Bangladesh stands at the bottom of the pile when it comes to making room for women entrepreneurs, according to a new report released on Monday.
The country has been recognised as the toughest place for women entrepreneurs as it now ranks dead last among 58 economies by losing one notch from last year's ranking in the MasterCard Index of Women Entrepreneurs (MIWE) 2020.
When contacted, Fahmida Khatun, executive director at Centre for Policy Dialogue (CPD) told The Business Standard that the MasterCard report painted the real picture of women entrepreneurship.
Women entrepreneurs are not able to move forward in Bangladesh due to a lack of access to finance, absence of proper marketing facilities of their products and social problems, she opined.
Bangladesh along with Algeria and Egypt made lower scores between 30 and 40, while the major economies – 34 out of a total of 58 – have healthy scores of 60 to 70. Only two South Asian countries – Bangladesh and India – have got the place in the MasterCard's index this year.
India jumped three notches up from last year's position and ranked 49th in 2020. New Zealand and Australia have been placed in the top ten from Asia Pacific, securing 4th and 9th respectively.
Financial services company, Mastercard, launched this MIWE 2020 to track global progress of women entrepreneurs and business owners.
Israel for the first time has ranked the top as the world's best economy for women entrepreneurs, advancing from 4th place in 2019 by beating New Zealand, the United States and Canada.
Israel women are supported by vast improvement in physical infrastructure and SME support.
Fahmida said the Bangladesh government has taken various initiatives for women entrepreneurs. But analysing this report, it is clear that all these measures are not being implemented properly. With their proper implementation, Bangladesh would have done better than last year.
Sangeeta Ahmed, senior vice-president of the Bangladesh Women Chamber of Commerce & Industry, told The Business Standard that she does not fully agree with the MasterCard's report. There are many women entrepreneurs in Bangladesh but there is no proper record of their number.
"It is not so difficult in Bangladesh to become a woman entrepreneur as compared to neighbouring India, Pakistan, Nepal and Bhutan. But our big problem is with social perception. Society cannot take it easily yet that a woman can be an entrepreneur," Sangeeta said.
Women's representation in business and economic landscape remains low compared to men's, especially in terms of business leadership.
This persistence discrepancy is most acute in Asian countries such as Japan, South Korea, India and Bangladesh where women represent only 6% to 15% of business leaders.
In Bangladesh and India, women labour force participation rate compared to men remains disproportionately low.
For Bangladesh, only 36% of working age females are engaged in the workforce while the rate is 81% for men.
Sangeeta thinks that there are various opportunities from the government on offer for a woman to become an entrepreneur.
However, she thinks that the big question is how much these benefits are being given to rural women entrepreneurs.
Mentioning not getting bank loans on time as a hindrance to women entrepreneurs' business expansion, Sangeeta Ahmed said there is also a lack of women-friendly environment alongside the reluctance of banks to give loans.
The report mentioned that very poor quality of governance, support for SMEs, entrepreneurial supporting factors, gender equality at work & business makes women business owners and employees more vulnerable in Bangladesh, India and Tunisia.
Giving an example, CPD Executive Director Fahmida Khatun said a study conducted by the CPD found that many women entrepreneurs are unaware of financial support that they can avail from stimulus packages.
Fahmida Khatun thinks that a lack of information is also one of the obstacles in becoming a woman entrepreneur.
Most women entrepreneurs in the country are owners of small and micro enterprises and they do not get proper assistance from banks to increase this capital, she added.
Being with small ventures, many women entrepreneurs do not have trade licences, while many do not have Business Identification Number. As a result, the banks are reluctant to lend them because of their failure to submit required documents, the CPD executive director said.