Nexus between Women Entrepreneurship Development and Empowerment: Bangladesh Context

This paper aims to analyze the relationship between two major approaches of development: women entrepreneurship development and women empowerment that have been in application since a couple of decades in the developing world including Bangladesh. The analysis has been drawn upon recent theoretical debates and arguments supported by empirical cases from Bangladesh. The paper argues, at the conceptual level, the relationship between women entrepreneurship development and women empowerment is complementary. The empirical evidences from Bangladesh, however, show that the typical entrepreneurship development approaches basically take a micro-finance based a narrow notion of entrepreneurship, which results in slow empowerment of women folks.
Main Article: 

1. Introduction

This paper presents an organized integration between two major development concepts of developing nations: women entrepreneurship development and women empowerment. In developing countries, like Bangladesh, the involvement of general mass in income generating activities is required at all levels, especially home-based and village-based entrepreneur-ship development. It is obvious that the entrepreneurship development program and empowerment are correlated, and women empowerment to a large extent depends on taking part in assorted development activities.

Although the development activities in entrepreneurial efforts are vital factors in developing the livelihood and eradicating poverty, the role of women has been considered from a different angle, as women’s involvement is necessary for enterprise development. The paper focuses on the meaning and features of these two leading development approaches, and depicts the harmonizing relation between entrepreneurship and empowerment in the Bangladesh context. Furthermore, this paper is based on current theoretical debates and is propped up by some pragmatic case studies of Bangladesh. By analyzing different research-based writings, it has been observed that the contribution in different entrepreneurial activities has empowered women.

The introduction of this paper is followed by a brief meaning and features of these two concepts. After analyzing them, a well defined relation-ship is presented by depicting some empirical cases from the Bangladesh context. Before drawing the concluding remark, the paper portrays objectives or outcomes of this research.

2. Key Theoretical Concept

Entrepreneurship may be regarded as what entrepreneurs do. In other words, entrepreneurship is the act of being an entrepreneur. It is a process of involving various actions to be undertaken to establish an enterprise. Some have referred to entrepreneurship as risk-bearing while others view it as innovating, and still others consider it thrill-seeking (Khanka, 2002). 

Entrepreneurship is the key to small business development. A country may have resources but the problem of development is to put these resources into the process of production. This can only be made possible through initiatives by some people or organization (Hossain and Rahman, 1999).

Entrepreneurship plays a vital role in the growth and development of any country, especially of a poverty-ridden country like Bangladesh. The development of a country depends not only on the human resources but also on the proper utilization of all the resources. Entrepreneurship development is a powerful instrument to activate the forces of socio-economic development of a country. Development of entrepreneurship can solve acute problems like unemployment, underemployment, disguised employment etc (Saha, 1995).

3. The Concepts of Entrepreneurs and Entrepreneurship

An entrepreneur can be defined as one who initiates and establishes an economic activity or enterprise. Entrepreneurship, thus, refers to the general trend of setting up of a new enterprise  in a society (Begum, 1993). The ILO (1984) defines an entrepreneur as a person who supposedly has several such characteristics as self-confidence, result-oriented, risk-taking, future-oriented, and with leadership and originality. In this respect, women entrepreneurs are those women who innovate, imitate or adopt a business activity (Khanka, 2002).

 Entrepreneurship is the set of activities performed by an entrepreneur. Thus, entrepreneur precedes entrepreneurship. The definitions described above highlights the risk-taking, innovating and resource-organizing behaviors of entrepreneurship.

4. The Features of Entrepreneurship

The main features of entrepreneurship are given below:

4.1 Economic Agent: Entrepreneurship is mostly an economic function as it involves the formation and operation of an enterprise. It is basically concerned with the production and distribution of services.

4.2 Creativity: Entrepreneurship is a resourceful response to changes in the environment. Therefore, an entrepreneur is a change agent.

4.3 Risk Bearing: Risk is an inherent, intrinsic and inseparable element of entrepreneurship. An entrepreneur assumes the uncertainty of the future, as there is every possibility of loss in the pursuit of profit.

4.4 Innovation: Entrepreneurship is an innovative function as it involves doing things in new and better way. Innovation may take several forms e.g. a new product, a new source raw material, a new market, a new method of production etc.

4.5 Dynamic: Entrepreneurship is a dynamic function as entrepreneurs thrive on changes in the environment that brings useful opportunities for business. Entrepreneurs always need to take different dynamic decisions.

Thus, entrepreneurship is a multi-dimensional concept. It is both an art as well as a science. But it is more an art than science. There are very few ground rules or principles that can be used to create and run business enterprises in a fast changing and heterogeneous environment.

5. The Concept of Empowerment

Disempowerment of women is a stain on human civilization. According to an estimate, women account for 70% of the 1.3 billion people living in abject poverty. About 80% of pregnant women suffer from anemia in South Asia. No society treats its women in a fair manner as its men (HDR, 1996 cited in Goswami, 1998). Moreover, violence against women in Bangladesh is a severe problem. Even law enforcing agencies are seen to be involved in this crime, and mandates of religious leaders often go against women. In almost all spheres of life, the need for empowerment of women in Bangladesh arises from this unsympathetic social scenario.

The shift of development theory during the 1980s away from the assumptions of top-down change towards an alternative development model as its root, a concept of empowerment as a form of development change was brought about by local problem solving efforts and techniques. As Korten (quoted in Abul Barkat, 1994) notes, it is not really possible for one person to empower another. People can only empower themselves. In a general sense, empowerment can be defined as a process of carrying out more controlling power to face the question on existing power, and have control over the sources of power. Empowerment is, at the same time, a process and the result of process (Haider and Akhtar, 1999).

Pilla (1995) defines empowerment as an active, multidimensional process that enables women to realize their full identity and power in all spheres of life. Power is not a commodity to be transacted nor can it be given away as aims. Power has to be acquired, and it needs to be exercised, sustained and preserved. According to Atiur Rahman, empowerment is one type of perseverance to achieve such strength through which a woman can establish her control on various assets. His concept of “empowerment” in this sense is to confer power on controlling the wealth and taking decision.

6. The Features of Empowerment:

As empowerment is an important concept of this paper, it is necessary to understand the features of empowerment. Chen (1990), cited in Haider and Akhtar (1999), describes the conceptual framework for women’s empowerment. The four features of women’s empowerment- resources, relationship, power and perception- are defined below:

6.1 Resources:  The access to material and social resources are income, employments etc. An empowered woman has the right and capacity to make choices and decisions regarding utilization of resources as well as her own life and liberty in public sphere.

6.2 Power: Power refers to the capability of women to change and control their surroundings. Empowerment is the skill given to women to challenge and change her situation.

6.3 Relationship: It refers to better contractual synchronization both explicit and implicit in various types of relation. Empowered women have the control over surroundings, which affect their lives, liberty and property.

6.4 Perceptions: Perception refers to the quality of a woman to expose her own individual interests and values and to make the others in her family understand her contribution to family welfare.

Perception could be explained from two dimensions: a) Women’s perception regarding their own values and ability and b) Family member’s attitude towards the women.

Women’s perception regarding their values and ability: self-confidence, self-reliance and critical awareness

When a woman feels herself that she can accomplish any kind of work within the society as men can, the women are said to be empowered. So, it is an internal process of women’s life.  Economic liberation and greater mobility have shaped self-esteem, self-confidence, self-respect, self-reliance and courage to face torment among the women (Khanum, 2001). To be empowered, women must have a clear perception regarding their own values and ability, and they must be enriched in thoughts and ideas.

b. Others perceptions towards the women

Women work very hard but their contribution is not recognized in the family because of the “indistinguishable nature” of work. Women entrepreneurs can work as bread earners, making it possible for her male family members to expand their business. So, the gainful activities of women entrepreneurs in the family enhance their status in the family (Khanum, 2001).

Joseph Ghabi, in his article “Is it self-esteem or self-confidence or what lies in between?”,  mentions that self-confidence is the level where we are aware of ourselves, as regards our abilities, gifts and knowledge, so women development means capability development. Thus, women’s empowerment is a process variable having multiple dimensions:  economic, social, cultural and political. These dimensions are interrelated and interdependent implying the values of other dimensions. When a woman feels herself she can accomplish any work within the society as men can, we can call the women empowered. s

7. Implication of these Development

Approaches from Bangladesh Context: As regards women-led households, such as single, widowed and divorced, the necessity arises to generate funds to run the household either through employment or self-employment, in Bangladesh. Therefore, it is well accepted that the challenges can be met through women empowerment. Entrepreneurship development is the key factor to enhance their efforts. The micro credit campaign in Bangladesh focuses on loans for self-employment and developing entrepreneurial qualities among rural poor women for taking active part in the informal economy (Nycander, 2008). It is obvious that there is an implicit balance between credit delivery with elevating social awareness, building confidence and self-esteem, which we can signify as the empowerment of these poor women.  

8. Relationship between Entre-preneurship Development and Empowerment.

One of the basic traits of an entrepreneur is innovation and decision-making power. From this viewpoint, each and every woman is an entrepreneur, because most women get up very early in the morning and take decisions about cooking and other activities of home and outside by applying their innovating power. Agriculture is a sector which sees the innovative role of women in Bangladesh. Different researches depict that in some areas women play a dominant role. Women also take major decisions in non-agricultural fields (Mojumder, 2007). Obviously, empowerment does not imply only the economic implications, rather it should also include the non-economic behavior of the participants and change is not only the individual but also the social attitude (Bashar, 2007).

In the last century, the rural women achieved different entrepreneurial qualities like risk taking, innovating functions regarding new technology, production etc. Women also have knowledge of how to save money, which is also an important quality of an entrepreneur. Women possess tremendous inclination to saving money. Saving and investment are special traits of an entrepreneur. It is found that this quality is an inherent quality among women. When rural women have some money in their hands, they have a tendency to save increases further. In the Bangladesh garment industry, about 90% employees are women. It has become obvious from various researches that the rural women laborers save a large percentage of their monthly income. Some researchers have found that after a few years these women have walked away from their work in various garment industries and started their own businesses (Mojumder, 2007).

Micro-credit plays a very vital role to inspire these rural women to launch different business related activities. These decisions are based on their independent choices as achievements that govern individual choice. Kabeer, in her research, points out a distinction has to be made on the type of choices and the focus has to be necessarily on strategic choices, that is, choices that shape livelihoods or are critical for people to live lives they want.  Kabeer exemplifies women’s choice through three dimensions: the pre- condition of choices, the exercise of choices and the consequences of choices (Mahmud, 2003).

Almost every woman borrower uses the credit in different productive sectors, and which makes her a small women entrepreneur. It is evident from various researches that these women changed their lives quite a bit and proved their choices worthy of pursuing.  Today, the success of the rural women entreprene-urs brings “Nobel Prize” for Bangla-desh. The Micro-Credit Model made it possible to earn the “Nobel Prize”. The Grameen Bank model rests on the idea of the individual entrepreneur who, with the help of micro-credit, becomes self-employed, owns private property (the assets she builds with the loans), and sells her labor on the market (Karim, 2008). These women entrepreneurs export the excess products abroad. In the very beginning, most of the entrepre-neurs started their business with their own savings. Afterwards, they increased their savings by taking loans from NGOs and other financial institutions.

Once someone becomes an entrepreneur, he/she will be empowered too. An entrepreneur is a person who has strong capability to take his/her own decisions regarding the family and other development activities. Women entrepreneurs also take different decisions regarding their children’s education, food, health, security, marriage etc.

In our society, women, particularly rural women, are vulnerable to the vagaries of the archaic tradition, and are merely subordinate to men. Consequently, women lack decision-making power regarding how to shape their welfare. In this context, empowerment is the process of gaining power over those strategic life decisions through the expansion of women’s choice and increase in women’s agency in order to increase welfare, both absolute and relative, and reduce their subordination to men. Since women in Bangladesh are having exposure to various businesses, it can be said they are enjoying more empowerment. Now women do have some changes in their decisions and choices that ultimately increase welfare and reduce subordination. The following chart depicts a framework of women’s choice, resource and how the welfare increases their autonomy in personal and public lives. The findings by various researchers are as follows:

Table 1: Complementary Framework

Kabeer Framework Chen and Mahmud Framework Operational Framework
Choice: resources Resource base: material resource Condition for empowerment: access to material and non-material resources
  Prestige and value: non-material resources  
Exercise of choices: sense of agency Self esteem and self confidence: cognitive skill and abilities Route to empowerment: active participation in household process
  Improved position vis-à-vis men: gender relations  
Achievements: increased capacity to transform structures Improved fall-back position and greater bargaining strength Achievements: increased welfare and reduced subordination

Source: Mahmud (2003)

The above-presented model is a good presumption of how women become empowered through access to entrepreneurship development program. When women do have choices, we can assume that they could make some differences. If they have access to entrepreneurship program, i.e., if they participate in household activities, there will be greater self-esteem among women and they will enjoy greater bargaining power. It is also important to note that their choice of making decisions should run on continual basis. In fact, they need to have access to these entrepreneurship programs on  a long term basis to have greater impact on their respective life styles and the society that ultimately play an underlying role in reducing poverty. There is no reservation to assume that the access to resources for developing entrepreneurial activities is predestined for women empowerment.

When it comes to the question of greater bargaining power of women, it is observed that women do have greater bargaining power after exposure to various entrepreneurial development programs like micro-credit. Osmani, in his research,  finds that micro credit strengthens women’s bargain power in terms of all indicators (Osmani, 2007).

Rahnuma Shehabuddin (1992) described different case studies of women entrepreneurs who had taken loan from NGOs specially Grameen Bank (GB). Similar case studies have also been found in an article written by Khanum Sultana Mustafa.  These explain that being entrepreneurs women achieve the qualities of empowerment.

Case One: A Case of Self-confidence

Kunsuma Bibi, about 50 years old, is also known as “Rosir Ma” or Rosi’s mother in Bilagi. Her husband Nuruddin died seven years ago leaving her with much in debts. No one came forward to help her and Kunsuma had no assets that she could draw on. Following the death of her husband,  Kunsuma had no choice but to put her children to work. Kunsuma had a small business of betel leaves and betel nuts at her house. She would get them on credit from local supplier and pay him back the next day from her sales. He did not charge any interest as long as she paid back on time. The main problem with the arrangement was that she could not take too much in one day even though she knew she could sell it. The amount of credit was too small to run her business smoothly and meet the family needs. She increased her profit as she could expand her business with the loan taken from the GB. Many villagers, especially men and those women who were slightly better off, tried to dissuade her from borrowing money from GB, when she had first applied to join. They told her that the money belonged to heathens and foreigners and it would be sinful to use it. She said that she did not listen to them as she needed the money. She had the self-confidence, which is the important characteristic of being an entrepreneur (Shehabuddin, 1992 p153)

Case Two: A Story of an Independent Decision Maker

Momena, 30, has three children-two sons eight and two years old and a daughter who is four years old. She got married when she was 18 years old to a man much older than herself. Because of financial constraints, her husband would feed the family once in three days. So, Momena decided to launch a small dairy firm in her home to get relief from abject poverty. For this venture, she purchased two cows with loan from local elite. She started her business on a small scale but she could not make enough profit to run her family so her husband told her to close the business. Then she decided to expand her firm but she needed two hundred thousand taka at a time. For the loan she decided to approach a NGO. Some people tried to discourage her because of complex procedure in taking the loan and huge interest burden. She did not pay any attention to them but took a loan from the NGO. With the loan, she acquired twenty cows and earned huge profit from her business. She also utilised those cows in ploughing the field and paid her weekly installment from the sale of cane goods. Momena was an independent decision maker. She took different important decisions regarding her business independently. Decision making power is an important entrepreneurial skill (Shehabuddin, 1992 p 153).

Case Three: A Story of a Risk Bearer

Nazma, 35,  is a mother of three children, two daughters, 19 and 10 years old, and a son of 16. Her husband died of tuberculosis, five years ago. In addition to her children, Nazma has to take care of her aged mother and 26 year-old brother who doesn’t work but wanders around aimlessly. Nazma lives in Bilagi village. In the early stage, she took a loan from a bank to trade in poultry and jute simultaneously. She purchased cocks, hens, and ducks from Kotiadi, 13 miles away from home, and sold those at Dhaka 50 miles away. This trade consumed four days of the week- two days for purchase and two days for sale. Some relatives of Nazma told her that if she took a loan from NGO, she wouldn’t be able to repay the loan. But she proved herself as an excellent example of a successful entrepreneur. She had to take different risky decisions regarding the loan and her business. Now, she is operating her business successfully (Shehabuddin, 1992 p 154).

Case Four: A Case of Saving Money

Shamsunnahar started her shop borrowing money from the GB but she has not touched the screw fund. She had been saving the earning she received from her son bearing in mind that together with the money to come from the screw fund. Her plan was to buy a shop for her son. This example proves that not only she is materialistically organized but also enriched in thoughts and ideas (Khanum, 2001 p 95).

From the above four case studies, it is obvious that those women possess entrepreneurial characteristics. All of them are successful women entrepreneurs. Now, it is necessary to understand whether they are empowered. It has been found that after starting business they easily achieved most of the indicators of empowerment.

One of the major objectives of the study is to find out the nexus between entrepreneurship development and women empowerment. The following discussion depicts this fact.

Decision-making Power

Decision-making power in the family is a key determinant of women empowerment.

Being entrepreneurs, women are capable to take their own decisions liberally. It has been found that women are trying to free themselves from male dominance.

Haider and Akhther (1999) conducted a research on NGO’s role and women’s perception of empowerment. They found that women achieve awareness regarding decision making after getting micro finance but they depend on others for social and cultural decisions. Their husbands and sons influence on their decisions in some cases.

Khanum (2001) declares from her research that economic contribution enables females to achieve decision-making power. She tried to find out the role of RMP (an employment generating program of CARE) in women empowerment. She came to the conclusion that female participants of the program discuss with male members of the family about different important matters like children’s marriage, starting new business, taking loan, buying land etc but finally they take the decision themselves.

Power to Spend Money

The women entrepreneurs have the capability to take different decisions. With their own income, women engage in many activities like, buy commodities for children and other family members, entertain guests, purchase clothes, shoes and other daily necessities. Though those women have to get the opinion of their husbands regarding their income and savings, they still have the power to buy something independently.

It is evident from a research that a significantly lower percentage of women had the ability to make small and lager purchases during the pre-NGO period. Only 22.9% of the women had the purchasing power before getting micro finance from NGO whereas 92.7% of the women had the purchasing power after taking the NGO loan. Women are now going to markets, hospitals to buy goods and services (Ullah, 2003).

A research finding focuses that 24% woman spends money independently whereas 50% of them spend it with their husband (Shahabuddin, 1992 cited in Haider and Akhter, 1999). In Bangladesh, men can spend money in whatever way they like. After taking credit from the NGOs, the women had the ability to spend the money according to their own interest. But, regarding economic matters the important decisions are still taken by men ((Haider and Akhter, 1999).

Economic Solvency and New Economic Position

As women entrepreneurs are economically solvent, they no longer are dependent on their husbands.  Their key power is that they are earning and helping family members when the necessity arises. A good number of women are taking loans from NGOs which prefer using the money in the productive sectors. Women engage themselves in various income generating activities which supplement the family income and subsidize family expenditure. Therefore, economic solvency brings greater mobility to women (Khanum, 2001).

It is an evident from a research that 95% of women always have some money in their hand after getting micro finance. They feel that money is the key basis of power. They were able to build up a new relation with the people involved in the marketing system (Haider and Akhter, 1999).  Traditionally, women in Bangladesh are restricted within the four walls of their houses. But the NGOs have broken this tradition through micro finance and attempting to involve the women in income generating activities that certainly gives them a new economic status (Ullah, 2003).

Family Members’ Perception towards Women

As the women entrepreneurs start earning money, every family member gives them importance. They can now provide high-quality guidance in different situations to their children because of their new position in the family. The other members of the family show respect and honor them. Being entrepreneurs, the women have the confidence to take any decision or action at home or outside.

A research finding depicts that the involvement in ‘friends in village development’ Bangladesh (private credit based organization) could not bring any significant change in the women’s status in the family. 30.38% of the women couldn’t get help from their husband in domestic activities as the male members of the family did not show much respect to them (Hossain, 2004).

It is evident from a research that a significantly lower percentage of women were free from dominance by other family members in the pre-NGO period. Only 19.8% were free from supremacy of the male family members before getting micro finance from NGO, whereas 89.6% women were free from domination after availing the NGO loan (Ullah, 2003). Women’s involvement in different entrepreneurial activities by having credit enables them to realize their right in their family. Therefore, with the new economic status of the women entrepreneurs, the family members try to maintain a very cordial relation with them (Khanum, 2001).

Access to Assets

The women entrepreneurs have the conscious enough to register their property in their own names. Now, they do not want to depend on their husbands and sons regarding ownership and maintenance of their property. Being entrepreneurs, the women concerned have become aware of the ownership of property and other assets.

The poor women were able to gain and protect assets after having involvement in different income generating activities through the RMP. Most of them bought some kind of assets like land, tube-wells, livestock, fishing net etc. They considered those as assets because they would sell them to purchase food (Khanum, 2001).

A research finding shows that the women of Baniachar try to establish their rights in the possession of property. The women are now thinking to give their daughters the ownership of their property as they are not much worried about their sons who will also ultimately live separately (Haider and Akhter, 1999).

Women’s Perception Regarding Development of their own as well as their Family

The women entrepreneurs understand that the welfare of a family does not depend on fate only. It is clear to them that male members of a family may earn money but they alone cannot contribute to the total development of the family. In this direction, they are trying to build themselves up to become strong and confident by taking part in different entrepreneurial activities.

Women’s involvement in different economic activities makes them aware about different important family issues like registration of marriage, ‘Moharana’ etc. Now, this has made the women capable of sharing their thoughts with their working partners (Khanum, 2001).

It is obvious from a research finding that a significantly lower percentage of women enjoy freedom in the family in the pre-NGO period whereas in the post-NGO period a significantly higher percentage of women enjoy freedom in the family from the women’s point of view  (Ullah, 2003).

8. Concluding Remarks

In this paper, the author has highlighted the nexus between women entrepreneurship development and women empowerment. From different writings and researches, it has been found that positive changes have taken place in women’s attitudes and perceptions of their own role after the their involvement in different entrepreneurial activities. In other words, participation in different entrepreneurial activities has empowered women in the social, economic and cultural fields. Now, for women in Third World countries like Bangladesh, power and access in taking decisions on their own has increased in economic and household matters, which has made them much more self-confident than before. The women have become better organized through the knowledge of their rights. But, the indicators of women development still reflect a pathetic picture despite all the rhetoric made. Another important indicator of women empowerment is political participation which is not widely seen among Bangladeshi women entrepreneurs. Through economic emancipation and greater mobility, the women can achieve a higher degree of decision-making power in every aspect of life including politics. With the constantly changing demographic structure of the region and increase in the proportion of the elderly people, especially older women, the need for appropriate policies and systems to provide economic and social support will be an important issue. Endorsing the greater participation of women in decision-making will continue to be a formidable challenge.


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