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OP-ED: The role of e-commerce in empowering women

  • Published at 11:35 pm September 8th, 2020

Technology is helping to bridge the existing inequalities in entrepreneurship

The entire world is witnessing a tremendous transition in electronic business, and Bangladesh is no different from the global trend. E-commerce has already shown its importance from a gender perspective. Women have made substantial gains along with shifts in social attitudes towards empowerment. 

E-commerce, also known as electronic commerce, refers to the purchase and sale of goods or services via the internet and the transfer of money and data to perform those transactions. Since the early 2000s, when Bangladesh lacked widespread access to a secure online transaction system, the e-commerce sector has grown dramatically. 

Over the years, banking, logistics connectivity, and payment methods have steadily improved, creating opportunities for the growth of the e-business market. Moreover, the cash on a delivery system is now more available, as customers can avail the use of credit and debit card services, and digital wallets.

According to the E-Commerce Association of Bangladesh (e-Cab) 2019 report, there are 700 e-commerce sites and 8000 Facebook e-commerce groups. The rise of e-commerce became a strong platform for empowering women in our country. By engaging in this sector, women are now accelerating development, helping overcome poverty as well as reducing inequalities.

Access to information is providing additional information tools for women entrepreneurs, particularly those with small e-commerce companies, and opening new lines of communities for the marginalized community of women.

As a rapidly developing country, Bangladesh stands to get the full use of women’s inclusion in the business world. Nowadays, through an electronic platform, women operate all kinds of businesses like handicrafts, clothing, food, blogging, fashion apparel, home furnishing, jewelry, etc by using social media. 

Moreover, during this pandemic, more than ever, customers became more accustomed to online shopping. As a consequence, women are now getting much more engaged in electronic businesses to fulfill the existing demand.

The e-commerce world decidedly seems to be well-suited to female entrepreneurs in our country because it gives them the flexibility to balance their personal and professional life. These businesses are not affecting their household chores and security issues. 

The industry is becoming more open, with women running businesses whether from home or on the move. According to the IDLC Finance Sector Review released in 2019, e-commerce, especially the Facebook market size in Bangladesh, is worth Tk312cr where 50% of Facebook stores are run by women entrepreneurs. 

There is no doubt that e- commerce is a perfect platform to fight against the existing inequalities between men and women in entrepreneurship. 

Undeniably, the revolution in e-commerce has brought a powerful sense of financial freedom along with imaginative fulfillment for women. Now they are actively participating in decision making and becoming successful leaders. Women are no longer dependent on their families for financial backup. 

Through income generation activities, women are contributing to their families and the national economy as well. As a result, they are enhancing their standard of living, and most importantly, they are positively encouraging other women to become self-employed. 

Moreover, women-driven businesses are creating additional opportunities to reduce the unemployment rate and increase the GDP of our country.

However, the entry of women in entrepreneurship is the result of a complex mix of problems and prospects in our country. When women try to become independent or economically motivated, they face numerous obstacles. The reality remains that women in Bangladesh have less access to money, productive capital, services, and opportunities than men, placing them at a disadvantage in engaging in socioeconomic growth. 

Besides, women are assigned alone to the reproductive role, along with high workloads, unpaid labour, and a lack of decision making. These restricted movements kept most of them in disadvantaged circumstances. 

There is a remarkable gap between urban and rural women in the business sector due to their internet access and networks, including clients, suppliers, and creditors. Urban women have a higher capacity to run a business individually compared to rural women. Business-women are also facing prejudices, making it harder for them to run their businesses. 

There is no monitoring and specific legal framework as well as a proper training system from the government, which makes the sector unorganized. As a result, to some extent, new start-up entrepreneurs feel demotivated due to not having specific guidelines. 

In the 21st century where the world is changing under the shared principle of leaving no one behind, women are playing a crucial role to have sustainable development. Obviously, women’s economic empowerment is central to realizing women’s rights and gender equality.

Through their innovative moves, women are proposing new dimensions of improving their socio-economic status. Undoubtedly, e-commerce has emerged as a great platform for women empowerment in modern days. Despite having many constraints, it is continuously bringing new information resources and opening communication channels for women entrepreneurs of the marginalized communities. 

This sector needs high-level preparation, monitoring, gender evaluation, and tracking assessments. Additionally, adequate research and attention need to be paid to evaluate the impact of these businesses on the living condition of women. 

The government needs to play an important role. However, investment and banking communities, numerous private enterprises, and educational institutions also need to come forward to boost the e-business sector. Finally, the private sectors, aid programs, and civil society need to team up for ensuring women’s digital access and a favourable environment. 

Nowshin Islam is a freelance contributor.