A MARKED gender bias in the disbursement of the stimulus package meant for the cottage, micro, small and medium enterprise sector is worrying. While the economic fallout of the COVID-19 outbreak has affected all, it has, as studies show, disproportionately affected women entrepreneurs and women workers. Women entrepreneurs in the CMSME sector appear to have largely been left out of the benefits of the stimulus package. About 59 per cent of women entrepreneurs, as a Centre for Policy Dialogue study shows, in the sector are unaware of the government stimulus package. The study, ‘Impact of COVID-19 on Women Entrepreneurs: A Rapid Assessment from Bangladesh’, also says that only 7 per cent women entrepreneurs applied for loans under the package and that banks showed reluctance at making easy the access of women entrepreneurs to the package. Many women entrepreneurs say that they did not apply for loans under the package fearing that the process would be lengthy and they did not know where to go to, what to do and how to apply. Some others did not apply over concern about the repayment as their businesses shrank amidst the outbreak.
This points to indifference, if not unwillingness, of the authorities concerned in reaching the stimulus packages to the women entrepreneurs who badly need it now. About 41.4 per cent respondents to the survey that the Centre for Policy Dialogue conducted report that they had to shut down their business while 10 per cent entrepreneurs had to reduce space or relocate their businesses to smaller or cheaper sites. About 44.4 per cent entrepreneurs could not pay rents regularly while 50 per cent could not pay government taxes and utility bills. Many women entrepreneurs had to lay off employees or reduce salaries of the employees. The government allocated a poor share — 5 per cent of the stimulus package meant for the CMSME sector — for women entrepreneurs while the central bank advised the banks to disburse loans to affected businesses based on bank-client relationship. But most small women entrepreneurs do not have records of bank loans and have, therefore, no relationship with banks. Moreover, they have limited access to information and do not often have collaterals for loans while banks are also reported to have stayed away from disbursing loans to small women entrepreneurs reportedly on grounds that their business proposals are often not bankable.
The government must, therefore, look into the gender division in the disbursement of the stimulus package fund. The government, which has repeatedly pledged to create a favourable business environment for women entrepreneurs, should design a women entrepreneur-specific package with easy terms. Banks must realise that the stimulus packages are meant for struggling businesses, not for the profiteering ones, and come forward to help struggling women entrepreneurs. Banks must also ease the procedures and lower the collateral requirement bar to let more women entrepreneurs access the stimulus package.
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