Women in Bangladesh are not only empowering themselves, they are accelerating the economy and contributing towards sustainable development

A few weeks ago, I was reading an Oxfam Australia research findings with the heading “leading Australian brands are enjoying big revenues, the workers making our clothes – the vast majority of whom are women – are trapped in a cycle of poverty.” They mentioned the story of Forida, Anju and Fatema who are working at garments industry in Bangladesh, where living is very challenging by their little amount of wages with a big dream to make their families smile.

Based on The World Bank report, approximately 80 percent of garment workers are women. They are earning to feed their children, support their family and trying to do more to ensure their children’s education and better future. They are not only moving to big cities to work in the garment industries; many of them are doing small business in poultry, agro and handicraft to get rid of the poverty cycle and drive for a better economic stability.

Nowadays women workers and entrepreneurs are playing a significant role in changing the countries’ socioeconomic factors. Though the constitution guarantees equal rights to all citizens, in reality, society is highly stratified, and services are rendered by gender, location, and class. There often results in disparities. A large number of women are involved in micro enterprises in rural areas and are not getting easy access in the market, bank finance, skill development training, networking and technical support to explore their business opportunities. Educated SME women entrepreneurs from the urban areas are not the exception in a male-dominated competitive and complex business environment.

However, with all these difficulties, a new women’s entrepreneur class has emerged in Bangladesh who are taking the challenges to work forward. Near about ten years, I have intimately been connected with this community and closely watching their growth from startup to a big company, micro business to small enterprises, medium to large company and many more success stories.

The celebration of Women’s Entrepreneurship Day in Bangladesh organized by BDOSN.

Tania Wahab is one of them from these inspiring stories, a young entrepreneur who started the business before completing her graduation in leather technology. I met her at a workshop “Access to Bank Finance for Women Entrepreneurs” which was organized jointly by SME Foundation, when I was working at the Mutual Trust Bank (MTB). At that time, I had minimal experiences about the real-life challenges of a woman entrepreneur because of closely working with BiBi Russell to manage bank finance for her Jamdani Artisans. However, I was too excited to meet with a lot of women entrepreneurs came from different areas of the country with many questions about bank finance and how they can get to invest in their business.

When I first talked to Tania, I was impressed to know about her business plan and experiences she gained from her business journey to make at a profitable stage. After the technical discussion, I started processing bank finance under SME financing for her business expansion. That was her 1st loan from a commercial bank in 2009. She began her formal business “Karigar” with the partnership of another student from her university, where she was the managing partner and we provided loan against this business without any collateral. Besides her partnership business, she also built her own brand “Tan” and she holds her position with many leading organizations and business bodies as director, member, and mentor.

Tania Wahab (left) with the U.S. Ambassador to Bangladesh Mercia Bernicat.

She got the invitation from USA and Australia in 2011 and 2015 as a countries’ leading young entrepreneur. Those were significant turns for her career to share the entrepreneurial journey with experts of these countries which are advanced in Female Entrepreneurship Index. According to the GEDI, the 2015 Female Entrepreneurship Index (FEI) analysis 77 countries where the USA is the top position and Australia is the second top. Currently, Tania is exporting her products to Australia, Japan, Sweden, and Canada; also doing research and product development to explore the large export market in other countries. More than thousand people are earning from her enterprises and she is a proud contributor to the overall economic development of Bangladesh.

To promote this entrepreneurial society, country’s overall entrepreneurial ecosystem is most significant, which is gradually improving but need more initiatives with better policies and all stakeholders must work together to make the women entrepreneur-friendly business environment. From my experiences to meet with the entrepreneurs of different counties, visits to their enterprises and discussion about entrepreneurial issues and opportunities with the experts, I found that Bangladeshi women from rural to urban areas, microbusiness to large enterprise owners – all are highly motivated and committed to developing their economic growth. Also, they are continuously working for a better entrepreneurial ecosystem.

Shaheda Begom, Lipi Khandker, Sejuti, Himika, Sangita Ahmed, Sarah Ali, Kashfia Ahmed, Wafi and there are many more inspiring women with their unique stories who are not only empowering themselves, but also contribute to achieving the sustainable development goals.

Naiyer Fatema

Naiyer Fatema is a financial inclusion specialist and women economic empowerment activist. She experienced working with the financial organizations in Bangladesh and designed some financial products for small and medium-sized entrepreneurs (SME). She is a business graduate and a Masters in Development Studies (MDS). Currently, she facilitates programs in Digital Spaces in Adelaide to support communities taking the advantage of emerging technologies and new opportunities. Naiyer is an International Exchange Alumni of the U.S. government-sponsored exchange programs and a member of the Development Network, New Zealand.
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