Ismat Jahan Rusu

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“Bangladesh: a tough place to be a woman entrepreneur” was a headline in a report published by The Daily Star. This report was published as Bangladesh ranked the bottom and came last in the Mastercard Index Women entrepreneurs 2020 among 58 countries. Is Bangladesh really a tough place for women entrepreneurs? Can education and training help make Bangladesh a better destination for women entrepreneurship?

The Mastercard Index of Women Entrepreneurs (MIWE) basically analyzes socioeconomic factors of 58 countries to determine how women in business are progressing globally and gives them a performance ranking based on the results. The MIWE 2020 Report has conducted a survey based on different components. In the finding of Component-A, which is the Women’s Advancement Outcome component, comprises 4 indicators: Women Business Leaders, Women Professionals & Technical Workers, Women Entrepreneurial Activity and Rate Women Labor Force Participation. Bangladesh is placed 2nd from bottom in this component showing poor performance of Bangladesh.

Women participation in business and economic environment is low globally but more prominent in Southeast Asian countries like Bangladesh. Additionally, Bangladesh women progress is hindered by lack of skilled women professionals and low labor participation rate compared to its global peers. In Bangladesh, only 36% of the working age females are engaged in the workforce compared with 81% for men. Component-B measures the Knowledge Assets & Financial Access that foretells how women borrow or save for business purposes, and how much support they get for SMEs in terms of availability of government support and underlying infrastructure. It also includes 4 indicators that are Women Borrowing or Saving for Business, Women Financial Inclusion, Support for SMEs and Women Tertiary Education Gross Enrolment Rate. Bangladesh is ranked at the bottom of the table among all the countries.

The latest updates from International Labour Organization revealed that women business ownership has been slightly changed from 2019 to 2020 and the change is from 4.3% to 4.5% only. This report also says economies of Bangladesh have extremely low score which is between 30 to 40 points. Component-C measures entrepreneurial conditions of female ability to progress and thrive as business owners, Component-C also measures the socio-cultural conditions in each region as a driver or inhibitor of female entrepreneurship. It comprises of the following indicators: Ease of Doing Business, Entrepreneurial Supporting Factors, Cultural Perception of Entrepreneurs and Quality of Governance. Here too Bangladesh is at the foor of the table (The Mastercard Index, 2020).These findings show the real scenario of women struggles in Bangladesh in terms of entrepreneurship.

Looking at the history of Bangladesh, women contribution has been critical in its success. Whenever people talk about women entrepreneurship names like Bibi Russel, Rubaba Dowla, Ivy Haque Russel, Taslima Miji, Sabrina Islam comes to mind. Despite the socio-cultural barrier women face in Bangladesh, they have played a vital role in country’s economy by creating employment, reducing poverty and driving economic activities. Although only 33% of adult women engage in labor force, their energetic contribution cannot be overlooked (Rahman, 2020).   Recently, more and more Bangladeshi women are embracing a new platform for work; online business. The presence of online women entrepreneurs is much higher than male and the difference is quite visible. In Bangladesh, people now understand the importance of women contribution both to family and national income and thus, women are encouraged to work outside of their traditional household commitments or even start a business on their own. Yet, Bangladesh is still at the bottom tier for women entrepreneurship and women are still facing social and economical barriers while establishing a business. Women in Bangladesh have less access to tertiary education than men. Though in primary and secondary level, the ratio of female to male students is close to equal, gradually the difference gets bigger in tertiary level.









Female to male ratio in tertiary education








Source: (Statista Research Department , 2021)

In this table, it is clearly visible that over these 9 (no data for 2013 and 2014) years the ratio of female to male ratio in tertiary education remained constant. This is mainly because of the social stigma that girls have to be married off early. Even the women who can access the higher education, society expects her to manage home and children instead of working outside after marriage. Despite these challenges so many women are doing businesses but often find themselves lacking formal education, training and family support. A woman needs to seek permission from family to open a business with financial support from others as inheritance custom in Bangladesh is favorable for men.

Women further suffer from lack of critical business knowledge of marketing and communication compounding their struggles. They do not know how to register their business or how to get a trade license for their business so they do not have any proper documentation of their business. As a result, they can not apply for any kind loans from formal institutions such as banks that are taken by public or private institutions to help build a sustainable business. In addition, most of the women who are already an entrepreneur lack the knowledge of accounting and book keeping. They cannot keep track of their sales, income and costing. Furthermore, they have little idea about how to set the selling price of a product. They often fix it without accounting for all her costs. For that reason, it becomes difficult to cover all the expenses and actual profits are lower than expected profits. All these results in a difficult environment where women struggle to expand their business.

Source: (Nasrin Akther Lubna, 2017)

A chart is shown below through which it will be easy to understand the problems women face while opening a business. Government and other different organizations and NGOs are taking lots of initiatives to encourage women entrepreneurship. In April 2020, government wanted to boost the SME sector and introduced a stimulus package which is around US$2.4 million. Yet the participation of women was not noticeable because of the repayment terms and loads of formality and documentation works, (Sultana, 2021) . The main hurdle women entrepreneurs face to take any loan are collateral requirements, guarantee, trade license, rigidity of loan procedures and lastly the mindset of the bankers toward women entrepreneurs, (Rahman, 2020). There is also gender discrimination in Bangladesh in terms of accessing the digital platforms and the financial inclusion profile shows that only 41% of the population has account with financial institution yet only 2.8% women perform online transactions compared to 4.3% men, (Fahmida Khatun, 2021).

A table is given below financial inclusions indicators for better understanding:

 Financial Inclusion Indicators of Bangladesh


Financial  Inclusion Factors

Percentage of Population Aged 15+

Has account with financial institution


Has a credit card


Has a mobile money account


Makes online purchase or pay bill


Percentage of women with credit card


percentage of men with credit card


Percentage of Women making online transactions


Percentage of men making online transactions


Source: (Fahmida Khatun, 2021)

Women in Bangladesh can overcome these existing problems and become successful entrepreneurs; they just need proper guidelines and trainings. Though government and other private institutions are taking lots of steps to encourage and motivate women entrepreneur, there is a long way to go before the business environment can be called ‘women friendly’. There is a acute need for Bangladesh women to technically upskill, not just for entrepreneurial activities, but professional too. Effective training needs to be dispensed for women in business fields such as marketing, communication, accounting, leadership, management and digital literacy in order to encourage more women in professional and business activities. Besides education and training they need institutional help too. The interest rate for traditional loans seems a bit higher for women, so, it needs to be reduced to discourage gender disparity in terms of financial inclusion. The procedure to take any loans and the paperwork and other administrative work should be made easier to attract the women. Another key issue women face is the guarantor to take any loans so here Women Chambers and SME Foundation may act as guarantors or might help them to find ones, (Rahman, 2020).  Most of the women do not even know there are many opportunities that are waiting for them; they just need to avail them. So a program is much needed for them where they can get proper training to run their business and also get to learn some soft skills to manage and expand the business. Women need to be enlightened about the existing opportunities and rights.


Fahmida Khatun, S. Y. (2021). The Financial Express. Retrieved from The Financial Express:

Nasrin Akther Lubna, M. P. (2017). Women Entrepreneurship Development in Bangladesh: A Descriptive Study on Challanges And Prospects. Retrieved from Society and Change:

Rahman, D. (2020, May 22). Strengthening budgetary support for women entrepreneurs. The Financial Express, pp. Retrieved from

Statista Research Department . (2021, March 29). Retrieved from Statista:

Sultana, S. A. (2021, 05 26). Retrieved from The Asia Foundation:

(2020). The Mastercard Index. Mastercard Newsroom.