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Barriers to the success of women's income generating activities in rural Tanzania : a cultural perspective

Mbwilo, Loy Job


Loy Job Mbwilo


Dianne Dean

Raphaël K. Akamavi


In Tanzania and other developing countries entrepreneurship plays a vital role in the fight against poverty and unemployment. That’s why entrepreneurship should not be underestimated especially in rural areas where poverty is widespread. For instance, in Tanzania rural women entrepreneurs contribute significantly to economic development although their contribution has not been studied in any great depth.

This research addressed the following research questions (1) what are the major characteristics of women entrepreneurs and their enterprises? (2) What are the types of income generating activities (IGAs) undertaken by rural women entrepreneurs?, (3) Do women access the traditional forms of capital or funding in starting and maintaining their businesses (i.e. credit unions, bank loans) and what is the role of finance institutions in financing women entrepreneurs?, (4) How do they measure their business success in entrepreneurial performance, and what contributions have they made to Tanzania?, (5) What are the barriers and/or obstacles that female entrepreneurs face in initiating and growth of IGAs entrepreneurial performance?, and (6) What cultural constraints does women’s participation in IGAs face?

It is found that women entrepreneurs in Tanzania face a number of challenges compared to men. Even poverty in Tanzania is concentrated more in rural areas and is more wide spread among women than men, as it is in many underdeveloped countries. This has made women getting involved in different activities in the society, and plays a very big role in the informal sectors, waged labour and household production, although they are not included in development planning.

Therefore it has been found that there has been very little in the extant literature that examined how women are disadvantaged by the male dominated environment in rural Africa; the main studies examine women’s entrepreneurial activities in urban Africa. Hence, this research examined the barriers to the success of women’s income generating activities in rural Tanzania from a cultural perspective. It looks into Tanzanian women’s place within their traditional culture from a feminist perspective and how this constrains entrepreneurial activity. Also this study uncovered the setbacks and developmental issues related to women’s entrepreneurship in relation to small and medium enterprises (SMEs) in Tanzania.

The study was qualitative and adopted an ethnographic research strategy using in-depth-interviews and participant observation techniques to collect primary information from a sample of 24 participants: 20 rural women participating in income generating activities (IGAs) and interviewed 4 officials who were purposively selected.

Women in rural areas still run undersized enterprises and most of their businesses are small individual enterprises (SIEs) and not SMEs. Women encounter distinct barriers like lack of financial support, lack of networks, lack of education, limited market, lack of access to MFIs, lack of education and knowledge of running a business and lack of governmental support were uncovered to be the problems in the study. Further cultural barriers were also identified where women still encounter discriminatory treatment in their communities due to their ascribed roles, constraining their entrepreneurial success. Cultural barriers have led them to fear performing entrepreneurial activities which interfere with their household chores, which has been among the major barriers hindering women from performing better in their entrepreneurial activities.

Moreover, they lack time to access training and acquire skills on entrepreneurial performance, as well as lacking access to opportunities. Although women work hard, still their SIEs are under-sized with low profits and low growth. Women-owned businesses have limited achievement, causing them not to sustain their enterprises, due to the number of challenges facing them.

Characteristics of an entrepreneur, moreover, were seen to differ according to the country; the characteristics in the developed economies are different from those in developing economies. Developed economies were seen to engage in entrepreneurship driven by pull factors, while developing economies were driven by push factors.

The study surprisingly revealed lack of education to be one of the characteristics pushing women to enter into the entrepreneurial activities, as they had no other option for sustainability and this adds a new characteristic in the body of knowledge which was not found in the literature. Hence, policies and programmes for the support of women entrepreneurs need to begin with the diagnosis of the motives driving women entrepreneurs to a promising business prospect, aiming at strengthening the push factors, which will constitute a foundation for more practical and innovative entrepreneurial activities. The Tanzanian government should use its schemes to extend microcredit services to women through microcredit schemes like the Small Industries Development Organization (SIDO), women’s development funds and women’s banks. Broad outreach would promote poverty alleviation through the informal sectors which are pursued by the majority of Tanzanian rural women. Hence, a formulation of policies is needed to promote financial help to rural women entrepreneurs, which will be an opportunity to enhance women’s growth.


Mbwilo, L. J. (2015). Barriers to the success of women's income generating activities in rural Tanzania : a cultural perspective. (Thesis). University of Hull. Retrieved from

Thesis Type Thesis
Deposit Date May 9, 2016
Publicly Available Date Feb 23, 2023
Keywords Business
Public URL
Additional Information Business School, The University of Hull
Award Date Jun 1, 2015


Thesis (4.8 Mb)

Copyright Statement
© 2015 Mbwilo, Loy Job. All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced without the written permission of the copyright holder.

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