BANGLADESH ranking at the bottom of the Mastercard Index of Women Entrepreneurs 2020 points to a worrying and wide gender disparity in entrepreneurship. Bangladesh has secured the 58th position among 58 economies, down by one notch from the 57th position it secured in 2019. The country’s overall score in the index, which analyses the state of women entrepreneurship under four components and in 12 indicators, has, however, slightly increased to 36.37 points from 35.4 points in 2019. The score is exceptionally low compared with the scores even of other Asian and African countries. Entrepreneurial-minded women, determined to break into the competitive business landscape, are still held back by deeply-rooted socio-cultural, economic and financial constraints. The country was ranked 57th in the pivotal women’s advancement outcome component that is composed of indicators such as women business leaders, women professionals and technical workers, women entrepreneurial activity rate and women labour participation. Only 4.5 per cent of total business owners owning a business and employing at least one worker are female in Bangladesh while women’s participation in the labour force, with about 36 per cent of all professionals, trails that of global peers.
Besides the existing and dominant patriarchal structure of thoughts that inhibit entrepreneurial-minded women to participate, advance and succeed in businesses, a lack of opportunities, gender-specific government support and access to funding and capital are believed to be reasons for the poor state of women entrepreneurship. There exists a huge gender gap in terms of financial inclusion as women are disproportionately left out of the formal financial system. Studies show that gender gap in financial access has always been high and saw a staggering increase by 20 percentage points in 2014–2017. Bangladesh also has considerably fewer women-led businesses in high-impact sectors as most women entrepreneurs run micro and small enterprises with their own funds from savings or family sources. Most of them, therefore, remain in the informal sector and are highly vulnerable to economic shocks such as the current one induced by the COVID-19 outbreak. The index states that favourable cultural perceptions of entrepreneurism serve as supportive entrepreneurial conditions while a high visibility of female leaders serve as role models for aspiring entrepreneurs and play a crucial role in women’s advancement as entrepreneurs. Bangladesh lags behind in both indicators. The index also says that focussed institutional backing, systemic support and programmes can create a favourable environment for women entrepreneurs.
Realising that greater participation of and equality for women in business is vital not only to economic growth but also to societal and cultural advancements, the government must have policies and plans to help women entrepreneurs to grow and succeed. Financial institutions must also play their role in bringing women into formal financial system and ensure women entrepreneurs’ access to finance.
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