Global Gender Gap report of the World Economic Forum (WEF) said talent of women in finance is one of the most untapped business resources.
Bangladesh has made considerable development to ensuring participation of women in the key positions in finance. It got first woman Finance secretary Fatima Yasmin in June this year. She served as secretary at the Economic Relations Division (ERD) earlier. The incumbent ERD secretary Sharifa Khan is also a bright bureaucrat serving another key division under Ministry of Finance (MoF). It is inspiring to others indeed.
No doubt, appointment of women bureaucrats in two major divisions of the financial sector showed country's women empowerment status. It also raises hope that implementation of women development policies would be expedited as women in powerful positions might feel the problems of female workforce better.
The job of a bureaucrat is to implement government policy, to take the laws and decisions made by elected officials and put them into practice.
Bangladesh has seriously lagged behind implementation of many of the government policies and laws favourable for creating women-friendly work-place and other necessary benefits. Hope those two female bureaucrats would address implementation side of the women-centric policies.
Question can be raised, why women-centric policies are needed in Bangladesh? When women are fighting for ensuring equal rights, wages and other benefits why should they enjoy such extra privileges?
Answer is the gender gap is higher in Bangladesh compared to other neighbouring countries in this region. If we go through relevant statistics, the gap will be visible clearly.
WEF findings said Bangladesh has the largest gender gap in the workforce among South Asian countries.
A recent study of pi Strategy said, In Bangladesh, there is a 13 per cent gender gap in phone ownership, 14 per cent in mobile financial service (MFS) account ownership, 29.2 per cent in bank account ownership and 44.8 per cent in labour participation.
According to Global Findex Database-2021, some 57 per cent women have institutional financial service accounts while 80 per never opened mobile bank accounts in Bangladesh.
A joint study on a2i project and light castle partners, launched on October 17, 2022, said a large section of women are being deprived of the financial services creating visible gender gap in financial inclusion.
The study suggested making the financial services more women friendly and improving financial literacy of women.
Gender gap in financial inclusion in Bangladesh is evident. Lack of control over decision-making, ICT knowledge and socio-cultural constraints are major barriers for women empowerment.
In Bangladesh, approximately 47 per cent of young women and 10 per cent of young men are not in education, employment and training, said a data if SDG tracker. The data showed the evidence of poor participation of women in the labour force.
However, situation is not dismal everywhere as participation of women workfolks in apparel sector, medical and teaching profession is higher than male, though there is no available data on this.
According to the Bangladesh Bureau of Statistics, women's participation in Bangladesh's labour force has increased from 24 per cent in 2000 to 36 per cent in 2020. The SME sector, in which women are heavily involved both as business owners and workers, contributes 25 per cent to the country's GDP.
However, when it comes to challenging, technical or fintech job or gate-keeping positions or head of any commercial banks, their presence is poor. It has been found that many women join such technical jobs, but later forced to give up. Drop out from the profession is high for female employees compared to that of male counterparts.
Are they failed to compete with male counterpart? Are they less skilled? Why there are so few women in finance?
Society prefers comfortable jobs for women as they have to take other responsibilities too at home, bear and take care of children.
Even in United States, women make up more than half-of the entry-level workforce in finance-related job but only about six per cent of the top public financial institutions have women in senior positions, said a study.
Though there is no such study in Bangladesh, but it is assumed that situation is even worse here.
Findings of a2i project of ICT division of the government said almost half of the women entrepreneurs, who signed up for taking charge of Union Digital Centres (UDC) across the country, have dropped out after five years.
Drop out in technical jobs is higher in Bangladesh for women. Women start jobs in financial sector with enthusiasm but many could not continue until the age of retirement. This might be the reason we see the males dominating the higher positions in the financial sector. We do not see much lady bosses in private or public commercial banks except few. However, it is inspiring that number of women leaders in financial sector is increasing gradually. Trust Bank limited has female Managing Director and head of IT.
In businesses, women entrepreneurs' contribution in cottage, micro, small and medium enterprises is noteworthy. However, they faced a blow during the COVID pandemic. A study of Centre for Policy Dialogue (CPD) said around 41 per cent of women-led CMSMEs closed down due to devastating impact of COVID-19.
However, many women have tried to cope with the losses starting e-commerce business. They mainly started e-commerce business informally. Question can be raised whether informal businesses grew during pandemic. It is no denying that e-commerce helped many women to become entrepreneurs from house-wives contributing to the financial inclusion of womenfolk's. But it could not offset scar of the Covid-19 pandemic on women entrepreneurs' businesses.
BBS data showed upward trend of female workforce until 2020, but, there is no study how many women entrepreneurs or labourers dropped out or quit businesses during the last two years because of COVID pandemic, global economic turmoil, supply chain disruption and fuel price hike.
To recover the economic shocks, women need to be tech-savvy in Bangladesh. Enrolment of women in computer science or ICT-related subjects is not that much poor compared to their presence in ICT jobs. All of the commercial banks have IT divisions where the majority employees are male. Software development companies and other tech-based ventures are also dominated by males. Lack of technical knowledge among women is one of the major barriers to access to finance too.
Women's access to device, uninterrupted support network and ensuring the privacy of information are necessary for women's inclusion in the financial services.
We have to leverage fintech to bridge the gender gap. Financial technology can inspire more women to join workforce. Women's participation could be increased fast if more women are to be involved in fintech. Government is investing a large sum of money on digitization of its services. Awareness has to be build so that women can avail those digitized services. Not only marginalised women but also a large part of educated women are still tech-shy.
It is necessary to ensure that fintech services are easily accessible and relevant for women in underserved communities. More women have to adopt the digital accounts, mobile financial services, digitize trade licences services etc.
A study of the Aspire to Innovate (a2i) programme of the ICT division, supported by UNDP, said accessible, affordable and appropriately designed financial products are key to creating opportunities for women and empowering them to succeed.
Bangladesh has been a success story as far as financial inclusion of women is concerned because of micro-credit institutions. But there is still lack of women-centric policies that encourage women's financial independence and economic empowerment.
We hope the country would appoint more women to top positions to help implement the policy together with their male colleagues giving due priorities so that country could reap benefit of its demographic dividend.
The writer is a Special Correspondent at the FE. She can be reached at:
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