Even before the pandemic, women entrepreneurs faced more challenges than men in setting up a business, including limited access to capital, credit and market
Access to technology and knowledge for putting it to use has never seemed to be as important as it is now amid a global pandemic.
And this change has only heightened the need for women's education in science and technology to stay in and join the workforce through employment or entrepreneurship, said speakers at a discussion titled "Women Power – The force multiplier" on Wednesday.
They also emphasised strengthening women through education and skill development. The American Chamber of Commerce in Bangladesh organised the webinar with House Speaker Shirin Sharmin Chaudhury as the chief guest.
The speakers said even before the pandemic, women entrepreneurs faced more challenges than men in setting up a business, including limited access to capital, credit and market. They also lack knowledge and capacity to network with people.
The global health crisis has added a new dimension, changing the work environment to a great extent.
While the new notion of working from home has played the role of a facilitator for many women who would otherwise struggle to step outside for work, it also mounted pressure on them to care for their families, the speakers said.
Besides, when men are also working remotely, they get the priority when it comes to accessing digital tools, said Rubaba Dowla, managing director of Oracle Bangladesh.
"In today's world, digital divide no longer means inaccessibility of devices such as smartphones or the internet. Rather, it is about having or not having the knowhow to use them in the interest of income generation and employment," she said.
There is a wide gender gap in technology and that has to be bridged through skill development, said Luna Shamsuddoha, chairperson of Dohatec New Media, who moderated the discussion.
"About 80% of the businesses run by women have been hit by the pandemic. What we require here is a digital transformation," Luna said. Small and medium enterprises have been worst hit by the coronavirus, and they need help for recovery.
The concern that would persist even after the pandemic is the risk of low-skilled jobs being replaced by automation.
Rubana Huq, president of Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association (BGMEA), said work done by automation is now 8% in this sector – which is the largest employer of women, and would reach 25% by 2023.
The way the government implemented digital payment of garment workers, she said, can also drive changes to ensure technical upscaling of women employees of the industry.
"Vocational training can be a way, and the government can immediately take up a pilot project to begin the process," Rubana added.
Uzma Chowdhury, chief financial officer and director of Pran-RFL Group, said co-education should begin from school to prepare girls better for a competitive working environment in the future.
House Speaker Shirin Sharmin Chaudhury said women entrepreneurs were particularly disadvantaged though almost all businesses have been going through a turmoil.
The government has been trying to facilitate women entrepreneurs through different strategies, for example, reserving plots for them in economic zones across the country.
"We have to reach out to those who are hit the hardest," she said, adding that in doing so, innovative models have to be identified.
Women constitute half of the population, and without their contribution to the economy, the country cannot attain the height of the success, speakers said at the event.