Gender is a Human Rights Issue: The Case of Women’s Entrepreneurship Development in the Small and Medium Enterprise Sector of Bangladesh

This article explores the significant gender gap that currently exists in regard to power relations in the Small and Medium Enterprise (SME) sector in Bangladesh. Particularly, the focus is on the discrepancy between the economic and social opportunities available to women as compared to men. The problem is treated in the context of the research theme “gender is a human rights issue”. It is argued that this gender gap impacts negatively not just on women but also on the performance of the national economy as a whole. Taking a broad international comparative approach informed by a liberal-feminist perspective (articulated most cogently in the work of Fischer, Reuber and Dyke), it is argued that far-reaching cultural change to address entrenched patriarchal attitudes is needed in addition to a program of legislative and regulatory reform. These reforms include full implementation of the national policy for women in development 2011 and a comprehensive credit policy for women entrepreneurs. Such changes will help turn the sector into an engine of growth in Bangladesh and at the same time give women greater independence and better access to fundamental rights.The findings show that traditional legal systems, traditional models of inheritance and entrenched male-dominated hierarchies in the financial system restrict the capacity of women entrepreneurs to run SMEs. Specifically, laws around formal economic rights do not support women in Bangladesh. These laws inhibit their ability to accumulate assets that can be used as collateral, which then makes it harder for them to obtain loans. Further, women are less likely to obtain a loan than men are even if they meet the requirements, and they face higher interest rates. To remedy this, women must be given the same property inheritance rights and access to credit as men. These fundamental rights must not only be granted, but also enforced.

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