Women entrepreneurs have, indeed, come a long way despite facing social and economic barriers. Now they need policy support and more budgetary allocation, which will lead to development of entrepreneurship in Bangladesh.
According to reports, Bangladesh has bottom-ranked among 58 economies in the Mastercard Index of Women Entrepreneurs for 2020, meaning the country is among the toughest places for female business owners.
Although the country slipped one notch from last year's 57th, its overall score improved to 36.4 out of 100 from 35.4 a year ago.
The index provides an analysis of how women in business are progressing globally, highlighting the socioeconomic factors propelling and inhibiting their success, and providing a performance-ranking for the 58 economies measured.
The index ranked two countries from South Asia: India and Bangladesh. India advanced three notches to 49th with a score of 50.99 points. Bangladesh ranked 57th among the economies in the Women's Advancement Outcomes component, just ahead of Algeria.
The report said across the regions, women's representation in the business and economic landscape remains low compared to men, especially in terms of business leadership.
Women across the world have been disproportionally impacted by the Covid-19 pandemic - a staggering 87 per cent of women business owners say they have been adversely affected, the report said.
What the Covid-19 did is that it exacerbated an already problematic situation. It disproportionately disrupted women's lives and livelihoods to a greater extent than men due to a few pre-existing factors: the jobs and sectors women tend to work in, childcare and domestic responsibilities and the pre-existing gender disparity in business.
There is no denying that women have significant contribution in bringing success to the country's apparel exports. Many Bangladeshi female designers are working with world famous brands but the people are in the dark about their success stories.
The fact remains that social barriers are still prevailing as banks ask women entrepreneurs to make their husbands guardians and guarantors. This creates many problems for them to move with their business.
Every year the government allocates Tk 2.0 billion for women entrepreneurs but the fund remains unspent. As such, the government can create a guarantee scheme of Tk 2.0 billion in the budget to make the fund usable.
Many women entrepreneurs have graduated into large entrepreneurs in the past 25 years. The Women Entrepreneurs Association (WEA), in its over two decades of journey, has been promoting female entrepreneurs in various sectors including readymade garments, ornaments and jewellery, handicrafts and handloom.
The association also does run advocacy programmes for creating favourable business environments for women entrepreneurs. The WEA has taken initiatives to connect its members with the global market.
Meantime, the National Board of Revenue (NBR) is reported to have held talks with the central bank to find a suitable mechanism of giving collateral-free loans up to Tk 2.5 million to the women entrepreneurs.
It is, no doubt, a good gesture for those women who are willing to make a mark in the country's business arena. There are problems too for women to be successful entrepreneurs at ease. Before giving loans, the lenders generally ask them about their husbands' identity for various purposes. Such a practice does not augur well for them.
Statistics show the rate of loan default cases is minimal among the women borrowers. This has encouraged the NBR to initiate steps to ease doing business by woman entrepreneurs. The government appears to be very positive in ensuring more facilities for women entrepreneurs in the budget due to their relatively lower loan default rate.
The women entrepreneurs are still dependent on their families and husbands to run their businesses. But urban women appear to have higher capacity to run businesses individually compared to rural entrepreneurs. The dependency is higher in case of raw material collection and marketing of the products.
Many female entrepreneurs say the current SME loan amount is inadequate. About 39 per cent of female entrepreneurs complained about high interest rate and 35 per cent about insufficient credit limit. They also face problems in accessing finance.
All said and done, there is a need for a more gender-neutral credit programme and adequate amount of loans for women entrepreneurs along with a grace period for repayment.