Experts have asked for ensuring a proper business environment for women entrepreneurs by removing obstacles to access to credit, market and technology, and facilitating them to enhance their skills to fight the adverse impact of Covid-19.
Noting that women entrepreneurs face social disparity at every step in starting and running a business, they have recommended that the government extend support to women to eliminate the inequalities brought in by the pandemic.
The recommendations were made on Saturday at the inauguration ceremony of a virtual summit entitled "Strategies to Recover from a Global Pandemic: Challenges and Opportunities for Women Entrepreneurs – The Asian Perspective".
Bangladesh-India Business Council of Women's Indian Chamber of Commerce and Industries (WICCI) has organised the two-day event, in association with the SME Foundation.
Shirin Sharmin Chaudhury, speaker of the national parliament, attended the event chief guest, while Dr Masudur Rahman, chairperson of the SME Foundation, presided over it.
Shirin Sharmin said women entrepreneurs in Bangladesh face multifarious problems, such as inadequate capital, limited credit due to the absence of collateral, difficulties in obtaining a trade licence in the absence of documents required to start a business.
A lack of knowledge, managerial skills, training and technical support are some prime obstacles to operate their business, she maintained.
"Gender discrimination, social disparity, lower access to market and marketing skills and less mobility also hinder women's business potential."
The speaker also said women are turning the challenges into opportunities but that it is critical for the government to provide support to women in terms of finance and credit. She also recommended ensuring collateral-free bank loans and introducing digital technology for women entrepreneurs.
Vikram Kumar Doraiswami, high commissioner of India in Dhaka, told the event that the pandemic has left a bad impact on employment. As women's going out has been reduced amid the pandemic, their earning capacity is less now, he observed.
He went on to say Covid-19 has also impacted food security and income security in developing countries and hampered the family structure posing risks of domestic violence and disempowerment of women in developing countries of Asia.
He asked for finding ways to improve financing, access to business, leveraging technology and access to the marketplace for women.
Dr Atiur Rahman, former governor of the Bangladesh Bank, emphasised financial inclusion and technology-based banking system to ensure access to finance for women.
He said Bangladesh has managed the Covid-19 crisis very well compared to many other countries due to the declaration of stimulus packages earlier.
He further added there is no liquidity crisis in the banking system in Bangladesh and it is possible to enlarge the size of the stimulus for the CMSME sector.
"The Bangladesh Bank has introduced some technology-based inclusive financing tools like agent banking and mobile financial services in recent years," he said adding these tools helped the government cope with the challenges posed by Covid-19.
The former central bank governor identified a low access to finance for women as a problem of informality. He also said most of the women do not have a bank account, but most of the banks require a trade licence and other documents.
He recommended introducing electronic KYC using artificial intelligence and approving a loan proposal by women in a few minutes.
Dr Sunil Motiwal, chief executive officer of Saarc Development Fund Secretariat, stressed the need for formulating micro and macro level policies for women entrepreneurs.
Selim FR Hussain, managing director of Brac Bank, said financial inclusion is the best way to develop the country. He also gave a presentation on initiatives undertaken by his bank to ensure access to credit for women and status of disbursing the CMSME stimulus.
Mai al-Kaila, health minister of Palestine; Dr Md Mafizur Rahman, managing director of the SME Foundation; Mantasha Ahmed, president of the WICCI, among others also, addressed the event.