional lending sources.
  • Around 71 per cent of women entrepreneurs who use social media to network believe it has helped them grow their businesses, and 64 per cent say they have found mentors through social media.

Women entrepreneurship can play a vital role in promoting economic development by increasing employment opportunities, generating income, and contributing to the overall growth of the economy.

When women start their own businesses, they create jobs for themselves and others, leading to an increase in the overall workforce and a rise in the female labour-force participation rate. Additionally, women entrepreneurs often bring unique perspectives and approaches to their businesses, leading to innovation and new market opportunities.

Women's involvement within the entrepreneurial circuit can also help to close the gender wage gap and increase financial independence among women. By empowering more women to participate in the economy, countries can tap into a significant source of potential growth and progress towards more equitable and sustainable socio-economic development.

However, while the internet has the potential to promote women entrepreneurship, online gender-based violence (GBV) is a growing concern. Online GBV can take many forms, including cyberstalking, cyber harassment, and online hate speech.

Ending online GBV would allow women entrepreneurs to operate in a safe and supportive online environment and maximise the opportunities the digital space provides. Online GBV can lead to feelings of anxiety, stress, and depression, and can also impact their physical health.

  • Around 47 per cent of women entrepreneurs in developing countries reported experiencing GBV in the form of online harassment, threats, and stalking.
  • 20 per cent of women entrepreneurs in Europe have experienced online harassment, with the majority of incidents occurring on social media platforms.
  • Around 38 per cent of women entrepreneurs who had experienced online harassment reported that it had a negative impact on their business operations.

For women entrepreneurs, this can make it difficult to focus on their businesses or secure funding and access to mentorship, which are critical components of success. Online GBV also has a negative impact on women’s reputations and personal brands.

Ending online GBV is also important for the wider community as it can have a ripple effect, impacting not only the target but also her family, friends, and community. It can also set a dangerous precedent, normalising violence and abuse against women.

By ending online GBV, we can help to create a safer and more supportive online community, promoting equality and respect for all. All individuals, regardless of gender, have the right to be free from violence and abuse.

Governments, businesses, and society as a whole must work together to address online GBV and create a safer and more supportive online community for everyone. This can be achieved through a combination of education, policy, and technology solutions, as well as the promotion of safe online practices.

By working together, we can create a brighter future for women entrepreneurs and empower them to drive economic growth and development!

This article is part of the GenderNet Campaign, supported by the Changemakers Project: Youth, Technology and Innovation to End Violence Against Women and Girls in Asia and the Pacific (2021-2023) with the generous fund from the Government of the Republic of Korea, through the Ministry of Gender Equality and Family.