Private companies should introduce a quota system for recruiting physically challenged women, opening a door to them to show their potential in the corporate sector, social activists said at a discussion yesterday.
Given proper financial support and training, they can also thrive and be entrepreneurs, the speakers said at the roundtable on "Mainstreaming of women entrepreneurs with disabilities and our responsibilities". The programme was jointly organised by Disable Rehabilitation and Research Association (DRRA), Manusher Jonno Foundation and The Daily Star at the English daily's office in the capital.
"Physically challenged people want special care, not sympathy. We should ensure a level-playing field for them," said Shaheen Anam, executive director of Manusher Jonno Foundation.
Women entrepreneurs face many challenges when they deal with financial, marketing and networking issues, said Sangita Ahmed, president of the Bangladesh Women Chamber of Commerce and Industry (BWCCI).
"If we can bring at least five percent of the physically challenged women into the skilled workforce, it would help the country raise its productivity," she said, adding BWCCI would consider working with these women.
A poor number of women were now involved in the mainstream economy because of social impediments and negative attitudes, said Shagufta Yasmin Emily, a ruling party whip in parliament.
Infrastructures should be built, keeping physically challenged people under consideration, she said. "They face many challenges. So they need extra care."
Shagufta also suggested that the government should distribute khas land among people with disabilities.
Mosharraf Hossain, country director for Action on Disability and Development (ADD), Bangladesh, said, "We have to provide the physically-impaired with all support so that they can become entrepreneurs." In India and China there is a good number of entrepreneurs with disabilities, he added.
Women entrepreneurs should use social media for promoting their products in the international market, said Mosharraf, adding information and communication technology could play a significant role in this regard.
Farida Yasmeen, DRRA executive director, said government and private organisations should work together to ease their (the physically-challenged) path to self-employment.
The mandatory financial security and marketing of products for taking loans are the major barriers to the development of women entrepreneurs, said Rokia Afzal Rahman, former adviser to a caretaker government
"I will extend all sorts of support to these women so they can easily market their products and get loans," she told the roundtable over the phone.
Mayeeda Choudhury, a director of ActionAid Bangladesh, said women entrepreneurs should be given training so they could improve their skills to compete in the global market.
They have a very little or no access to finance, she said, and that was the main obstacle. "So we have to address this problem and ensure loans for physically challenged women entrepreneurs."
Mayeeda urged the women entrepreneurs to build a broader network with others so that they could always be informed of market trends, new business opportunities and new initiatives.
"Disabled women should enjoy quota facilities in government training programmes," said Nasrin Jahan, assistant general secretary of the National Forum of Organisations Working with the Disabled.
Shahidul Haque, chief executive of Social Assistance and Rehabilitation for the Physically Vulnerable, said, "The first challenge for the disabled is to overcome social barriers. For this, the family should come forward."