Feature: Kenyan women's resilience keeps small firms vibrant

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NAIROBI, Feb. 20 (Xinhua) -- Dozens of women sat in rows and displayed their products at Muthurwa market, one of the largest flea markets in Nairobi, Kenya's capital.

Some sold secondhand clothes and shoes, others plastics while rest farm produce like onions, tomatoes and vegetables among other items.

The market was a beehive of activity as the women sought to get the attention of buyers.

As one walks through the various stalls in the market, they can hardly see men, with the women dominating the majority of the small businesses at the market.

And so is the situation at the other open air markets, bus termini and trading centers across the east African nation, where women are running a majority of the small businesses.

Despite the ravaging effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, which slowed down economic activities, Kenyan women have kept the small businesses sector alive.

They are selling farm produce like vegetables, bananas and tomatoes, face masks, grains, doughnuts, food and drinks, clothes and shoes and plastics imported from China.

Some hawk the items, others have stalls at open air markets while a good number run shops.

For those offering services, women run tailoring shops, salons and barbershops and outnumber men in operating mobile money shops, one of the fastest-growing businesses in Kenya.

These businesses have employed thousands of people in the east African nation.

"I have been running my grocery for the last five years and when the pandemic struck, my husband lost his job at a tour company, we now run the shop together," said Grace Mutuku, who runs the shop in Komarock on the east of Nairobi.

Last month, she expanded the shop to sell household items and cooking gas after taking loans from a women's group she belongs to.

Her husband now runs the two businesses as she focuses on fresh produce.

Like many other small businesses, Mutuku was hit by the effects of the pandemic that included restricted movement of people and declined trade due to low purchasing power.

But these have seemingly not slowed down the small businesses run by women amid economic contraction.

Kenya's real gross domestic product contracted by 1 percent in 2020 due to the effects of the pandemic, according to the World Bank.

The economy is expected to rebound in 2021 when the effects of the pandemic weaken in the first half of the year, to post a growth of 6.9 percent, said the bank in its latest economic forecast.

At the center of the growth would be the millions of the small businesses in the east African nation.

Elizabeth Akoth, a former government employee who retired and now runs a shop in Kitengela, south of Nairobi, says the business is her main source of livelihood.

And through her business, she supports dozens of big businesses including bakeries and milk processors, whose agents deliver the items at her shop every morning for sale.

"You don't get much profit from shopkeeping but the business offers good employment," she said, noting her day starts at 6:00 a.m. daily.

In a study in 2016, the Kenya National Bureau of Statistics found that out of the cumulative 7.41 million micro and small businesses surveyed in the country, some 6 million were run by women.

The businesses were not only offering employment but also income, said the bureau.

Ernest Manuyo, a business lecturer at Pioneer Institute in Nairobi, attributed the rise of small women businesses to a number of things, mainly among them their resilience and ease in accessing loans.

"Women are traditionally known to be more patient and they remain hopeful. Thus, even during the pandemic, a good number of them hang on in business," he said. Enditem

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