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Donor representatives emphasise creating better work culture' for women in small business

Women bikers under the banner of 'Women's scooter School Bd' are out to enjoy a pleasure ride on the Dhaka University campus on Tuesday as they gathered there on the occasion of International Women's Day — FE photo by KAZ Sumon
Women bikers under the banner of 'Women's scooter School Bd' are out to enjoy a pleasure ride on the Dhaka University campus on Tuesday as they gathered there on the occasion of International Women's Day — FE photo by KAZ Sumon

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Suggesting accessible loans for women, speakers on the International Women's Day called for creating an enabling environment for those in small businesses for sustainable economic development.

To celebrate the day, UNDP, UN Women and UNCDF jointly hosted an event on Tuesday with the support of several financial institutions recognising better and easier loan access for women.

The event was an initiative of the 'WING: Women's Empowerment for Inclusive Growth' project, funded by Dutch embassy in Dhaka, according to a press release.

Of almost eight-million businesses in Bangladesh, 99.93 per cent are cottage or micro, small and medium enterprises (CMSMEs), discloses a 2016 report by the International Finance Corporation.

Women own 7.2 per cent of the businesses, it says.

UNDP Bangladesh resident representative Sudipto Mukerjee says, "We must create an enabling environment for women who are in cottage, micro, small and medium businesses if we want to see sustainable progress in economic development for Bangladesh."

"Our WING project is working with the government of Bangladesh, financial institutions and the women themselves to empower women and to help Bangladesh achieve SDGs by 2030."

"In most cases, women entrepreneurs are not aware of the financial services available, how to access them and how to leverage them for sustaining their businesses," says UN Women deputy country representative Diya Nanda.

It is critical to have gender-responsive policies that identify gender-specific needs to work with women in cottage, micro, small and medium enterprises (CMSMEs).

At the same time, Ms Diya says, building technical capacity of women entrepreneurs, especially on digital tools, is also essential.

Women entrepreneurs and women in business are growing in numbers, but they are still facing many challenges and barriers.

Among all these constraints, access to finance in order to start or scale up a business appears to be the dominant challenge.

Jaker Hossain, Bangladesh Bank general manager (SME and Special Programmes Department), was present as the guest of honour there.

He thanked everyone for joining and said, "Without considering total women pool, we need to target the missing middles that are in need of credit facilities."

"We need to change mindset of women entrepreneurs along with bank officials so that they understand the need of proper documentation, keeping transaction records and having a bank account/mobile financial service wallet to get  access to credit."

To achieve the target of gender equality today for a sustainable tomorrow, Mr Hossain emphasises target-oriented financial literacy and awareness building.

The central bank provides policy support to promote CMSME women entrepreneurs and minimise the gender gap.

"We need to ensure implementing current policies with support from all stakeholders, including financial institutions, to achieve the desired goals."

Dutch ambassador Anne Van Leeuwen as the chief says: "The Netherlands is interested in a stable and economically strong Bangladesh, where plenty of jobs with opportunities for future generations are available, high value goods are produced and business opportunities are found everywhere…"

"Facilitating access to finance for female entrepreneurs is a win-win situation for both businesses and financial institutions."

"Encouraging and including half of the population, i.e., the women, in economic activities can only increase the economic potential of Bangladesh and assist to pave the way to becoming a Middle-Income Country inclusively and faster," he adds.

WING UNDP Bangladesh national project manager Kajal Chatterjee moderated the discussion.

Among others, representatives from the embassy, Bangladesh Bank and other public and private banks, non-bank financial institutions and WING programme officials attended the meeting.

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