International Women's Day is a day to celebrate women as the fundamental builders of society. Every year on the 8th of March people celebrate IWD across the world, recognising and acknowledging the achievements and impacts of women in all aspects of our lives and society. Celebrating women who have made extraordinary contributions at all levels of society, in every corner of the world, and across centuries of history is the right thing to do. But each year, the key remains how to translate the goodwill on this day into concrete actions and policies that promote and empower women to meet their potential all year round.

This year, for International Women's Day, the United Nations has called for countries around the world to "Invest in Women: Accelerate Progress". According to the World Economic Forum (WEF), the funding gap for women in the overall micro, small, or medium enterprise (MSME) sector amounts to US$1.7 trillion. Despite constituting 22% participation in micro ventures and 32% in small and medium enterprises, women entrepreneurs remain severely underbanked.

To promote female entrepreneurs, Bangladesh Bank has declared supportive measures so that women can easily avail financial assistance from banks at a lower cost. According to the Global Findex 2021, about 67% of women in Bangladesh lack bank accounts and 80% of women have never opened a mobile money account. Evidence suggests that this is now changing, thanks to the advent of agent banking - branchless banking that uses local intermediaries to provide financial solutions in their given localities. The number of women in Bangladesh with bank accounts opened via agent banking exceeds that of men as the facility offers better accessibility and guidance for various banking services, making it particularly suitable for those living in rural areas.

The number of female accountholders exceeded the number of males in Barishal, Khulna, Mymensingh, Rajshahi, Rangpur and Sylhet divisions. Thanks to agent banking offering banking services to a wide array of people in both urban and rural settings, women have found new opportunities to save, borrow, remit and pay bills. But institutional loans for large-scale entrepreneurial activities still remain a challenge for women to avail.

Bangladesh Bank has mandated a Women Entrepreneur Development Unit (WEDU) at all its branches. This Unit renders business friendly services to women entrepreneurs', receives complaints and settles those, carries out promotional activities for the development of women entrepreneurs, and also monitors and evaluates the women entrepreneurship development initiatives of Banks/Non-Bank Financial Institutions.

The country's Sixth Five Year Plan (2011-15) emphasised equal rights for women in all spheres of development, including access to information, skills, resources and opportunities. Subsequent five-year plans have emphasised promoting economic self-reliance for women, and developing economic policies that have a positive impact on women's employment and income in both the formal and informal sectors of the economy. Preferential access to credit and training programs are consistently being promoted by the government. The socioeconomic development which Bangladesh has gone through over the years did result in improved financial inclusion of women. But there still remains a long way to go.

Leave a Comment

Recent Posts