DFID Bangladesh Evidence and Learning Note Gender and Business Environment/Investment Climate Reform in Bangladesh March 2017

Gender-sensitive business environment reform is an emerging area of activity for international development organisations. New programmes are being developed, but little evidence exists that indicates which reforms are the most instrumental for reducing gender gaps in entrepreneurship and business growth.

Key messages of the report include:

  • Public Private Dialogue should include women’s business membership organisations and Non Government Organisations that have a mandate to support female entrepreneurs or have strong relationships with female entrepreneurs and workers, in order to strengthen the voice of women in these processes. Women-owned businesses should be actively targeted to ensure that participants reflect the diversity of firms in the economy.
  • Women’s advocacy is also an important force for reform, whether in the absence of or alongside a formal Public Private Dialogue process.
  • Sex-disaggregation of data is critical whether Business Environment Reform programmes have a gender focus or not, in order to analyse whether interventions have unexpected negative consequences for women, and to accelerate learning about what works.
  • Women’s business centres have been instrumental in improving the skills and success of female entrepreneurs in developed countries, and could be similarly successful in Bangladesh. They provide a continuity of support through a range of complementary mechanisms, which are more effective than one-off training sessions.
  • Gender audits are a process by which an organisation can learn about its own gender dynamics, and in particular gender imbalances in positions of power, and roles that interface directly with external organisations and customers. The internal gender dynamics of implementing agencies matter, and gender audits are an effective means to drive improvements that will ultimately lead to more gender-sensitive programme delivery.
  • The sector in which female-led businesses operate is critical for profitability. Women tend to start businesses in areas where they have experience as workers, and these sectors are often low productivity. This fact accounts for 22 per cent of the productivity difference between female-and male-led businesses. In some contexts, female entrepreneurs in male-dominated sectors earn as much as their male counterparts — and donor interventions can encourage women to enter these sectors.
  • Childcare provision is one of the most well established interventions for encouraging female participation in the economy as workers, and is also likely to encourage female entrepreneurs. Special Export Zones are an obvious location to test whether these results can be replicated in Bangladesh.
  • No intervention should be assumed “gender neutral” simply because the differential effects are not obvious —activities should be assumed to disproportionately benefit men unless analysis has informed gender-sensitive design, confirmed through sex-disaggregated results measurement. The focus for interventions should be on business reform or investment activities as these often seem to be gender neutral when in fact they are not.