Women’s entrepreneurship in rural areas

A 2004 study investigates women’s satisfaction in being entrepreneurs, and explores the reasons why they start their own business. It also considers the main problems and obstacles facing entrepreneurship.

A study, Rural women’s entrepreneurship (805Kb pdf; in Estonian), was carried out in 2004 by the Network of Entrepreneurial Women (Ettevõtlikud Naised Eestimaal , ETNA), at the initiative of the Female Entrepreneurs’ Meeting in the Baltic Sea Region. The research investigates the current situation and perspectives regarding female entrepreneurship in rural areas, and outlines women’s opinions about entrepreneurship in Estonia. According to the Estonian Labour Force Survey, there were around 6,000 self-employed women in rural areas in 2003 and the expected sample size was 600 women. In the end, 393 women, aged 18-64 years and living in rural areas, were interviewed. Two thirds of them already own their own business, with or without employees, while others had thought about starting their own business.

In addition to these interviews, several focus group interviews were conducted. Some 22 women were involved in a group discussion, where they shared their experiences as entrepreneurs. The focus group identified problems - weaknesses of support systems, little knowledge about marketing, lack of training and consulting possibilities, etc. Representatives of the Credit and Export Guarantee Fund KredEx (Krediidi- ja Ekspordi Garanteerimise Sihtasutus KredEx ) and the Ministry of Economic Affairs and Communications (Majandus- ja Kommunikatsiooniministeerium ) were present at several focus group sessions in order to clarify the institutional support available for entrepreneurship among women and for entrepreneurs in rural areas.

Women’s entrepreneurship

According to the Tax and Customs Board (Maksu- ja Tolliamet ), only 39.1% of sole proprietors are women. However, according to the Estonian Labour Force Survey, the employment rate of women aged 15-64 years was 59.8% in 2004. Nonetheless, there are six counties in Estonia (all having a high share of rural areas), where the employment rate is lower than the 57% target set for women by 2005 in the Lisbon strategy.

According to this study, the majority of female entrepreneurs are 36-65 years old and only one third are younger than 35 years. The percentage of entrepreneurs increases with age, perhaps indicating that women often start their own business when they cannot find a convenient job nearby. The majority of respondents have family relations: 79% are married or cohabiting, and 62% have at least one child younger than 18 years. Having children does not seem to be a constraint for women in starting their own business.

Generally, women are active in areas that do not require large investment: services (beauty-services, hairdressing, sewing, etc), tourism and agriculture. In addition, many women also work in another area, in order to decrease the business risk. Women tend to start their businesses slowly, take fewer risks than men, and try to avoid taking out loans.

Figure 1 outlines the main reasons for becoming an entrepreneur. The primary driving forces are the wish to have a job and earn money, but also to be financially independent and/or have flexible working time. For many women, the possibilities of gaining new experience and knowledge, as well as testing one’s business capacity, are important factors.

Main motivators in starting own business

Obstacles of entrepreneurship

Figure 2 gives an overview of the obstacles and problems of entrepreneurship. The scarcity of financial resources sets limitations on business development and is usually a serious problem for entrepreneurs. Scarcity of financial resources also relates to low purchasing power of clients in rural areas, high taxes and few support schemes.

Main obstacles for entrepreneurship

Most of these problems characterise business start-ups in general in Estonia and not only for female entrepreneurs. The main obstacles for a business start-up, according to the study, were:

  • lack of financial resources;
  • lack of knowledge (marketing, sales, accounting, etc);
  • unstable legislation regulating business activities (accounting rules, compulsory statistics, etc).

The study did not find a negative attitude towards female entrepreneurship. In the list of possible obstacles, one question suggested the underestimation of women as entrepreneurs. However, 64% of respondents stated that this was not a barrier, and only 15% stated that it was.

The survey also casts light on the problems that arise in reconciling entrepreneurship and family life. Women mentioned that they do not have enough time for their family, home, children, or for themselves and their hobbies. Nevertheless, only 18% have used the help of a housekeeper and 14% have hired baby-sitters. Respondents also pointed out that there are limited possibilities for taking a vacation, as they face difficulties in finding a replacement and it can be complicated to coordinate holiday time with the other family members’ free time.

Women’s expectations

The respondents’ expectations regarding supportive arrangements are:

  • more support from financial institutions, particularly in obtaining micro credit;
  • one institution to coordinate issues of rural entrepreneurship. At present, there are several institutions in Estonia dealing with different aspects of entrepreneurship, and usually people do not know whom they should approach with their questions or problems. In addition, the requirements for financial support in these institutions are different.
  • more training and advice opportunities. Main areas of training include legislation, foreign languages and marketing. Also, there is need for advice in accounting, taxation, and the different support programmes and funding resources available.


Talves, K. and Laas, A., Maanaiste ettevõtlus (Rural women’s entrepreneurship ), Female Entrepreneurs’ Meeting in the Baltic Sea Region, Tartu, 2004.

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