Women entrepreneurs’ earnings drop by 67pc

Nine out of ten women entrepreneurs involved in cottage, micro, small and medium enterprise, are facing economic challenges in face of the COVID-19 pandemic. And 8 out of 10 women in the informal sector are facing these challenges. Between February and June, earnings on 67 per cent of the entrepreneurs and 66 per cent of the workers have decreased. And 57 per cent of the entrepreneurs and workers have no idea how to avail the government-declared stimulus package through bank loan.

These findings were revealed in a study conducted by BRAC on the ‘Situation of women, CMSME entrepreneurs and informal sector workers: A rapid assessment and quest for recovery from losses induced by COVID-19 pandemic’. The findings were discussed at a virtual discussion on ‘Women Affected in Workplaces and Businesses’ organised on Thursday afternoon by BRAC.

Prothom Alo was the media partner of the event.

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The study stated that many of the women entrepreneurs were living on their savings. Online entrepreneurs, entrepreneurs involved in the garment and related industries, construction workers and hawkers were the worst affected among these women. The average losses of the entrepreneurs during the coronavirus outbreak totaled over Tk 289,000.

Secretary of the ministry of labour and employment, KM Abdus Salam, was chief guest on the occasion. Also taking part in the roundtable were CEO of Business Initiative Leading Development (BILD) Ferdous Ara Begum, chairperson of UCEP Bangladesh and former chairman of MIDAS, Perveen Mahmud, executive director of BRAC Asif Saleh, senior researcher at Bangladesh Institute of Development Studies (BIDS), Nazneen Ahmed, CEO of the export-oriented business Taranga, Kohinoor Yeasmin, executive director of Kormojibi Nari, Rokeya Rafiq and BRAC senior director Shameran Abed.

Senior director of BRAC’s Advocacy for Social Change programme, KAM Morshed, revealed the key findings of the survey at the beginning of the discussion.

Director of the BRAC Gender Justice and Diversity programme, Nobonita Chowdhury, moderated the event.

The survey was conducted from 8 to 24 July in 28 districts of 8 divisions to assess the situation. A total of 1,589 women entrepreneurs and workers took part in the survey. Of them, 26 per cent had no formal education.

The entrepreneurs and workers taking part in the survey were involved in the garment and related industries, beauty parlours, agriculture, tailoring, retail stores, jute products and handicrafts, hawkers, food products, construction workers, commercial sex workers and more.

Executive director of BRAC, Asif Saleh, said the disparities in the old system had been exposed during the Covid pandemic. He said that unless the state took action, such crises would recur. Concerted efforts were required to ensure the marginalised communities like women were not further marginalised

Amidst this economic hardship, one third of the entrepreneurs and half the workers also faced domestic stress. Some of them faced physical and mental abuse.

Secretary of the labour and employment ministry, KM Abdus Salam said that from March to September, the government’s main focus has been on health safety. The economic crisis that has arisen would be resolved through concerted efforts. He said that prime minister Sheikh Hasina had given 31 directives and the government was advancing accordingly.

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CEO of BILD, Ferdous Ara Begum, said that the rules and regulations regarding the stimulus package should be relaxed. It would not be that beneficial to take the loans through banks. She sought an alternative way to avail the loans.

Chairperson of UCEP Bangladesh Perveen Mahmud said that there were many factors involved in business alongside capital. The experience gained during COVID must be used to face the future.

The survey said that the source of investment for half of the entrepreneurs was NGOs.

Executive director of BRAC, Asif Saleh, said the disparities in the old system had been exposed during the Covid pandemic. It was to be seen whether there would be changes in overcoming the crisis or whether we would simply return to how things were. He said that unless the state took action, such crises would recur. He said that concerted efforts were required to ensure the marginalised communities like women were not further marginalised. Women must be taken ahead with skills and training.

Senior researcher of BIDS, Nazneen Ahmed said NGOs can be brought in to distribute the stimulus package among those who actually need assistance to tackle the crisis as most people had no idea how to access bank loans.

Recommendations were made at the event to create awareness regarding the stimulus packages, expand the social safety net and to create a national database of women entrepreneurs and workers in the informal sector

The BRAC survey said that a Tk 10 billion stimulus package had been allocated for women entrepreneurs, but so far only 10 per cent of the stimulus package, for both men and women, had been released. More than half the workers were not under the social safety net. And 57 per cent received no assistance at all.

Executive director of Kormojibi Nari, Rokeya Rafiq, said some women who had lost their jobs in the garment industry had received assistance from the stimulus package. But a large part of the women worker force was domestic help. They faced financial sufferings.

Senior director of BRAC’s microfinance and ultra-poor graduation programme, Shameran Abed, Women entrepreneurs of small and medium enterprises don’t usually get loans from banking institutions. Those from micro enterprises don't even get the chance to knock banks for loans. NGOs need to work in these aspects, but they too have their limitations. That is why we need to find solutions to these problems through a joint effort between public and private sectors.

CEO of Taranga, Kohinoor Yeasmin, said, “Many export-oriented businesses have started to turn around again. For example, producers of jute products were the worst affected, but now there is a lot of demand from abroad for jute products as those are considered environment friendly. However, most of the Bangladeshi producers do not export their products. We need to make arrangements for them through public-private initiatives to be connected to the foreign market instead of being dependent only on the local market.”

Recommendations were made at the event to create awareness regarding the stimulus packages, expand the social safety net and to create a national database of women entrepreneurs and workers in the informal sector.

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