The ability to earn your own income and make economic decisions that impact and determine the kind of life you and your family can lead, without needing to rely on anyone else for financial support is one of the most foundational elements to the achievement of empowerment for women.

This is because financial independence and economic agency enables women to gain control over their financial future.

In a country like South Africa, where women have historically been excluded from being fully able to participate in the economy or have access to the same opportunities as their male counterparts, empowering women economically is not just a moral imperative but also a strategic investment in the country’s future. According to Statistics South Africa’s Gender Series Volume IX: Women Empowerment 2017-2022 report, women in South Africa are still more likely to not have the same economic opportunities as men, despite making up more than half (51.1%) of the population.

It stands to reason then that financial empowerment would enable South Africa to harness the untapped potential of its female workforce and build a more equitable and prosperous nation.

“Fortunately, in an increasingly digital society characterised by rapid technological advancements, the platform economy has emerged as a powerful force for the economic empowerment of women,” says Lorraine Onduru, Communications, East and West Africa at Uber. “By providing women with flexible and accessible ways to earn an income, digital platforms like Uber are giving women greater autonomy, control, and opportunities for financial independence.”

Digital platforms are facilitating a shift towards greater entrepreneurship with minimal barriers to entry. Through the platform economy, women are now able to bypass traditional gatekeepers and intermediaries and build their own modern, digitally connected, business.


Access to flexible employment opportunities and diversification of income

For 52 year-old Nomathemba, the platform economy has meant that she can comfortably take care of herself and her family, build a successful business, and earn a flexible income by scheduling her work around her life instead of the other way around. The founder and owner of her own catering and packing businesses, Nomathemba has been able to take trips on the Uber app to supplement her income.

“Uber has really given me the means to not only build a successful business and earn money, but it has also allowed me to do so while navigating and prioritising my family, my personal interests and continuing to run my two other businesses at the same time,” says the devoted mother and grandmother of two.

Nomathemba’s hard work and dedication has certainly paid off and her success is a true testament to the heights that women can reach when given the freedom to chart their own course and create their own path to success. The key to this is flexibility.

Women, who often embody the roles of caregivers and community leaders while managing their entire household, can face substantial challenges in accessing traditional income earning opportunities due to their rigid structures and schedules. However, freelance marketplaces, e-commerce platforms and gig economy platforms offer the kind of flexibility that enable women to work on their own terms – choosing when and where to work.

The platform economy breaks down even more barriers to economic participation, by expanding access to opportunities for women in underserved or marginalised communities to earn an income. This democratisation of access to income earning opportunities will help to close the gender gap across economic participation in South Africa. And, as with Nomathemba, the ability for women to diversify their income stream will only help to enhance their financial resilience and reduce the income instability faced by women as a result of wage gaps, job insecurity or limited career advancement and access.

“With simply a smartphone and an internet connection, anyone can now start their own driving business or connect to new, larger, and more diverse consumer markets, regardless of your geographical location or your socioeconomic status,” adds Lorraine.


Shaping their own destiny

Women across the globe often encounter a number of barriers in accessing the needed financial resources, technology, training and connections to establish and grow their own businesses, making it steeply difficult to compete in the digital marketplace. But, in spite of these challenges, women have continued to demonstrate their remarkable resilience and entrepreneurial spirit, succeeding in carving out niches for themselves. This strength, tenacity and resolve combined with the low barrier to entry that digital platforms bring can only lead to expansive growth and success by overcoming traditional barriers to entrepreneurship and accessing wider markets.

“Technology has the potential to be a powerful tool and catalyst for women’s economic empowerment, offering greater opportunities for the financial independence and self-sufficiency that enables women to take ownership of their incomes, assets, pursue their dreams and aspirations and ensure a better quality of life for both themselves and their families,” says Lorraine.

Uber has also announced that it will be giving the National Shelter Movement of South Africa (a shelter for abused women and their children) a $15 000 grant for safe trips for employees to travel to and from their destinations.