Women's entrepreneurship in rural areas and their contribution to local development

In order to develop knowledge about women's entrepreneurship in rural areas and their contribution to local development, we have used register data to map the extent, industry, size, demographic data, and disposable income of all women who run businesses in rural areas, analyzed rural policy from a gender perspective, and interviewed 32 entrepreneurs.

Women own about 30% of businesses in rural areas in Sweden. The most common industry is forest management, but unlike men, who are mostly found in forestry, agriculture, construction and transport, women are found in 572 different industries. The second largest is hair care, followed by mixed agriculture, restaurants, accounting and bookkeeping, body care, organizational consulting, physiotherapy, literary and artistic creation and other consumer services. However, these industries only include 37% of women's businesses.

The women who have large manufacturing companies with many employees also have the best profitability. Service companies such as accounting and consultancy, food retailers and restaurants also have good profitability. However, most have small businesses with no employees and often run several different types of businesses at the same time. Although entrepreneurship does not make women rich, it offers a way for them to live the life they want to live. What motivates them is the opportunity to control their own lives and realize an idea, often also in a specific place.

To a large extent, women's businesses provide services in rural areas. They provide employment and local services, and they buy goods and services for their business locally, which benefits other businesses in the area. They often take a great deal of social responsibility. They sponsor associations, are involved in local development projects, get involved in politics and many of the entrepreneurs, not least the shop owners or hairdressers, can have the only social meeting places left in a place.

Most of the people we interviewed are locally rooted. They come from the area, or have moved to the husband's hometown. The community often provides important role models and sometimes a family business to return to. Few had moved from the city without any previous roots in the countryside. That is why it seems more effective to invest in the women who are already there than to get the city dwellers to move to the countryside. So what can be done to promote entrepreneurship in rural areas? Today, there are EU subsidies for farmers, which are vital for them, but less important for women's entrepreneurship. Some enthusiasts have benefited greatly from EU money for development projects and done important things for their home town, but for most they are far too complicated to apply for. What everyone points out, however, is the importance of a functioning infrastructure. There must be broadband, shops, post offices, healthcare, public transport, state and municipal services and, not least, a functioning school. Public funding of a good range of services in rural areas can be a good investment even when the population base is actually too small for it to be sustainable – without it, it is difficult to reverse a downward trend. Among those we interviewed, we saw examples of how local entrepreneurs have succeeded in making their place attractive to immigrants through a good range of services.