By Shabiya Ali Ahlam
Women entrepreneurs in South Asia stressed the need for improved regional integration to support their businesses, so that the existing potential for cross-border trade can be realised in a more effective manner.
The representatives of female entrepreneurs from Sri Lanka, Pakistan and India, via a platform presented by the World Bank (WB), said that women-led businesses continue to faces challenges, despite the repeated highlighting of issues and the global pandemic only worsened their woes.
Pointing out that a significant proportion of women-headed businesses within the region have grown to become key revenue contributors to their economies, intraregional trade has become increasingly difficult, due to a number of barriers to trade, even within the SAARC.
“There are a number of barriers. The digital economy bypasses them but when it comes to trading of goods and services, there are many barriers that hinder trade. All the non-trade barriers do affect but I must say, as entrepreneurs, it is time to enhance trade,” shared Cord360.com Managing Director Ayanthi Gurusinghe.
She stressed the need to build harmony within the region and iron out the issues prevailing in the women chambers of these countries to achieve
“It is time that as friends and sisters, we need to continue to support each chamber by sharing our experience and opportunities available, despite the barriers,” stressed Gurusinghe.
Gurusinghe, along with Dot & Line CEO Maheen Adamjee from Pakistan, SHEROES CEO Sairee Chahal from India and World Bank Group CFO/MD Anshula Kant, presented the challenges faced by women entrepreneurs in the region at an online forum titled ‘Pivoting in a Pandemic’.
While all three representatives reflected similar sentiments with regard to intra-regional support, the forum also highlighted a new emerging issue, which is the lack of safe experience online.
With online businesses booming, especially due to the opportunities arising after the pandemic, a safe online experience is yet to be achieved for women entrepreneurs.
According to Chalal, the trolling and spam abuse online is a huge problem that keeps women away from using the Internet as a platform to grow their business, despite the opportunities it presents.
“These issues give patriarchal families more reason to keep women away from the online opportunities. We want to break that and we are already breaking that and we found some way out,” shared Chalal. Meanwhile, Adamjee asserted the need for a change in the values and norms in society. She stated that young girls growing up today need role models and need to see that entrepreneurship is a possible career choice.
“This must be highlighted in a regional level. It is essential we do this, so that more are encouraged to take the leap,” Adamjee said.
According to the WB, South Asia has the world’s lowest rate of women entrepreneurs, with just 18 percent of small, medium and large businesses principally owned by a woman. Few engage in trade. As South Asia rebuilds after COVID-19, the WB stressed that the region needs more women entrepreneurs to help drive innovations in services and products.