Not enough interest from female entrepreneurs

logo munshigonjRoad to digital Bangladesh
The situation turned for the better when people started getting the service
Despite many positive aspects of the Union Digital Centres across the country, their entrepreneurs claimed that there were several negative sides, too, the worst being the lack of interest from female entrepreneurs in the rural parts of the country, especially the northern region.

Talking to the Dhaka Tribune at the Digital Centre Entrepreneur Conference 2014 in the capital yesterday, several entrepreneurs complained that women entrepreneurs faced challenges at the centres. In some places the problem is so acute that there are no female digital entrepreneurs at all.

Sources said when the Access to Information (a2i) programme, under the Prime Minister’s Office, launched the digital centres four years ago, they paired a male and a female as entrepreneurs to provide information and technological assistance at each digital centre.

But unfavourable work environment, discrimination and lack of support from families among other reasons forced many women to pull out of business, they said.

“From the very beginning, we faced a lot of problems not wearing burka to work, which did not sit well with the local people,” said Farzana Bobby Nadira, a digital entrepreneur who came from Konabari union in Jhalakathi district.

The situation, however, turned for the better when people started getting the service, she said.

On women’s less-than-anticipated participation in the business, she said many female entrepreneurs could not continue due to opposition from their in-laws.

Siddiqur Rahman, a digital entrepreneur from Owashi union in the Kurigram district, said he has had no female partner at his centre since the beginning of the project.

“My partner left only four months after the service was launched,” he told the Dhaka Tribune.

Md Enamul Haque, a digital entrepreneur from Bamandanga union in Kurigram, said he had five female partners in the past four years, none of whom lasted more than six months.

Harunur Rashid, from Deshigram union in Sirajganj district, said his partner left their digital centre a year after the project was launched, and he had to get his wife to fill the vacant post.

According to a2i, around 7,500 digital entrepreneurs out of 11,000 in the country attended yesterday’s conference, 45% of whom were women, the a2i sources said.

The entrepreneurs also pointed out several other problems in running the business, including slow internet speed, weak mobile connection and lack of cooperation from the local government.

The chairpersons and secretaries in many union parishads are unhappy with the progress of digital centres as the service had reduced their authority on these issues, they said.

People acquiring their own digital devices also hurts the business, said Ranu Akhter and Selina Akhter, from the capital’s Uttara area.

“We only get customers who come to us to get birth registration,” said Ranu and Selina, who have been in the business for two years.

However, it is not all bleak for digital entrepreneurship. Many digital entrepreneurs expressed satisfaction with their job.

A group of digital entrepreneurs from Munshiganj district said their business was booming as people turned to digital communication services such as Skype, Viber, Tango, etc to connect with their loved ones who lived in other countries.

“A lot of people from Munshiganj have migrated to different countries, so calling abroad via laptop is quite popular in our area,” an entrepreneur from Rarikhal union in Munshiganj told the Dhaka Tribune.

There are around 4,547 union digital centres, 321 city council digital centres, and 407 digital centres in different wards under 11 city corporations in the country, according to a2i sources.

Muhammad Zahidul Islam

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