More than 41 per cent of small businesses run by women entrepreneurs were forced to shut their operations completely because of the coronavirus pandemic, according to a study by the Centre for Policy Dialogue (CPD).
Another 7.1 per cent of women entrepreneurs in the cottage, micro, small and medium enterprise (CMSME) sector squeezed their operations, and 2.9 per cent relocated their operations to smaller or cheaper places. Some 44.4 per cent failed to pay rent, and 50 per cent said they could not manage to pay taxes and utility bills.
"In general, the situation has worsened for women due to a lack of social protection," the report said.
The think-tank carried out the rapid response telephonic survey in collaboration with the UN Women among 70 female entrepreneurs in 34 districts of eight divisions from October 1 to October 30 last year.
It explored the gender dimension of the government's Covid-19 policy measures and recommended policies for making the assistance work for women. The outcome was shared at a virtual dialogue -- Socio-Economic Recovery Measures of the Government: How Much Women Have Benefitted? -- organised by the CPD in association with the UN Women yesterday.
Around 93 per cent of female entrepreneurs did not apply for loans under the stimulus package unveiled by the government to support CMSMEs, the survey showed.
The reasons include a lack of information, lengthy procedures, non-cooperation of financial institutions, and prospective borrowers being single women.
The income of most of the respondents has fallen, so they were worried about the monthly repayment of loans. Some are not interested in taking loans as they contracted their businesses.
Banks were also unwilling to provide the amount of money they need, according to the entrepreneurs.
The government has unveiled liquidity support amounting to Tk 20,000 crore, equivalent to 19.43 per cent of the total Covid-19 funding introduced since the pandemic struck Bangladesh in March last year.
Some 58.6 per cent of women entrepreneurs reported having no knowledge of the stimulus package announced for CMSMEs.
The Covid-19 liquidity support and fiscal stimulus packages were not designed with women in mind. So, they have not been fully successful in addressing women's special needs during the pandemic, the CPD said.
"Due to the economic downturn and the uncertainty regarding the future, women need cash handouts more than loans. So, fiscal measures would be more effective in easing the burden of the pandemic on women than monetary measures."
While making a presentation on the study, CPD Executive Director Fahmida Khatun focused on a range of issues, such as providing training to women entrepreneurs and improving women's access to finance.
She pointed out that child marriage, the burden of unpaid care and domestic work, and violence against women increased during the pandemic.
All should work together to impart information about the incentive packages to the right people, said Planning Minister MA Mannan.
"The government recognises the challenges of women during the pandemic and is working towards improving their situation."
All packages need to ensure adequate and transparent delivery for women, said Shoko Ishikawa, country representative of the UN Women.
Globally, 47 million women and girls have been forced into poverty because of Covid-19, she added.
Prof Rounaq Jahan, a distinguished fellow of the CPD, said as Covid-19 added disadvantages for women, a plan of action is needed to support women entrepreneurs.
"A task force might be formed to monitor the progress of this work."
Shaheen Anam, executive director of Manusher Jonno Foundation, said: "We applaud the government for the incentive package it announced at the time of the emergency. But as it turned out, most of the women entrepreneurs did not get help from this package."
"Many women entrepreneurs closed their businesses. So, this issue needs to be considered seriously."
The CPD demanded transparency and accountability in the disbursement of the Covid-19 support.
Lila Rashid, a former executive director of Bangladesh Bank; Kaniz Almas, CEO of Persona; Fauzia Moslem, president of Bangladesh Mahila Parishad; Farah Kabir, country director of ActionAid Bangladesh; Md Jashim Uddin, deputy managing director of the Palli Karma-Sahayak Foundation; and Selim RF Hussain, managing director of Brac Bank, also spoke.