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Women social entrepreneurs in a Muslim society: how to manage patriarchy and spouses

Isnaini Ruhul Ummiroh (School of Business and Management, Institute of Technology Bandung, Bandung, Indonesia)
Andreas Schwab (Department of Management and Entrepreneurship, Iowa State University, Ames, Iowa, USA)
Wawan Dhewanto (School of Business and Management, Institute of Technology Bandung, Bandung, Indonesia)

Social Enterprise Journal

ISSN: 1750-8614

Article publication date: 23 September 2022

Issue publication date: 21 November 2022




This study aims to investigate how women social entrepreneurs in Indonesia use various behaviors to address challenges to their leadership authority created by socioreligious patriarchal norms in this Muslim society.


An exploratory study of six Muslim women social entrepreneurs was conducted using multiround, semistructured interviews in a contrast sample of three women who work with their husbands and three women who work without their husband’s involvement.


The study identifies a variety of leadership behaviors that women entrepreneurs use to mitigate the constraining impact of strong patriarchal religious gender norms. Observations revealed surprisingly effective micro adjustments often based on relationship-specific private negotiations between the entrepreneurs and their husbands.

Research limitations/implications

Future research focused on the husbands’ perspectives and behaviors, as well as extensions to other patriarchal religions and societies, are encouraged.

Practical implications

Recognition of the crucial role of spousal relationships suggests the need for more holistic approaches to support women social entrepreneurship, e.g. by integrating husbands into related outreach programs.

Social implications

Religious gender stereotypes such as the stronger altruistic orientation of women can help counteract, to a degree, Muslim patriarchal norms when women lead social enterprises. Leadership of social enterprises by women promises to promote more gender equality over time, even if associated private and relationship-specific accommodations are not intended to challenge religious gender norms.


This study contributes to emerging research on the crucial role of spousal relationships for women’s entrepreneurship and the impact of private micro arrangements between spouses to mitigate the constraining impact of Muslim gender norms. Muslim women entrepreneurs approved of the religious gender norms that constrained them, in contrast to the more “feminist” perspectives common in women entrepreneurs in more secular and Christianity-dominated western societies.



This research was enabled by a foreign travel grant of the U.S. and the Indonesian Fulbright Commission. The sponsors had no influence on study design; the collection, analysis and interpretation of data; the writing of the report; and the decision to submit the article for publication.

Funding: American Indonesian Exchange Foundation (Senior Scholar Research Award).


Ummiroh, I.R., Schwab, A. and Dhewanto, W. (2022), "Women social entrepreneurs in a Muslim society: how to manage patriarchy and spouses", Social Enterprise Journal, Vol. 18 No. 4, pp. 660-690.



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