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Women and the False Promise of Microenterprise

Tracy Bachrach Ehlers and Karen Main
Gender and Society
Vol. 12, No. 4 (Aug., 1998), pp. 424-440
Published by: Sage Publications, Inc.
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/190176
Page Count: 17
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Women and the False Promise of Microenterprise
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Abstract

Since the 1980s, microenterprise development programs have proliferated in the United States, where they are widely praised as strategies for economic development and poverty alleviation, especially for low-income women and welfare mothers. Based on research in a highly respected urban center for women, this article argues that microenterprise development is more detrimental and problematic than it is purported to be. Two reasons are isolated. First, gender constrains mean women tend to choose small-scale, undercapitalized, and barely profitable "pink-collar" businesses, largely home-based operations based on work women are already doing as part of their gender-specific role. Second, microenterprise training programs reinforce this business segregation by discounting the sociocultural conditions women bring with them to business and instead emphasizing the personal growth of individuals. The result is that women are encouraged to maintain their economic vulnerability and social peripheralization rather than become part of the mainstream business world.

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