Women look for a human economy— equal for allProblems ranging from managing cash, paying workers, rent and repaying loans caused distress to women during Covid-19 pandemic, forcing many to quit entrepreneurship.
Three decades ago, Mahalaxmi Shrestha, CEO of Bee Keeping and Research Centre in Kathmandu, was preparing to start her own business. She failed in the first step.
It was primarily because, in Nepal, the deep-rooted patriarchal system was largely prevalent and there was no space for women to become an entrepreneur.
“Doing business was not easy. Not at all for women,” Shrestha told the Post. “We had to carry loads—both at home and in business. Even if we had started a business, there was no financial access.”
And then, the market was not ready to buy the product.
Despite social pressure, she continued.
At 29, she started the honey business. She also completed her master’s in botany.
“Today’s world is different. But still it has not changed when it comes to women,” she said.
Shrestha, 57, is a successful entrepreneur now. She started her business with Rs200,000 and her business has grown multiple times, which Shrestha doesn't want to reveal. She collects honey from 20-25 beekeeping farmers and exports her products to Japan.
Amid difficulties and challenges to become a woman entrepreneur, there are many success stories of women.
Women entrepreneurs say that they need a human economy equally for all, not just for the fortunate few.
According to the World Bank report entitled "Women, Business and the Law 2022", Nepal made the fastest progress among South Asian countries in closing gender-based gaps.
But still women worldwide have just three-quarters of the legal rights of men, the World Bank report said.
The Covid-19 pandemic also added to women’s woes.
According to the report, Covid-19 directly and disproportionately jeopardised women’s social and economic capabilities as they make up the majority of health, social service, and unpaid care workers. In addition, women continue to earn less than men for the same work. They also face a higher risk of violence in their homes.
Women are more likely than men to be not only in informal employment but also in the most precarious and low-paying categories of informal employment, in part because they lack equal access to education and health services, a report of the Central Bureau of Statistics said.
As a result of the Covid-19 pandemic and prolonged lockdown imposed in the past one and a half years, businesses run by women entrepreneurs are having a hard time staying afloat.
The Covid-19 pandemic may ease sooner or later and the businesses may gradually recover but challenges are likely to remain for women entrepreneurs. And they are largely worried about it.
According to the Federation of Women Entrepreneurs Associations of Nepal, problems ranging from managing cash, buying raw materials, paying workers, rent and other expenses and repaying loans caused immense distress to women during the pandemic, ultimately forcing many of them to quit business.
“Doing business in Nepal is not easy, especially when there is a crisis,” said Surakchya Adhikari, chief operating officer and co-founder of online supermarket Thulo.com.
“Despite the e-commerce demand increasing during the pandemic, it impacted us financially. The government did not support us to deliver goods. It’s not easy at all. And when it comes to women, it is even more difficult to deal with the government’s frequently changing rules.”
Despite the government introducing policies to encourage women entrepreneurs, Shrestha said implementation has been poor with only a few benefiting from them.
Things have certainly changed in terms of giving equal education and social space to women but Nepal lags behind in promoting women entrepreneurs despite women commanding a lion’s share of the population, according to Shrestha.
Around the world, women perform two-thirds of the work for 10 percent of the income and only 1 percent of the assets, according to a report.
Gender inequality is one of the oldest and most pervasive forms of inequality in the world. According to a report by OXFAM International, a British founded confederation of 21 independent charitable organisations focusing on the alleviation of global poverty, gender inequality in the economy costs women in developing countries $9 trillion a year–a sum that would not only give new spending power to women and benefit their families and communities, but also provide a massive boost to the economy as a whole.
The report says that across the world, women are in the lowest-paid work. Globally, they earn 24 percent less than men and at the current rate of progress, it will take 170 years to close the gap. Around 700 million fewer women than men are in paid work.
Adhikari said that women entrepreneurs are facing difficulty getting financial access even in urban areas and particularly while dealing with government services.
“In terms of investing, different organisations and institutions prioritise male or look for male partners as backup,” Adhikari said.
“Financial access starts at home, and since a majority of income earners in most families are male, women have less access to finance. Even in urban areas, women participate less in financial management, and their fathers or husbands manage it for them,” Kusum Lama, chairperson at Prabhu Management, a financial service providing company, told the Post in a recent interview.
Adhikari feels that the attitude while dealing with women entrepreneurs is quite different compared to others even for small services in the government or private companies. “They make you feel that women cannot do most of the things and seek a male counterpart. And you have it in your head that you need someone to do your business,” said Adhikari.
Reeta Simha, immediate past president of the Federation of Women Entrepreneurs Associations of Nepal, says there is discrimination in the policy level. The government is provisionally providing Rs2.5 million for start-ups while women entrepreneurs are given Rs1.5 million under subsidised loan schemes, according to Simha.
“Women’s skills are not being utilised by the government and little has been done by the private sector too,” Simha said.
According to the Women, Business and the Law report, discriminatory laws across the world continue to threaten not only women’s fundamental human rights, but also their economic security. Barriers to employment and entrepreneurship at every stage of life limit equality of opportunity, failing to adequately support working women.
The major problems of gender equality in Nepal, as pointed out by the 15th Plan (2020-21 to 2024-25), include the prevalence of behavioural discrimination against women, and the persistence of societal structures, beliefs, values and traditional practices that promote illiteracy, harmful practices, gender-based discrimination and violence against women.
“Our society is patriarchal, which still comes as a hindrance for women to do business freely,” Simha said. “That’s discrimination.”