Involvement of women in Informal Sector: Panel discussion to understand opportunities and constraints of women in non-traditional occupations, B-SkillFUL

Building Skills for Unemployed and Underemployed Labour (B-SkillFUL), a skills development project jointly funded by Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC) and European Union (EU), hosted a panel discussion titled “Women in Informal Sector: Challenges and Opportunities in Non-traditional Occupations” on 8 September 2019 at Spectra Convention Centre in Gulshan, Dhaka. As the implementing agency, Swisscontact Bangladesh organised this event as a part of the project’s knowledge management initiatives to gather insights from experts and explore approaches that are likely to create better opportunities for women in non-traditional occupations.

While discussing pathways to create greater employment opportunities for women, the chief guest, Ms Selima Ahmed, Honourable Member of Parliament and President of Bangladesh Women Chamber of Commerce and Industry (BWCCI) said, “Government may introduce incentives for employers to recruit more women. Tax or VAT exemptions could be provided to companies that recruit women.”

Ms Salma Akhter, Professor, Department of Sociology Faculty of Social Sciences from University of Dhaka identified lack of access to capital as a barrier for women entrepreneurs. She said, “the project should work towards developing institutional linkage with financial institutes.”

While explaining the barriers that women go through in the informal economy, panellist Sohel Ibn Ali, Senior Program Manager from SDC mentioned that, “Women face barriers to employment because they cannot be as mobile as their male counterparts. Due to social beliefs, women usually prioritise household responsibilities which inhibit her freedom to migrate for better job opportunities.”  

Nadira Khanam, Women Economic Empowerment Specialist, CARE Bangladesh remarked that “projects should be careful not to overburden women when bringing them in job market. There should be support services like preschool or day care facilities to ensure that household responsibilities are taken care of while women are involved in jobs.”

Shohaly Yesmin, Managing Director, Reliable Institute of Vocational Training mentioned that women lack access to information, hence lack of access to capital to become entrepreneurs. She mentioned “day care centres should be widely available, and shops should sell semi prepared food to ease some of household works on women.”

In addition to the above, Mirza Nurul Ghani Shovon, President of National Association of Small and Cottage Industries of Bangladesh (NASCIB) shared his insights during the discussion which was moderated by Dr. Ehsanur Rahman, Executive Director of Dhaka Ahsania Mission. Furthermore, representatives of National Skills Development Authority (NSDA), Bangladesh Technical Education Board (BTEB) and Directorate of Technical Education (DTE) participated in the event.

The B-SkillFUL project supports local training centres to provide skills training to 40,000 poor and disadvantaged men and women in 6 districts of Bangladesh. The project further works with 3,500 informal sector enterprises to enhance safety at workplaces and to create employment opportunities for skilled graduates. In addition, the project collaborates with government bodies to mainstream Labour Rights and Decent Work (LRDW) in national Technical and Vocational Education and Training (TVET) system.