Women entrepreneurs fight to keep up their economic journey amid COVID-19


DHAKA, May 21, 2020 (BSS)- Work speaks for itself, not gender. If deliverables of the entrepreneurs are impeccable and can meet expectations, it is that factor that is relevant and evaluated upon, not whether it was done by a man or woman.

There was a time in the country when even the male found it tough to carve their own niche as an entrepreneur, so the women’s condition is easily understandable.

In recent years, there has been a heart-warming paradigm shift of demographics in Bangladesh’s business landscape.

The country has witnessed a surge in the number of women entering the economic wave.

With emphatic strides, walking shoulder-to-shoulder with their male counterparts, the sheer confidence excluded by them brings about a fresh wind of change.

While it had definitely been a pleasant change, it has not been one without its fair share of struggles and challenges.

With the increased families and supports systems, gender-based roadblocks are being rapidly eliminated in the entrepreneurial journey of a woman.

The steps taken by the incumbent government, led by the able leadership of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, did a wonder for women who now could step ahead with the rhythm of the world.

Amazingly some of the women entrepreneurs gained success and expanded their businesses to other countries while some others were trying to gain success by following them.

When such was the case, Bangladesh, along with other countries of the world, today faces a major crisis, and businesses across the spectrum, from large companies to SMEs, are confronted with unprecedented challenges due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Women in business, who had to overcome a lot of hurdles to establish their businesses, today are braving the COVID-19 storm in their own way, while many are undergoing stressful time.

According to Small and Medium Enterprise (SME) Foundation data, SME’s contribution to GDP (Gross Domestic Products) is 25 per cent as 70 to 90 per cent of SMEs are run by women employing more than 10 million people.

Women entrepreneurs, facing a major blow in their businesses in the wake of coronavirus pandemic in the country due to lack of adequate back up strength, have already missed major business seasons of the year.

Many micro and small business houses run by women are going to face closure due to ferocity of coronavirus.

Nevertheless, the women entrepreneurs are trying their best to hold their business.

One of them is Khurshida Jahan, owner of a boutique business–Lavish Design.

Her business took a nosedive during the pandemic but she didn’t give up.

Amid the countrywide shutdown imposed to prevent the coronavirus, Jahan is venturing to promote her online page.

She also has established connection with oikko store, shopper.com online platforms.

She said, “I have some fixed clients and moreover the pandemic situation encouraged my neighbours to buy my products.”

“I deliver my products through Sundarban, SA courier services, Pathao, Obhai delivery services and my driver also is helping me to deliver the goods in my locality,” she continued.

Tarana Tabassum Shova, another entrepreneur, started her business with her own designed dress with 10 workers on 2016 in Khulna. Now, 200 workers, mostly working at field-level, are employed.

She now owns a showroom namely ‘ShahebBibi’ and another was supposed to be launched on the month of March but coronavirus pandemic stopped its lunching.

“As the corona situation worsened, I gave my employees small amount to survive for the time being and also arranged aid for them.

On the other hand, I am trying to put our products on sale through online platform like Daraz, Bagdoom and many more,” she added.

Another women entrepreneur Urmi is engaged in leather products business and she exports her products to Japan, Canada, the UK, Malaysia and many more.

In this time when everything came to a standstill, buyers from the UK, Canada and Japan refused to buy products from her till November, Urmi said.

“I started my business in 2008 with the amount of Taka 16,000 and at that time I had two or three workers.

The business has now grown bigger but the current situation has made me scared,” she said.

“I have a showroom in which 32 staffs are working.

Already I’ve paid their salary of the month of March and am trying to arrange Eid bonus for them.”

Struggling women in business said if the government supports are not provided to them, many workers will also loss jobs when employments of more than 10 million have been generated centering female-run businesses.

Due to lockdown situation, women run businesses have already missed the market on the occasion of the Independence Day, Bangla New Year (Pahela Baishakh) celebration, and are likely to miss the upcoming Eid-ul- Fitar.

Women businesses are mainly centered with handicraft items, boutiques, food and beauty parlours but some deal in leather and jute products.

Since Eid festivals get both local and foreign items in the purchasing lists of the consumers in the country, local businesses are unable to get exclusive market.

“They (women) have already taken bank loans aiming three important events– Ekushey February, Swadhinata Dibos (Independence Day) and Pahela Baishakh– towards the end of last year,” Nilufar Ahmed Karim, president of Women Entreprenuers Association, said, adding that after missing some important festivals, the women entrepreneurs will further face the wrath if they miss Eid festivals.

“We already submitted a proposal to the government through SME.

After budget we can get some supports from the government,” she said, adding “We urged the government to make rebate on bank interest for at least three months and also VAT and tax for women entrepreneurs.”

She also demanded special allocation, easy loan and grant to support their businesses.

“Women may not be directly involved with exports but they are part of facilitating exports,” she argued, adding women run businesses create huge employment contributing to economy.

Kaniz Almas Khan, chief executive officer of Persona Beauty Parlour, however, said both small and big houses run by females are to be badly hit due to the current coronavirus situation.

Citing her sector’s impact, Kaniz, also the founder president of Bangladesh Beauty Service Owners Association, said people’s need for beauty comes after meeting basic needs like food and clothing.