Entrepreneurship as Way to Alleviate the Marginal Status of Somali Women in the Canadian Labour Market

Guest contributor: Leila Mohamed (ISS Class of 2019)

As a Somali woman, I have a major responsibility to highlight the challenges that we are facing in Canada and the resiliency that we continue to exhibit living in the Canadian diaspora. In my Major Research Paper (MRP), I examined the barriers Somali women face in the Canadian labour market due to islamophobia, racism, and their gendered roles. During my research, I found that Somali women’s labour force participation is peripheral. Racialized women in Canada experience precarious work, underemployment, and unemployment, as well as a significant wage gap. Furthermore, Somali women face the responsibility for social reproduction and a lack of social capital. The challenges Somali women have faced in gaining a foothold in the Canadian labour market have marginalized these women to the point of poverty, which impacts their health and raises public health concerns.

When I was working on my MRP two years ago, I did not initially consider entrepreneurship as a possible avenue to the peripheral status of Somali women in the Canadian economy. I came to the realization that these women need supports such as training, access to financial/capital and other opportunities to thrive in the Canadian economy. Thus, I have recently embarked on a project called Afimad Kena – it simply means in Somali ‘our well being.’  This venture will hopefully provide support such as accessing loans, marketing, mentorship, and other supports for those women who are interested in start-ups or already own one. At the moment, the project is in its infancy as we try to garner support. The existing Suuqa Ceelgaab Somali Flea Market (296 Rexdale Blvd, Etobicoke) would be one of the beneficiaries.

I also think governments have a critical role to play. In 2018, the Government of Canada created the First Women Entrepreneurial Strategy, committing $5 billion to increase women-owned businesses in Canada and help women entrepreneurs access funding, mentorship, and other supports to scale their businesses. Members of Afimad Kena would like to spread awareness of this federal strategy and encourage aspiring and current female entrepreneurs within the Somali community to consider the support available to help them succeed. This is critical because only 15.7% of small to medium sized businesses in Canada are owned by women. Despite this low figure, female-owned businesses could add $150 billion to the national GDP by 2026. Sadly, Somali women are underrepresented in Canada’s entrepreneurial landscape. This is disappointing for many reasons, including the fact that Somalis, during the time of the Ancient Egyptians, were recognized for their advanced entrepreneurial skills and Somali women have much to contribute as entrepreneurs.

I am heartened to see more and more women from the Somali community getting into entrepreneurship to earn a living. At the same time, COVID-19 has introduced more challenges for these women. For this reason, I believe it is crucial for the Afimad Kena to come to fruition. This project will not only benefit these Somali women, but the entire country as well. Most importantly, it is important to mention that the Canadian society, employers, and governments still have a major responsibility to ensure that there is an even playing field in the labour market despite the exciting possibilities of entrepreneurship.

The ISSAA would like to thank Leila for preparing this post. If you would like to contribute a guest post, please contact the ISSAA’s Communications Committee at issaa@ryerson.ca

Published by Immigration and Settlement Studies Alumni Association

ISSAA is an independent group of alumni from Ryerson University's Master in Immigration and Settlement Studies. We provide a forum to engage and serve our communities through leadership opportunities, professional affiliation, and partnerships.

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