We laud the government's plan to undertake a Tk 428 crore project to develop the skills of 256,000 unemployed and disadvantaged women and hone them as entrepreneurs. If approved, the project, to be implemented by the Jatiyo Mohila Sangstha, a women welfare organisation under the women and children affairs ministry, will also help set up 160 sales and display centres, food corners and beauty parlours, where women can be self-employed. What is particularly notable is that the initiative is not concentrated in the urban areas and at the district level alone, but rather aims to set up trainining centres at the upazila level and in remote areas in all 64 districts. If implemented properly, this will go a long way towards building the skills and confidence of rural and disadvantaged women to explore opportunities they did not have access to previously.
Despite women's advancement across all sectors in Bangladesh, it is unfortunate that women entrepreneurs continue to face multiple economic, social and cultural barriers that curtail their true potential. In fact, last year, Bangladesh was bottom-ranked among 58 economies in the Mastercard Index of Women Entrepreneurs for 2020, a ranking based on an analysis of 12 indicators and 25 sub-indicators spanning advancement outcomes, knowledge assets and financial access, and supportive entrepreneurial conditions. Women are still discriminated against when it comes to accessing SME bank loans, in violation of Bangladesh Bank's guidelines, and there are very few opportunities for skills development. This is an embarrassment for a country that professes to prioritise women's empowerment.
During the pandemic, we have seen women come up with innovative business plans to support themselves and their families, utilising limited resources at their disposal. However, they need systematic support from the government and business community to build and expand their businesses, develop their skills and sustain themselves in the long run. We are glad that the government has taken a timely and judicious initiative for women entrepreneurs, at a time when Covid-19 has adversely affected employment opportunities for vulnerable groups. We hope that the project will be approved and the funds will be disbursed in an equally timely and judicious manner.