What accounts for success in any entrepreneurship? Obviously, the answer will be securing a wide market for one's products. When many men have successfully got access to new markets, women entrepreneurs are lagging behind in the race.
The rapid changes in the concept of markets have left many women entrepreneurs far behind their male counterparts. Not only the lack of understanding about different types of markets, want of initiatives on the part of women entrepreneurs, demand-based trainings and policy level supports to improve the situation are also to blame for this situation.
Viquruennessa, a successful entrepreneur in food products, also felt the same. She said her business began with cooking courses in 2000 keeping in mind her market area within her community - neighbours or relatives. But she gradually expanded her markets to domestic level by shifting her business to processed food items.
She has now a capital of 500,000 taka and markets 11 processed food items like jam, jelly and pickles in the city's famous outlets like Aarong and Pacific.
Viquruennessa is the Managing Director of Rosona Food Products. Although she has planned to launch new products like garlic and ginger paste shortly this year, she has not developed her knowledge on the growing new markets. She has not developed her website to get a wider market.
"Yes, I feel the need to take this kind of promotional steps… but it was somehow not done," she shared her experience with this correspondent during a regional gender forum. A similar experience was also shared by Eliza Parven, proprietor of Liza Boutique. She said although she queried about web facilities, she is yet to have it.
Viquruennessa and Eliza were not alone in the line. There are also hundreds of thousands of women entrepreneurs in the South Asian region, who face this kind of gap at the knowledge and initiative level. Such a view was also gathered from women entrepreneurs of Bhutan, Nepal and Northeast India.
They also said that women in enterprises also face physical, mental and financial constraints, which however change from one country to another and identified that, most of the women entrepreneurs do not have even any knowledge about respective domestic markets.
But social bindings, geographical differences among these countries have left these women in dilemma.
Recently these women gathered in the forum titled "Engendering SMEs: Women in Enterprise Development", organised by South Asia Enterprise Development Facility (SEDF) in collaboration with Department of Women's Studies of Dhaka University
To share the case of land-locked country, Ambika Shrestha, President of Federation of Business and Professional Women - Nepal said women in her country lack confidence due to lack of knowledge. Lack of easy access throughout the Himalayan nation has also affected many women entrepreneurs and they do not enter even the domestic markets.
RC Agrawal, President of North East Federation of International Trade, also told this correspondent that NE India has good scope to do border trade when it has 98 per cent borders with three neighbouring countries - Bangladesh, China and Myanmar. But he also admitted that the cultural differences within seven states of NE India has rendered many women unable to avail themselves of the opportunities.
He said that the Meghalaya state is dominated by women as it is a matriarchal society and women lead there in coal to mine businesses. "The situation however is not the same in other states," Agrawal added.
According to the view of Dr Liza Das, Assistant professor of Indian Institute of Technology, Guwahati, problems of women in entrepreneurship development fall under various factors- individual, environmental and organisational.
"The prototype entrepreneur profile is of a man who is aggressive, extremely competitive, hard driving, ingratiating, self-promoting and high networking.. the women counterpart is seen to be bestow a naïve owning to low benefit from networking and low monitoring preparedness and skill," she pointed out.
During the two-day forum, representatives of different chambers, public and private sectors and NGOs had tried to address the issue of gender discrimination in right perspective. They finally identified a set of problems pointing out that those were the challenges women have to face in the highly competitive markets. These have thrown challenges to the policy level to adopt agenda for engendering SMEs.
These include lack of understanding of different types of markets, product development and promotion as per market needs as well as lack of initiatives to take risk or opportunities, face challenges and do business communication.
But Barabara Mowat, SEDF Gender Development Consultant, gave a different view citing an example of identifying seven wonders by a group of students. All the students argued about the names like Egypt's great pyramids, Taj Mahal, Panama Canal, and Great Wall of China etc. But a quiet girl student expressed her simple and ordinary outlook as truly wondrous - to see, to hear, to touch, to taste, to feel, to laugh and to love.
Barbara believes that it is all about women working with women to success in all spheres of life.