Ready to adapt: resilient women entrepreneurs in the pandemic

19 November 2020

UN Women estimates that during the first month of the pandemic, informal workers lost an average of 60 percent of their income: with losses as high as 81% in sub-Saharan Africa and Latin America.

In low-income countries pre-pandemic, just one in four businesses were owned by women, and their access to financial products and services was often limited  – even though this is key to help entrepreneurs cope with crises. Combined with limited mobility, social distancing, and an estimated 30-40% higher rate of unpaid care – Covid has been a perfect storm to disrupt women’s enterprises.

But what about women-led businesses that have managed to stay afloat? How have they done it and what can we learn from programmes that support women’s enterprises?


The Youth Participation and Employment (YPE) programme is a four-year programme begun in December 2018 in Egypt, Jordan, Morocco and Tunisia with support from the Danish Arab Partnership Programme.  It works with a wide range of national partners to mobilize vulnerable young people, increase their skills and address challenges to getting and holding a job (including gender inequality). Prior to the pandemic, YPE supported entrepreneurship and job creation, using digital means to create awareness of new opportunities and training

  • In Jordan, YPE partner Leaders of Tomorrow provided youth and women with access to entrepreneurship e-learning materials through the FORSA platform and supported women artisans to market, promoting their handicrafts through Souq Fann e-commerce platform. Since lockdown, views of Forsa’s motivational course content jumped from 1,500 to more than 29,000 visitors. 271 new products were also added to Souq Fann and four new women-led enterprises were added as vendors.  
  • However, amid the pandemic, sales and income generated through the platform reduced considerably due to limited market demand as well as lockdown restrictions. It is also important to acknowledge that technology can also further entrench conservative social norms, with women staying at home while still engaging in earning some income.

The Empower Youth for Work (EYW) programme, aimed at the socio-economic empowerment of youth in rural, climate affected areas, focuses on co-creating opportunities for young women’s voices in enabling, youth-led environments in Ethiopia, Indonesia, Pakistan and Bangladesh.  

  • In Ethiopia, a mobile business development service (BDS) brings training and entrepreneurial support directly to youth businesses in rural areas. In conservative communities, where girls are not always allowed to travel far for education or training, the BDS component enabled 408 female youth entrepreneurs to be trained. This amounted to roughly 70% of all the youth participants trained. 

Read the full blog here


Ahmed Elassal

Senior Advisor, Partners Capacity Building and Regional Activity Coordinator

Oxfam IBIS

Shekhar Anand

Senior Advisor, Learning & Knowledge management


Aissa Boodhoo

Gender Justice Learning and Communications Convenor, Women’s Economic Empowerment Knowledge Hub

Oxfam Great Britain

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Year of publication

19 November 2020