The country ranked bottom in the 2020 Mastercard Index of Women Entrepreneurs
Bangladesh came last in a ranking of 58 countries in the 2020 Mastercard Index of Women Entrepreneurs (MIWE), in a stunning disclosure that makes for a compelling case to the government for building on a targeted gender-specific policy.
The index, which is now in its fourth year, draws on publicly available data from leading international organisations, such as the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development and International Labour Organisation and puts them through a proprietary methodology to provide a picture of how women in business are progressing across 58 global economies.
Representing almost 80 per cent of the international female labour force, the MIWE provides deep-dive analysis on the socioeconomic factors propelling and inhibiting their success.
Aggregating these scores, the index can provide an overall grading of how successful individual economies are in advancing female entrepreneurialism in comparison to peers in pre-COVID19 conditions.
This year, Bangladesh got a score of 36.4, up from 35.4 last year. But the higher score was not enough to hold it from slipping one notch down to the bottom of the table.
Bangladesh along with Algeria and Egypt have “exceptionally low scores of 30 to 40 points”, said the report, which was unveiled on Monday.
“In these economies, women continue to be held back by deeply rooted socio-cultural as well as economic and financial constraints such as lack of work opportunities, government support and access to funding and capital.”
The study found that in Bangladesh -- along with India, Japan and South Korea in the Asia Pacific region and the Middle East and African economies -- women’s advancement as entrepreneurs, business leaders, professionals/ technicians and labour force participants is relatively unhealthy.
Across regions, women’s representation in the business and economic landscape remains low compared to men, especially in terms of business leadership.
This persistent discrepancy is most acute in Japan, South Korea, India and Bangladesh (Asia Pacific), Saudi Arabia, Algeria, Egypt, Tunisia and Malawi (the Middle East & Africa), and Turkey (Europe), where there are only around 6 to 15 females business leaders for every 100 leaders.
“In economies such as Saudi Arabia, Egypt, India and Bangladesh, women’s progress as skilled professionals and participation in the labour force tends to trail that of global peers.”
Here, female professionals make up only around 30 per cent of all professions, while the female to male ratio in the workforce is discouragingly low at around 3 to 10.
In India and Bangladesh, women’s labour force participation rate compared to men remains disproportionately low.
For Bangladesh, only 36 per cent of the working-age females are engaged in the workforce compared with 81 per cent for men.
In India, the disparity is just as large with only 20 per cent females active out of the total working-age female population, compared with 76 per cent for men.
This year’s MIWE results point to slow progress in women business leadership, particularly in Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Algeria.
In Bangladesh -- along with Japan, South Korea, Turkey, Islamic Republic of Iran, Tunisia, India -- women account for only around 10 to 20 per cent of total business leaders.
In contrast, economies such as Colombia and the Philippines have the highest representation of female business leadership at 57 per cent and 51 per cent, respectively.
There are markedly fewer opportunities for women to progress professionally, as skilled workers, and assume business leadership positions compared to their peers in other regions in Bangladesh, Angola, Ghana, Nigeria, Malawi and India.
They are also more constrained by the lack of developed physical infrastructure and government programmes to support their business undertakings.
Women business ownership as a percentage of total business owners remained broadly stable with only 2 economies recording a change of more than 2 per cent: Bangladesh (up 3.9 per cent from 2019 to 4.5) and Egypt (up 3 per cent to 4.3).
Bangladesh -- along with Egypt and India -- has considerably less women-led businesses in “High” impact sectors.
In these less developed, factor-driven economies, women-owned businesses are mostly concentrated in the primary industry related to agriculture, forestry, hunting, gathering and fishing that are not subject to strict containment measures requiring a shutdown, hence taking a “Low-Medium” degree of impact, the report said.
“Most of our women entrepreneurs are micro and small. They are doing business with their own funds from savings or family sources and remain in the informal sector,” said Fahmida Khatun, executive director of the Centre for Policy Dialogue.
Despite having the opportunity to grow, women entrepreneurs cannot do so.
“This is because of lack of access to funds and other constraints such as inefficiency in the marketing of their goods.”
On the other hand, they cannot avail the government support.
“As a result, women entrepreneurs suffer most in any crisis and struggle to recover.”
Besides, a lack of knowledge about the suitable business, training and marketing capacity also put a bar to their growth.
Khatun went on to urge the government to ensure a favourable environment for women entrepreneurs, their rights to avail all the government support and access to finance.
Meanwhile, for the first time, Israel topped the MIWE as the best economy for women entrepreneurs worldwide, advancing from 4th place in 2019.
With an ambition to double the number of female entrepreneurs within two years, Israel’s success has been driven by a focused institutional backing for SMEs: its catapulted from 42nd place in 2019 to 1st in 2020 in the ‘Support for SMEs’ ranking.
Last year’s strong performers, the United States and New Zealand -- although dropping from 1st to 2nd, and 2nd to 4th places respectively -- demonstrate that economies with mature gender-focused initiatives still out-perform on the global stage through continued focus on advancing conditions for women in business.
In both these economies, favourable cultural perceptions of entrepreneurism, the high visibility of female leaders that serve as role models for aspiring entrepreneurs and supportive entrepreneurial conditions play a crucial role in their success.
“What the findings make clear is that regardless of an economy’s wealth, level of development, size, and geographic location, gender inequalities continue to persist -- even pre-pandemic. What COVID-19 did is that it exacerbated an already problematic situation,” said,” said Julienne Loh, executive vice-president of Mastercard’s Enterprise Partnerships in the Asia Pacific region.
She went on to urge the governments, financial services and business organisations to come together to do three things: offer systemic support and programs to enable women to survive and thrive in this new normal, equip them with skills to navigate the digital world, and nurture an equitable, accessible financial services system that supports women’s work and entrepreneurship.
“These are not easy to deliver, but investments like these can yield priceless dividends for not only women but society as a whole,” she added.