The story of an entrepreneur, Marium Akter from Narayanganj, inspires everyone who struggles against gender discrimination in the workplace. It is the story of how pay gap at work turned a woman into an entrepreneur.
Marium's electronic servicing centre with around Tk10 lakh capital investment is now at stake due to the coronavirus pandemic.
It is not just Marium Akter, many women entrepreneurs like her are facing the same problem. Their investments are at stake, their savings are running out and the future has become uncertain.
The crisis is also leaving a lot of women ─ who are involved with the entrepreneurs ─ unemployed.
Starting with Tk20,000 capital, it took Marium ten years to build a factory of her own. Before March 26 this year, there were ten women working full-time in her factory, and a few working part-time.
To expand her business, she took aTK8 lakh loan from the IFIC Bank a year ago.
The coronavirus pandemic arrived without warning. Marium had to shut her factory for safety reasons. She also provided her workers with one month salary during that time.
Marium does not know when the coronavirus situation will be over, and she will be able to resume her business. She is worried about repaying the loan she took from the bank while her business is closed.
The Bangladesh government, with a view to involving women in the economic scenario, launched several initiatives to inspire women entrepreneurship in the country.
In 2016, an International Finance Corporation (IFC) study showed that women own only 7.2 percent of the micro and SME enterprises in Bangladesh. The IFC is part of the World Bank Group.
With the government's encouragement, financial institutions offer soft loans to marginalised women with business ideas, so that they could start cottage, micro or small enterprises.
In most cases, these businesses created employment opportunities for other marginalised women as well.
Lutfunnesa Meghna's boutique shop "Rafia Fashion House" is an example of such a business.
With an unemployed husband and a college-going daughter, she was suffering from a financial crisis, but she chose to fight back. She was good at sewing and handicraft. Hence, she planned to utilise her skills.
One and half years back Meghna borrowed money from her relatives to get a trade license, and a year ago she opened her boutique shop. There, she appointed six women from nearby slums as her workers. The business was going well when she heard about the SME fair.
Meghna invested all her savings to attend the fair, and benefitted a lot from the event. Then, she had planned to reinvest the profit on the Baishakhi market. But the government has barred Baishakhi festivities due to the emergence of the coronavirus pandemic.
Instead of using the money for business, she used it to pay her workers. She has no savings left, nor does she have any plan for the future.
The government recently announced a Tk20,000 crore stimulus for small and medium enterprises.
Meghna has heard about it. However, she is not very hopeful with the plan, as she has no idea how this initiative will help her.
Irin Parvin from Sirajganj has had a stall under the Joyeeta Foundation in the capital for 7 years. She has 40 women working under her, and the stall is the sole source of income for all of them. She regularly commutes between Sirajganj and Dhaka on business.
When the lockdown began, she did not get enough time to bring her goods back to Sirajganj. Now she keeps her phone switched off most of the times as she does not know how to face the 40 women without paying them their share.
Mafruda Khan Erin owns an English medium school, one boutique shop and two parlours, which provide employment to around 150 people. Erin said for the first time in 20 years she has been unable to pay the teachers of her school.
People who depend on Erin's enterprises will starve, because, for many of them it is the only source of income.
To cope with the blow, she has already shut down one parlour, leaving at least 12 women jobless. She is not hopeful about the intensive plan offered by the government.
"Our banking system is complicated and women are not familiar with it. They prefer not going to the banks to avoid the hassle. I am not sure how the authorities are going to address the issue," she said.
Erin added, "We need a transparent process and a dedicated organisation to oversee women entrepreneurs."
Sajid Amit, associate professor of ULAB and director of the ULAB EMBA programme,said, "Fiscal policy initiatives take time to reach the people. But women entrepreneurs incurring losses may not have that much time.
"The government should pay special attention to start-ups, including women entrepreneurs who provide employment."