Bangladesh fared poorly in creating self-employed women in 2019. According to a recent World Bank data, from 2010 to September, 2019, women-owned businesses have decreased from 74.27 percent to 67.39 percent.
This decline in women entrepreneurial success is the result of lack of opportunities for the women to flourish as skilled manpower in the country.
As a result, many of our women are going abroad as unskilled labourers. And in the last few years, many of these women have been tortured and raped and even deprived of the promised wages, particularly in Saudi Arabia.
Bangladesh is on its way to attain the status of an upper-middle class income country by 2030. But when half of the country's population, who are women, lags behind in terms of economic opportunities, it is highly challenging for the country to enjoy a smooth ride down the road to progress.
In terms of the efforts to place women up on the ladder of economic independence and to let them thrive, it is important that we re-evaluate our social construction and the opportunities that we must create on the registers of education, culture, economy, etc.
Otherwise, all of the combined forces that we are investing inre-orienting our thoughts and behaviour regarding the participation of women in society and economy will simply go to waste.
Patriarchal mindset at play
When it comes to the women lagging behind in economic independence, the role played by our patriarchal mindset turns out to be a major factor.
Our male-dominated society cannot yet accept women driving economic success, at both macro and micro levels. Women leadership, no matter how educated and qualified she is, is still seen with considerable suspicion.
In the male-dominated culture our girl children are growing up and trying their best to fit into the roles their parents set for them. They are hardly taught about owning things for themselves, independently.
The girls are rather taught to live a life of parasites, their fate thus seems eternally tied to that of their fathers and husbands. They mostly grow up as dependents.
In such a culture of domination, male treatment towards women bear the tell-tale signs of repression, which at times manifest in physical violence against them. All this hinder their progress towards self-dependence.
SME Foundation and Bangladesh Institute of Development Studies conducted a joint study over 1510 women entrepreneurs from 45 districts in seven divisions in Bangladesh. The study shows that 86 percent of the women entrepreneurs are married.
Unlike husbands, wives are highly loaded with most of their household responsibilities no matter what profession or business they are engaged in. Piles of unpaid household responsibilities often result in women abandoning their professions.
A recent study by the South Asian Network on Economic Modelling (SANEM) found that value of unpaid labour involving women in Bangladesh is worth about 39.52 percent of GDP.
This unrecognised labour result in many women who started their small business failing to continue in the long run as it gets difficult on their part to manage duties both inside and outside of the house.
However, in a society in transition, women's progress in terms of receiving education and their track record in the job sectors provides an antidote to the stereotypic view that pervades the public sphere.
But in terms women being empowered through employment and entrepreneurial activities, things may not be as bleak as before, but the progress is slow. In fact slower than that in the war-torn Afghanistan. The total percentage of women securing self-employment in Afghanistan stands at 95.63 per cent, whereas in Bangladesh it is 67.39 per cent. There are some basic structural problems that have led to Bangladesh's decline.
Problem in having access to finance
Women in Bangladesh fail to start their own business, since they less inclined to access start-up funds. The procedures to get loans are not women-friendly in our country.
In most of the cases, they fail to fulfil the requirements to be eligible for loan.
High interest rate also contributes in discouraging women in this regard. In a report Bangladesh Institute of Bank Management (BBIM) also identifies this as the main obstacle against women's self-employment.
Women do not attain technical skills
Lack of access to the financial and business-related literacy is another important factor which is making our girl children less skilled. Hence, they are facing hurdles while trying to be self-employed, in running their own businesses.
They lack adequate start-up skills and in running their enterprises after launch. When they are not academically skilled and lack in envisioning the future of their enterprises and are unable to approach their businesses in a planned manner, they fail to thrive.
The same BBIM report focuses on the scarcity of financial literacy and managerial capability among women entrepreneurs.
To eradicate this problem, we need to ensure a women-friendly environment at first. To make this huge number of our population into a skilled human resource, a significant change should be ensured in our social and cultural sector.
First of all, the procedures of getting loans and with low interest rate for women entrpreneurs have to be ensured by the government. More and more technical training opportunities have to be created.
Providing fund for women should be the first priority. It is evident in Afghanistan, where they ensured a rapid increase in the number of women entrepreneurs within a short period of time. Being funded by Afghanistan Rural Enterprise Development Programme, under the Ministry of Rural Rehabilitation and Development, the percentage in women entrepreneurs has remained steady over the last twenty years.