Small businesses and enterprises in the informal sector of the economy are defined by one source as those which employ 10 persons or less (Senthuraman, 1982: 17). The same author, however, divides these enterprises into at least two types: those whose aim is profit and economic growth which tend to be the larger ones (four plus employees) and those variable enterprises which aim at providing employment and income for poor families (Jules-Rossette, 1982). Research in the Philippines, Argentina and elsewhere shows that self-employed women predominate (over 70%) in the smaller employment-income producing enterprises (which do not grow economically-), whereas men are found (80 percent) heading the larger profit /growth oriented ones.
Within the small informal sector, virtually all units in manufacturing, 75 percent of those in personal services and half of those in trade are headed by women. By contrast, in the semi-formal sector (of five or more workers), 85 percent of manufacturing, 76 percent of trade and 87 percent of services are headed by men (Sethuraman, 1982: 149-150). Furthermore, the small enterprise is rapidly increasing in the Third World where it "provides more than half of the world's work force with a livelihood". It provides an income "particularly to women who are the sole providers for their families" and these rapidly growing enterprises "alleviate the misery of the largest group of the poorest of the poor: women [as sole family providers]" (M.E.S., 1985: 1).
In addition to economic segregation, the "informal production sector" is also culturally segregated. Some trading is seen as "appropriate" for women and other for men. For example, in Columbia and Singapore, it is "appropriate" for women to trade fruits, vegetables, flowers, while men control the meat trade (Giraldo-Suluaga, 1985; Lim, 1980).
In Africa today, with few exceptions, women tend to do small scale trading, while men are in control of wholesale and bulk trade. In general, women are disadvantaged in regard to access to venture capital and modern "know-how" which is a must for larger enterprises. Due to their powerless status and their familial responsibilities, women do not have the flexibility of men, who are able to absent themselves from the home for considerable periods of time without major disruptions to family life.
However, there are countries where women are engaged in long-range trading. One example is 15-20,000 "merchants": women traders who cross the borders of Paraguay-Argentina-Brazil on a daily or weekly basis, to carry (legally or illegally) coveted items across these borders for local/regional sale. Of course, the more lucrative contraband of larger items such as cars, large electric appliances and drugs are controlled by men.
In Haiti, there are 15,000 local and regional "Madam Sarahs" who run large informal retail trade networks of local produce and other items throughout the country. "Madam Sarahs" are also a reliable means of information diffusion and a source of local loans for needy women (Lafontant, 1982: 75).
Many other examples could be used to illustrate the main point about women's enterprises: women, as a group, are involved in the less lucrative and more risk-prone small enterprises; they are also limited by their access to the financial and technical support afforded men and by their familial responsibilities and duties. Their enterprise pattern is often based on the use of traditional rural know how (even if they live in urban areas) and they tend, out of necessity, to exhibit seasonal shifts of activities. Thus, their efforts are seldom recognized as "serious" enterprises and not given the needed technical or financial support (Jules-Rosette; Sethuraman, 1982).
What I have described in sections (c) and (d) above, is called in industrialized societies the 'invisible' or 'underground' economy. It is taking on such unprecedented dimensions, that both the governments of Canada and the United States are seeking ways of taxing it.