Eight women from across the country have been honoured by The Business Standard and AB Bank for their exemplary roles in business and social entrepreneurship on the occasion of the International Women's Day.
Through their ventures, these businesswomen also created employment for many. Most of them began their journey with the goal of making oppressed women financially independent.
Education Minister Dr Dipu Moni, attending as the chief guest, handed over the awards to them during an event at the Pan Pacific Sonargaon Dhaka yesterday.
The event was sponsored by AB Bank. The cosponsors were bKash, Agrani Bank, Islami Bank, Rupali Bank, Pubali Bank and Janata Bank. Sahoshika was co-host of the event.
In her speech, Dipu Moni said Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman made great sacrifices to establish a society free from discrimination – where men and women would enjoy equal rights.
"The state should extend support to all, irrespective of gender, to help reach their potential," she said.
The education minister also expressed gratitude to the men who support women as friends, husbands and co-workers in transforming their dreams into reality and help them grow as businesswomen, professionals and politicians.
"While it is necessary to recognise women who are in business and service sectors, the contribution of those who are taking care of their families, including children and the elderly, at home must be acknowledged as well," Dipu Moni added.
Zareen Karim, chairperson of the parent company of The Business Standard, Horizon Media and Publications Ltd, said the government has been taking many initiatives to empower women in education, entrepreneurship and employment.
More women are working in senior positions in the administration, judiciary, police and armed forces than any time before, she said.
"Our women are also doing very well in sports including cricket, football, swimming, shooting etc., overshadowing their male colleagues in successes in recent times," Zareen said, adding that to build a society that Bangabandhu had dreamt of "we have to remove discrimination against women in trade and business".
Reminiscing about his childhood, AB Bank Managing Director Tarique Afzal said, "I was raised by an extraordinary woman who taught me to never cry and to get up every time I failed… a woman is so much more than just a human. She has the power to create a life and show us a better tomorrow."
Recounting her initial days as a businesswoman, parliamentarian and a special guest at the event, Selima Ahmad, said once there was a perception that women were unable to do business, but that has changed.
"Now women are getting loans at a comparatively low interest rate and without mortgage," she added.
Bangladesh has become a role model in empowering women, said Selima, who is also the president of Bangladesh Women Chamber of Commerce and Industry. She urged all to refrain from abusing women for dowry and from rape.
Attending as a special guest at the event, Dilshad Nahar Aziz, patron of Soldiers Family Welfare Association and Proyash, said women will go ahead with intelligence, knowledge and hard work.
"I hope that, in the future, women will have a stronger role in the country," she added.
Sharier Khan, publisher and executive editor of The Business Standard, said the newspaper was born to spread the information about private initiatives and economic development.
"We also want to shed light on new ideas because in today's world, businesses with old, obsolete ideas are no longer sustainable."
He added that, in Bangladesh, women are lagging behind in business and other social indicators. The Business Standard wants to tell the stories of the women who overcame all barriers and became successful in business, which will inspire other women, Sharier added.
Inam Ahmed, editor of The Business Standard, said one obstacle to women's participation in business is the difficulty they face in getting loans.
Requesting banks to support women entrepreneurs, he cited results of a survey according to which women are five times less likely to default on loans than men.
Accomplishments of the awardees
Of the awardees, Farida Easmin set up a startup named "Nari" in Kurigram district in 2012 with all the savings from her previous job. She neither got any support from her family, nor could she avail bank loans while establishing her business of jute-made merchandise.
Despite the obstacles, Farida continued on the difficult path with her commitment to bringing financial freedom to oppressed women.
Abida Sultana is another courageous woman who continued her husband's business in motor parts after his death in 2002.
Married off in her childhood, she made an extraordinary achievement by gaining a leadership position in the business community in Jashore. At present, she has an annual turnover of Tk10 crore.
Sharnalata Roy from Sylhet was also married off early and became a mother at a young age.
Despite all odds, she completed her education. Shrugging aside criticism and all other barriers, she has become the proud owner of Women's Fashion World, a parlour that has gained fame as a brand in the city.
Going against the norm, Dr Farzana Rahman, after completing her graduation in medical science, went back to her hometown Natore to serve her community.
She now runs a hospital, especially focusing on reducing mortality of infants and pregnant women during deliveries in the impoverished countryside.
Taslima Ferdous is also helping abandoned and widowed women in her locality in Naogaon by accommodating them in a shelter. She runs the shelter with the income from a restaurant that she started eight years ago.
Marium Akter in Narayanganj stepped into the men's world of electronic appliance servicing. With a two-year technical education and experience working with her husband, she has set up a business to manufacture LED bulbs and sound systems.
Razia Sultana of Savar has also shown the path to success to other women through farming. Employing 25 people, she takes pride in identifying herself as a farmer.
A lawyer by profession, Taslima Sultana Khanam Nishat of Brahmanbaria has set up a centre in Brahmanbaria where locally handcrafted items are sold to help destitute women.