Evaluating women entrepreneurs in the informal sector: some evidence from India
Vol. Volume 16 Number 3 September/2011
Colin C. Williams
Studies on women entrepreneurs in the informal economy no longer view them merely as a residue from some pre-modern mode of production that is disappearing. Instead, they are either read through a structuralist lens as marginalised populations engaged in low quality work conducted under poor conditions for low pay out of necessity in the absence of alternative means of livelihood, or through a neo-liberal lens as engaged in relatively higher quality endeavour more as a rational choice. The aim of this paper is to evaluate critically these contrasting explanations. To do this, the results of face-to-face interviews with 323 women entrepreneurs operating in the Indian informal economy are analysed. The finding is that although the structuralist representation is largely appropriate for women engaged in informal waged work, it is not so valid for women informal entrepreneurs working on a self-employed basis where incomes are higher, they receive more credit from formal institutions, union membership is higher and such work is more likely to be a rational choice. The outcome is a call to recognise the diversity of women’s experiences in the informal sector and that not all informal entrepreneurship by women in developing nations is low-paid necessity-oriented endeavour carried out as a last resort.
Self employed women, Entrepreneurship, Informal economy; India