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Women in online fish market: Changing social norms and the economy

  • Published at 03:29 pm July 16th, 2020
Women in online fish market: Changing social norms and the economy
Going against the tide, several women entrepreneurs are now selling fresh fishes online instead of traditional women-oriented businesses like boutiques and ornaments Collected

Women entrepreneurs told Dhaka Tribune of their bitter experiences when they started their fish business, a sector traditionally dominated by men in this country

Women in Bangladesh are not only contributing to the development of the country’s business sector but also have been playing a vital role in changing social norms of doing business. 

Going against the tide, several women entrepreneurs are now selling fresh fishes online instead of traditional women-oriented businesses like boutiques and ornaments.  

Farzana Akter, a new entrepreneur and a journalist of a private television, started selling fresh-water fishes through the Facebook page “River Fish” on March 29 last year. With an initial investment of only Tk10,000, her efforts turned her into a successful entrepreneur within a year with a profit margin of Tk8.1 lakh per month. 

“I tried starting business earlier and failed. But, I never gave up and started again. Since I hail from the Haor area, it became a plus point for me to get success,” Farzana said while talking to Dhaka Tribune.

Through her Facebook page, she sells formalin-free natural and non-frozen fishes directly from rivers, Haors and swamp areas, which quickly gained popularity among consumers across the country. 

Farzana said although she initially had no idea about fishes, their name or nature, she put her effort to learn more on fisheries from the internet and local fish markets. She also received help from fisheries officials in understanding the difference between farmed fishes and naturally-harvested fishes.

After receiving huge responses from consumers, she hired employees for digital marketing and established an office and a warehouse just after five months into her business venture.

“I re-invest from my profits. Within the eighth month, my sales rose to Tk80,000 to Tk1.2 lakh per day. Now, it is around Tk1 lakh to Tk1.4 lakh per day and my profit is around Tk8.10 lakh per month,” She said.

Farzana said although she initially had no idea about fishes, their name or nature, she put her effort to learn more on fisheries from the internet and local fish markets

Currently, Farzana’s business has 19 permanent employees with salaries ranging from Tk15,000 to Tk40,000 per month, and also few part-time employees. Delivery persons earn from Tk25,000 to Tk50,000 per month from her business.

More women entrepreneurs entering the sector

Like Farzana, two other women entrepreneurs, Aysha Siddika and Pritilota, have also started selling fish online. However, they established their business through WE, a Facebook-based platform founded by Razib Ahmed, former and founding president of e-Cab.

Aysha Siddika started “fishdhaka.com” with Tk 45,000 on January 8 after leaving 13 years of service in the banking and garments sector. She currently has eight employees and is earning sales worth Tk12,000 to Tk15,000 per day.

Asked why she chose this business, Aysha told Dhaka Tribune: “I grew up in a fish export and packaging area in Khulna. My father and my uncle had fish farms and I know about this sector. Therefore, I can serve better, fresh and formalin-free fishes to my consumers.”

Pritilota, an MBA student, entered into the sector just a month ago with her facebook page “Chai Chandpur er Ilish.”

“I sell only Ilish (Hilsa) fish since I live in Chandpur with my husband. I am now branding myself, not thinking about profit. This is because people only buy from those who they know,” she said.

Fighting social norms

Women entrepreneurs told Dhaka Tribune of their bitter experiences when they started their fish business, a sector traditionally dominated by men in this country.

“At the beginning, some customers became puzzled when they learned that I was a woman selling fish online.  I faced awkward questions on why I was selling things like fish. These people think women can only run a boutique business, not fish business,” Farzana said.

“But their criticism gave me more strength. I worked harder to make myself a successful entrepreneur to prove them wrong and to change this social norm,” she added. 

Pritilota said she sometimes feels uncomfortable while collecting fish from the wharf because of the negative attitude of people there. But, she has gradually adapted to it. 

Aysha also has similar experiences. 

“At first, my friends and relatives thought I can’t do this business since I am a woman, but later they got inspired by me. Sometimes labourers used bitter words and teased me when I went to the fish market early in the morning amid a crowd full of men” said Aysha.

Challenges for women entrepreneurs

When asked about the challenges women entrepreneurs face in this sector, all three women fishmongers said that apart from holding the position of a woman entrepreneur in the fish business, collecting and delivering fresh fishes to consumers has been another major challenge for them.

“Consumers in Dhaka find rotten fishes after buying them from the kitchen markets. Upholding their trust by providing fresh fish is a challenge,” Farzana added.

Meanwhile, Aysha said: “Delivering fresh fishes by courier or delivery person is important. I recruited my own delivery man so that I can deliver on time.”

“Fishmongers are considered as low class people in our society. It is not right to  judge people on the basis of their occupation. I chose this as it is a challenge for me instead of going for a boutique.” Pritilota added.

By establishing herself as a successful fishmonger, Pritilota wants to turn herself into a role model for the society so that no one feels shy to do fish trade.

“It is true that there are many women entrepreneurs working with food, clothing or jewellery, but there are very few women entrepreneurs working with fish. This is actually due to the negative attitude of the society. Women entrepreneurs now can easily establish through online by opening a facebook page,” said Razib Ahmed.

“We are working with local products in the WE Group, which is creating a customer base platform. It is very effective for women entrepreneurs from every sector,” he mentioned.

“However, challenges in logistics are to be blamed for the negative attitude. If good courier service is available, many women will be able to do fish business. Maybe it will take another year but it will happen,” he added.

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