South Africa grows number of women business owners, despite challenges – Mastercard Index of Women Entrepreneurs

March 8, 2022 | Johannesburg, South Africa

Johannesburg, South Africa – 8 March 2022: Despite the gender gap and the impact of the covid-19 pandemic, women in South Africa are making progress as entrepreneurs, indicating a strong will and determination to survive. This is according to the latest Mastercard Index of Women Entrepreneurs Index (MIWE), announced on the side-lines of the annual 2022 FORBES WOMAN AFRICA Leading Women Summit presented by Mastercard.

Now in its fifth year, the MIWE highlights the vast socio-economic contributions of women entrepreneurs across the world, provides insight on the factors driving and inhibiting their advancement, and makes a compelling case for building on targeted gender-specific policy best practices internationally. Through a unique methodology – drawing on publicly available data from leading international organizations such as the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development and International Labour Organization – MIWE 2021 includes a global ranking of the advancement of women in business across 65 economies, and how they differ in terms of the level of ‘Women’s Advancement Outcomes’, ‘Knowledge Assets & Financial Access’ and ‘Supporting Entrepreneurial Conditions’.

While South Africa moved up one place from 2020 to rank 37th on the 2021 Index with a score of 54.9, women’s advancement still remains hampered by less supportive entrepreneurial conditions compared to other global economies such as the United States (rank 1; score 69.9), New Zealand (rank 2; score 69.8), and Canada (rank 3; score 68.6). Despite this, South Africa moved up two places on the Women Business Owner benchmark to rank 44th, with 21.9% of all businesses owned by women in 2021 versus 21.1% in 2020. Botswana (38.5%) ranks first in the world with the highest percentage of women business owners, followed by Uganda (38.4%) and Ghana (37.2%).

South Africa performed relatively well in the “Women’s Advancement Outcome” component (rank 21), which measures women’s progress and degree of marginalisation as business leaders, professionals, entrepreneurs, and labour force participants. Although “Women’s Entrepreneurial Activity Rate” declined in most economies during the pandemic, South Africa is one of only 12 economies where women’s entrepreneurial activity rates increased, with 11.1% of working-age women engaged in early-stage entrepreneurial activities (up from 10.2% in 2020), compared to 11.7% for men (up from 11.4% in 2020).

This growth in female entrepreneurism is likely spurred by various factors, including a significant increase in “female necessity-driven entrepreneurship” (up from 62.8% in 2020 to 91.2% in 2021); perceived opportunities to start a business (up from 51.8% in 2020 to 60.4% in 2021); self-perceived business capabilities (up from 50.2% in 2020 to 60.4% in 2021), as well as improvements in internal market openness (from 41.7% in 2020 to 45.2% in 2021), higher education entrepreneurial training (from 47.4% in 2020 to 50.6% in 2021), and availability of SME venture capital (from 42.6% in 2020 to 43.6% in 2021).

“The 2021 Mastercard Index of Women Entrepreneurs reflects the challenges of a persistently uncertain global entrepreneurial landscape, as well as a marked rise in both female and male necessity-driven entrepreneurship as many had lost their jobs arising from lockdown and restriction measures,” says Gabriel Swanepoel, Country Manager of Mastercard, Southern Africa. “The fact that women entrepreneurial activity rates in South Africa grew in a year when many other economies did not, together with the fact that female necessity-driven entrepreneurship surpassed that of males, indicates their strong will, resilience and determination to survive.”

Ranked 55th as far as ‘Knowledge Assets and Financial Access’ is concerned on MIWE, this is an area where South Africa has room for improvement. Women are constrained by poor access to finance (down 4 places, rank 40) and government SME support (stable, rank 54). While the female tertiary education enrolment rate in South Africa is higher than men – with 26.5% females enrolled versus 18.5% of men – it remains quite low on a global scale (stable, rank 57). From a financial inclusion perspective, South Africa dropped five places to rank 36th on the index, possibly exacerbating the impact of the pandemic on women.

South Africa ranks 37th in the ‘Supporting Entrepreneurial Conditions’ component of the Index, which benchmarks how supportive entrepreneurial conditions are as enablers or constraints of women business ownership. While South Africa dropped two places for its entrepreneurial framework indicator (rank 54) – which includes access to infrastructure, perceived extent of intellectual and property rights and ease of access to skilled employees - its 2021 score was boosted by a positive change in cultural perceptions of women entrepreneurs (up 9 places to rank 37th) and competitiveness (up 3 places to rank 25th). 

“While women entrepreneurs are playing an increasingly larger role in the South African economy, there is need to address the structural challenges of social and gender equalities that still hinder their progress. Continuing to create the right social, political, and financial understanding and conditions for women to thrive is of tremendous importance for future economic growth,” says Swanepoel.  

As part of Mastercard’s commitment to creating a world where women entrepreneurs are equally represented and supported, the company made a global commitment to connect 25 million women entrepreneurs to the digital economy by 2025.  Mastercard’s philosophy is that not only will empowering women’s entrepreneurship act as a catalyst for growth and innovation, but it will raise up the communities around successful women and fuel a global recovery that is more equitable and sustainable for everyone.

Download the 2021 Mastercard Index of Women Entrepreneurs report at



The 2021 Mastercard Index Women Entrepreneurs (MIWE) uses 12 indicators and 27 sub-indicators to create three “Components”: women’s advancement outcomes; knowledge assets and financial access; entrepreneurial supporting conditions. These allow us to track factors and conditions that support and drive the female share of business owners in an economy across 65 economies, representing about 82% of the world’s female labor force.    

The updated MIWE ranks and scores each economy according to its performance over the past year. Aggregating these scores, the index provides an overall assessment of how women are faring in the business, financial, education, and workplace settings compared to their male counterparts at the national level as well as their peers on a global level. In this, the 5th edition, the number of economies analyzed has been expanded from 58 to 65 (with the addition of Qatar, Cyprus, Bulgaria, Morocco, Jordan, Lebanon and Madagascar).   

To accommodate the addition of new indicators and sub-indicators in the analysis and maintain the historical series and allow for comparisons, we have also re-published the index, component and benchmark scores for the previous two years as well.