Bangladesh has no dearth of capable women leaders; it’s under the leadership of the visionary Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina that the country has made unprecedented progress, so much so that, Bangladesh is now on the verge of joining the big league of developing nations and just to mention, the last President of the BGMEA, the body that guides the all-important apparel sector, which is considered the backbone of the country’s economy and the biggest foreign currency earner, was again a woman, Dr. Rubana Huq.
Today, in each and every field, one can find women in important leadership roles and before we tend to forget, it’s again women power, which is responsible for propelling the apparel industry, after all they constitute the majority in the workforce.
Recently, the BGMEA, in an email sent to Apparel Resources, also mentioned about some achievements of the Bangladeshi women in the global arena in recent times, which noted: It’s a difficult time we are passing through, yet we have to live through this with hopes and aspirations for better days. Let me share a few positive news first as I believe these could uplift and inspire us. July 2021 is a significant month for us as a nation, as three Bangladeshi women have taken our nation to a new height through their talents. Sadia Khanom, a 26-year-old young Bangladeshi talent from the United Kingdom, has invented a ground-breaking solution called ‘Voltique’ which is found to be highly effective against all pathogens. The solution has been praised and undertaken by several top-class companies and Governments globally. And for the first time, a Bangladeshi film named Rehana Maryam Noor has been premiered in Cannes – the world’s prestigious film festival where a Bangladeshi actress named Azmeri Haque Badhon walked on the red-carpet wearing century-old Bangladeshi heritage Jamdani Saree. And again, for the first time, Bangladeshi traditional cuisine was spotted in globally prestigious event, the MasterChef Australia. Ms. Kishwar Chowdhury impressed the world and earned the honour for Bangladesh to reach the grand finale. We are proud of their success. All these achievements are testament to our heritage and culture which is an invaluable asset of our nation to brand Bangladesh, and propel our economic development, mentioned the BGMEA mail from the President of the trade body, Faruque Hassan.
However, when it comes to women entrepreneurship, it seems Bangladesh is a tough place to be a woman entrepreneur and it is not for nothing that Mastercard has put the country at the bottom amongst 58 nations when it comes to the index of women entrepreneurs.
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For the uninitiated, in 2020, Bangladesh has bottom-ranked among 58 economies in the Mastercard Index of Women Entrepreneurs (MIWE) even as the country slipped one notch from the previous year’s 57th, although its overall score improved to 36.4 out of 100 from 35.4 a year ago. While economies such as Tunisia, Saudi Arabia and Turkey have weaker scores of 40 to 50, Bangladesh, Algeria and Egypt are even down with scores of 30 to 40 points.
“In these economies, women continue to be held back by deeply rooted socio-cultural as well as economic and financial constraints such as lack of work opportunities, Government support and access to funding and capital,” underlined the report.
It may be mentioned here that Mastercard Index of Women Entrepreneurs provides an analysis of how women in business are progressing globally, highlighting the socio-economic factors propelling and inhibiting their success, and providing a performance ranking for the 58 economies measured even as the data based for the same was drawn from leading academic institutions, including International Labour Organisation, the World Bank, the UNESCO, World Economic Forum, the Inter-Parliamentary Union and the OECD, while the index assesses the working environments of the economies, representing almost 80 per cent of the world’s female labour force.
The ranking is based on an analysis across 12 indicators and 25 sub-indicators spanning advancement outcomes, knowledge assets and financial access, and supporting entrepreneurial conditions, according to Mastercard, a global technology company in the payments industry.
For information, Bangladesh secured the last position in the component B: Knowledge Assets & Financial Access, which is a measure of women’s progress and the degree of marginalisation they face commercially as financial customers and academically in terms of access to tertiary education enrolment even as it gauges women’s inclination to borrow or save for business purposes, and how much support is rendered for SMEs in terms of availability of Government support and underlying infrastructure while in Component C, which is a measure of entrepreneurial conditions as enablers or constraints of female ability to progress and thrive as business owners, Bangladesh was placed at the 55th position.
It also measures the socio-cultural conditions in each region as a driver or inhibitor of female entrepreneurship.
It may be mentioned here that as per some estimates, in Bangladesh, women constitute above 10 per cent of the total number of entrepreneurs even if many women have reportedly surpassed their male counterparts in the small and cottage industries, especially the handicrafts sector; while many courageous entrepreneurs have excelled in Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs) while women have also ventured into RMG, light engineering and pharmaceuticals, guiding others to compete in a man’s world.
However, despite recent progress in advancement and empowerment, the majority of women still remain vulnerable to poverty and social deprivations even as reports suggest that women entrepreneurs are in a less favourable position compared to men in terms of accessing commercial credit from formal financial service providers, more lucrative markets than the traditional local ones, and technology and information to establish and grow their businesses.
Although women entrepreneurship has been recognised as an important source of economic growth, creating new jobs for themselves and others and providing society with different solutions for management, organisation and business problems, they reportedly still represent a minority of all entrepreneurs, facing gender-based barriers to starting and growing their businesses, such as discriminatory property, matrimonial and inheritance laws and cultural practices; lack of access to formal finance mechanisms; limited mobility and access to information and networks, etc.
So, despite the progress in women empowerment in the country, they still face numerous challenges while starting a new business due to lack of basic entrepreneurial supportive factors, as per some women entrepreneurs, who underlined that establishment of a supportive environment could play an important role in welcoming the initiatives of women entrepreneurs.
“Women entrepreneurs have less working capital. So, when their businesses face any loss, they lose the capital and it becomes harder for them to recover,” maintained President of the Bangladesh Women Chamber of Commerce and Industry (BWCCI) Selima Ahmad while speaking to the media even as she suggested measures in the budget, where an allocation should be specifically made for the women entrepreneurs and used for their skill development and access to the market.
“Women entrepreneurs are getting more income tax exemptions. The tax-free income limit for women entrepreneurs has been increased from the current Taka 50 lakh to Taka 70 lakh. These will benefit SME entrepreneurs…,” said Dr Md Mafizur Rahman, Managing Director of SME Foundation, referring to the budget even as Finance Minister AHM Mustafa Kamal underlined the increase in tax-free income ceiling for women entrepreneurs to Taka 7 million from existing Taka 5 million, aims to increase the number of women entrepreneurs and ensure economic and social empowerment of women.
“As a special incentive to the SME sector and also for the sake of development of the women entrepreneurs working in the SME sector, I propose to keep up to Taka 70 lakh (7 million) of business turnover of the women entrepreneurs outside the purview of taxation,” the Finance Minister said while rolling out national budget before the Parliament, adding, “I hope both the women entrepreneurs and the SME sector will be benefited from this tax exemption facility,” even as he went on to underline that economic empowerment of women is of paramount importance in achieving social and economic progress and sustainable development of a country while Selima, on her part, complained that even though the Government is committed to women entrepreneurs’ access to finance, but the banks show lack of commitment.
This is why women entrepreneurs usually don’t get the required loan at district, upazila, or union levels, underlined Selima, pointing towards the financial challenges faced by the businesswomen.
However, given the steps taken by the Government, which is also well-reflected in the budget, which has increased the tax-free income limit for women entrepreneurs, women entrepreneurship is expected to get a boost in the country even as more such pro-women steps would only help in the all-inclusive growth of the women entrepreneurs while also contribute towards the overall social and economic upliftment of the women in the country.