Bangladesh is ranked in the bottom third in creating self-employed women while other South Asian countries have surpassed it, according to World Bank data citing International Labour Organisation (ILO) estimations.
In Bangladesh, the number of self-employed women declined from 74.26 percent in 2015 to 67.39 percent in 2019, with respect to total women employment – a decrease of 6.87 percent in the last five years.
There was a gradual rise in self-employed women from 2006 to 2010, but that started dropping after 2010.
Besides the decline in women entrepreneurs, overall unemployment among women has also shot up.
On the other hand, Afghanistan, a war-torn country, has progressed noticeably leaving Bangladesh far behind. Not only Bangladesh, it has also surpassed India, Sri Lanka, Nepal and other South Asian countries.
In Afghanistan, 95.63 percent working women are entrepreneurs.
Maldives scored the least with only 33.94 percent self-employed women while Sri Lanka scored 43.15 percent.
India, Pakistan, Bhutan and even Nepal are also ahead of Bangladesh.
In India, 80.34 percent working women are self-employed, while the number is 74.38 percent in Pakistan.
Though Bangladesh is ahead of many other countries in the world in achieving fast economic growth in the last few years, the contribution of women to the economy is decreasing.
The average economic growth of Bangladesh has been 7.39 percent in the last five years. The World Bank assumes that Bangladesh will be the second highest growing economy among other South Asian countries in the current fiscal year.
Zahid Hossain, former lead economist of the World Bank, said that the employment of women in all fields including the labour force and readymade garments has declined.
He further said there are many social constraints in the path of women employment. The absence of day care centres and the lion's share of family responsibilities on women's shoulders are a few factors behind the decline of women entrepreneurs.
"We are still lagging behind, especially in creating a women-friendly business environment." The economist believes that this is also reducing the opportunities of self-employment among women.
However, Selima Hossain, president of the Bangladesh Women's Chamber of Commerce, said women are now involved in various development activities. They are producing different products even by staying at home.
She also said that loan facilities for women entrepreneurs have also become much easier. As a result, the employment of women has changed significantly in the last 20 years.
A report by the Bangladesh Institute of Bank Management (BIBM) says that the opportunity of getting funds is the main obstacle to the development of self-employed women. The interest rate of loans for women is very high. Many women entrepreneurs also do not submit all the required documents for loans to the banks.
The BBIM report also says most banks take a long time to approve loans, which women entrepreneurs find frustrating. Also, many banks are reluctant to give loans to self-employed women.
The report further says that women entrepreneurs tend to lack financial literacy and managerial capability.
In 2018, male entrepreneurs got 96.99 percent of the small loans from financial institutions, and female entrepreneurs got only 3.01 percent. The figures were 97.13 percent and 2.87 percent respectively in 2017.
On the other hand, men got 97.2 percent and women got 2.8 percent of the small loans from banks in 2018. The figures were 97.33 percent and 2.67 percent respectively in 2017, according to the BIBM report.