Women freelancers, finding path to financial freedom
While freelancing is not typically seen as a viable career path in countries like Bangladesh, the benefits of being able to "be your own boss" are just too good for many to pass up. This is especially true for women in the country, who often have precious spare time in between their household chores or other responsibilities. Consequently, the availability of employment opportunities with flexible hours and workloads is a blessing for women who are looking to contribute to their family's income or even gain professional experience in their field of choice.
With global online marketplaces such as Upwork and Fiverr now at their fingertips, women freelancers are able to find work suited to their needs. Both Upwork and Fiverr are online platforms that connect freelancers to people or businesses that are looking to hire, whether it be a project for graphics design, data entry, copywriting, or other similar jobs.
Previously, people who earned money through such platforms were unable to access their earnings. However, the government has facilitated payments by launching PayPal's Xoom service back in 2017, which allows freelancers to receive payments from almost any country, enabling them to provide their services on a global scale from the comfort of their own home if needed.
Since then, other cross-border digital payment platforms such as Payoneer have also emerged, and while the ratio of men and women freelancers has become more balanced in recent years, it is still far from equal.
As per a government study, women freelancers only make up about 9 per cent of the total number of people that make a living by providing their services online.
This is because they face multifaceted challenges, including family constraints, lack of awareness and knowledge as well as social stigma.
However, both government and private initiatives have been taken to address these issues.
For example, a Facebook page called Digital Skills Bangladesh is dedicated to helping women entrepreneurs and freelancers gain the skills needed to become successful in the online marketplace.
This includes training them on how to market their products or services through the right platforms to reach the biggest audience possible. The group also works to educate its members on which certifications they need to run a business and how to obtain them.
Led by Razib Ahmed, the former and founding president of the e-Commerce Association of Bangladesh, the group also provides members with the scope to connect with each other and mutually grow their businesses.
"A certain level of digital literacy is needed to succeed in the online marketplace," said Ishrat Chowdhury, a member of Digital Skills Bangladesh and also an English lecturer at Cambrian School and College.
"So, our group works to provide people, many of whom are women, the skills needed to succeed in this regard," she added.
Besides, the ICT Department has been working on developing ICT skills in 43 districts under a project called "Her Power" to provide young women with employment opportunities through freelancing.
At the cost of about Tk 250 crore, the project will provide three months of hands-on training and a three-month business incubation period.
Having been initiated in 2021 by the Prime Minister, the ICT Department will train a total of 25,000 women across 130 upazilas by December 2024, according to government officials.
As evinced, the main reasons why women are inclined towards freelancing lie in the numerous advantages, namely flexible work hours, scope to work from anywhere and being able to personally select which clients or projects to take on.
Additionally, some women choose to freelance to further their expertise while also achieving financial independence.
However, these benefits are not limited to only those who work online.
"I hate the idea of working nine-to five-jobs, so I chose to freelance as a photographer in my free time as it does not have the same constraints, giving me the freedom to choose when to work," said Nowshin Sultana, a freelance photographer who mainly does wedding photoshoots.
Asked about why she decided to take up this profession in particular, Sultana said it allows her to follow her passion at her leisure.
When it comes to the difficulties faced in her field, especially being a freelancer, Sultana said that many clients undermine her abilities for not only being a young woman, but also for not belonging to any particular production house.
As a result, she is often turned down from work or is forced to accept lower payments.
Still, Sultana, who is still completing her undergrad, said that she would continue to freelance even after graduating as it gives her the scope to build her skills and potentially build a business of her own.
"There is a good scope to freelance in Bangladesh now as the internet has reached some of the most rural areas, allowing clients to contract workers as per their needs from near and far," she said.
"This gives a good opportunity to earn, especially from home," Sultana added.
So, it is safe to say that considering the benefits involved, freelancing comes as a bright prospect for many women in the country today.
Abrar Hossain is a journalist at The Daily Star