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Aside from agriculture, the informal sector is Africa's biggest single source of employment. In all sub-Saharan countries, both rural and urban women are involved in petty trading, selling of cooked food, and brewing of ale and beer or other traditional drinks.
Other informal sector activities typically undertaken by women include running tea kiosks; processing and selling street foods, like rice balls, roast maize, or groundnuts; producing handicrafts; selling charcoal or firewood; tailoring; and making dresses. In some cases, women prefer to participate in group enterprise because it offers protection against interference or manipulation by husbands or male relatives.
Commonly, the activities undertaken by women are extensions of their domestic roles, and women often operate directly from their homes, sometimes relying on assistance from their children. Most of these businesses require a low initial capital outlay, but access to water is often essential for both production and sanitation.
There appears to have been little analysis of the importance of access to water in women's choice of particular informal sector business activities, in the success or failure of their businesses, or in the capacity to expand their business activities.
A study of urban agriculture revealed that urban food production is an important source of family food and additional income for women but that women's access to irrigation was minimal.
A study of women's petty commodity production revealed that economic necessity, either that of providing basic support for their families or that of supplementing inadequate incomes of their husbands, was the basic motivating factor for participation in informal-sector economic activities.
In no case was economic independence or a general desire to improve socioeconomic status a primary motivating factor. More work needs to be done to verify these findings in other countries, but it would seem logical that women engage in informal sector work primarily because they need the additional income to sustain themselves and their families.
If this is indeed the case, then there is a strong argument to be made for incorporating their needs for access to water for economic production into water resource planning and for assigning such needs the same high priority as assigned to the needs of male small scale entrepreneurs.
The importance (or lack or importance) of access to water resources for women's informal-sector activities raises a set of interesting questions, which fall outside the usual concerns of both donors and governments .