ONLINE business in Bangladesh is booming at the moment. Google Trends shows that ‘online shopping’ is the fourth most-searched phrase in Bangladesh. There are more than 28 million Facebook users in the country. Small-sized online vendors use different techniques to increase their reach through Facebook so that people can see their products whenever they open their Facebook page.
F-commerce (Facebook commerce) industry is becoming more open, with women running businesses whether from home or on the move. According to the IDLC Finance Sector Review, released in 2019, the Facebook market size in Bangladesh is worth Tk 312 crore where 50 per cent of Facebook stores are run by women entrepreneurs. The F-commerce world decidedly seems to be well-suited to women entrepreneurs in our country because it gives them the flexibility to balance their personal and professional life. Facebook helps women to connect and reach anywhere in no time, with the opportunity of availing the immediate response of what people are desirous of and what is the trend in society and with customers, also they flourish their ideas and directly interact with it. By engaging in this sector, women are now overcoming poverty as well as reducing inequalities.
Women in Bangladesh have been undergoing a plethora of negative experiences amidst the Covid outbreak as existing gender inequalities have intensified. Job loss and inadequate income have been a common problem for many women from both middle and lower middle class strata. Economic disempowerment is likely to trigger off various forms of social vulnerabilities for them. However, previous experiences echo that when women’s survival and their families’ wellbeing come under massive threat, they can invent alternative coping strategies with whatever resources and skills available to them.
Many women, who have been affected by the economic downturn induced by the outbreak, therefore, tend to utilise online platforms (notably Facebook) to run their businesses. Moreover, during this outbreak, more than ever, customers have become more accustomed to online shopping. As a consequence, women are now getting much more engaged in electronic businesses to fulfil the existing demand. They operate all kinds of businesses like handicrafts, clothing, food, blogging, fashion apparel, home furnishing, jewellery, etc by using social media.
According to the Bangladesh Association of Software and Information Services, businesses via Facebook have multiplied during the Covid outbreak. Around 300,000 people — about half of them women — in the country are running their businesses with the help of Facebook. These entrepreneurs earn between Tk 12,000 and Tk 1,20,000 a month.
The Women and E-Commerce Forum echoes that many of the women, who lost income to the Covid outbreak, took to Facebook to sell products. This is how tens of thousands of women helped Bangladesh’s e-commerce sector to thrive during the crisis. The number of the forum’s members jumped to 300,000 in June 2020 from 30,000 in February 2020. At least 300 women in the group earn more than Tk 100,000 per month through F-commerce, with some even making more than Tk 500,000.
While Covid-19 is driving women’s interest towards online business, the outbreak at the same time can slowdown businesses initiatives, including online businesses. Apart from the common challenges of disrupted supply chains and lowered demand for non-essential products (eg jewelleries or fancy cloths), many small-scale online businesses face risk of closure. Because they usually operate in the informal sector, with no access to formal financing or insurance.
Moreover, the entry of women in entrepreneurship (whether online or offline) is a complex mix of problems and prospects in our country. When women try to become independent or economically motivated, they face numerous obstacles. The reality remains that women in Bangladesh have less access to money, productive capital, services, and opportunities than men, placing women at a disadvantage in engaging in socioeconomic growth. Besides, women are assigned alone to the reproductive role, along with high workloads, unpaid labour, and a lack of participation in decision making.
They face more challenges than their male counterparts. It is more difficult for a businesswoman to get a bank loan than it is for a man. Banks require trade licenses and guarantors for loans. Not all women can meet the conditions for a trade license, particularly students. According to a survey run last year by the Asia Foundation, the Bangladesh Bank provided Tk 800 billion in small loans from January to June 2019. Only 7 per cent of the recipients were women, even though 22 per cent of the enterprises were owned by women.
Also, there has been no noticeable mention of women entrepreneurs in the Covid stimulus package circulars published by the Bangladesh Bank, although women entrepreneurs continue to play an essential role in contributing to the economy of Bangladesh. A recent study reveals that over 65 per cent of online businesses do not have formal registration or a trade license and, therefore, remain ineligible for the government’s stimulus package. This has forced over 68 per cent of the entrepreneurs to rely on their personal savings and about 20 per cent to take loans from their friends and families.
Many women plunge into their businesses without proper knowledge and preparation. The lack of digital literacy among women entrepreneurs, who own and operate small businesses in Bangladesh, continue to hamper their recovery amidst the outbreak. Urban women have a higher capacity to run a business individually compared with rural women.
Although Facebook-based women entrepreneurs are contributing to their families and the national economy, they lack social recognition. They are still looked down upon in our society. They do not get due credit from society, they are never recognised as an entrepreneur. Rather, they are only considered as a person who does a little bit of work on Facebook. Businesswomen also face prejudices in society, making it harder for them to run their businesses.
Despite all the gendered issues put forth by society, thousands of women, who are doing online business, are working tirelessly to change the norms and rules of society each and every day. While most come out as successful, some even feel the pain of being beaten as society is really fast to criticise them at every step.
Tasnim Nowshin Fariha is a student of women and gender studies in the University of Dhaka.
Originally Appeared Here