Pabna marketplace for empowering rural women: Good initiative failing
A marketplace established in Pabna’s Satbaria Bazar to promote rural women entrepreneurs is about to be closed allegedly for lack of fund and patronisation.
Named the “Women’s Corner”, it comprises 12 shops allotted to ultra-poor female entrepreneurs in the area. They received Tk 5,000 each to set up their businesses.
Only two of the shops are now in operation, and the rest are mostly worn-out and deserted. Two or three shops have allegedly been rented by male traders to use those as warehouses.
The Local Government and Engineering Department (LGED), aided by non-governmental organisation CARE Bangladesh, spent Tk 29 lakh to establish the lone commercial market for female traders in Pabna’s Sujanagar upazila 15 years ago.
“After the shops were allotted, some of the women traders never came to the market,” said Md Samsul Islam, chairman of Satbaria Union Parishad.
“Some influential male traders in the market then started to use some of the shops as warehouses. The Women’s Corner is not really run by women,” he added.
Due to the lack of upkeep, many shops are on the verge of ruin, the chairman added, demanding the market be demolished as it is not running in accordance with its original purpose.
Asked about the maintenance, the chairman claimed he could do nothing.
Female traders were supposed to pay a minimal monthly rent to the UNO, through the union parishad, which could have been used for maintenance -- but nobody do this, he added.
Apart from supports from the authorities, local female traders say, a shortage of capital and noncooperation from male traders are to blame for being unable to compete in the market. Their male counterparts, however, blamed it on women’s lack of experience.
Visiting the market recently, this correspondent talked to a woman, Pila Rani, who runs a small shop selling singara.
“The shop is in poor state as there has been no repair since it was first built,” said Pila, who has been running the shop alongside her husband for the past decade.
Hena Rani is the other female entrepreneur in the Women’s Corner.
According to her, female traders not having sufficient funds to sustain their business amid competition with influential male traders is the main obstacle.
“Satbaria Bazar itself is a rich rural market. There are many influential wholesale traders here. When we start a small business with a meagre amount of money, we cannot survive here. We do not get any assistance from these traders,” said Hena.
There are no women on the market management committee at Satbaria Bazar.
The Women’s Corner is also at the literal corner of the market, where customers seldom go. The women were also not able to choose their shop location, said Hena, demanding initiatives to revive the Women’s Corner.
Talking to The Daily Star, Md Abdur Rashid, president of Satbaria Banik Shamity, acknowledged the problems faced by female traders.
“The Women’s Corner is located towards the back of the market, where most customers don’t go. The traders there also lack sufficient funds to run profitable businesses,” he said.
However, he also claimed female traders who previously ran the shops did not have enough patience to build up their business and abandoned the place.
Over 200 shops in the Satbaria Bazar run smoothly, with the exception of the Women’s Corner. Failing to run for over a decade now, it has become a deadweight in the market.
Without support from the grassroots level, the administration alone cannot ensure success of good initiatives, said Sujit Debnath, Sujanagar upazila nirbahi officer.
“It was a good initiative to promote female entrepreneurs, but wasn’t effective due to a lack of sufficient support from locals,” the UNO said.