This article explores the significant gender gap that currently exists in regard to power relations in the Small and Medium Enterprise (SME) sector in Bangladesh. Particularly, the focus is on the discrepancy between the economic and social opportunities available to women as compared to men. The problem is treated in the context of the research theme “gender is a human rights issue”. It is argued that this gender gap impacts negatively not just on women but also on the performance of the national economy as a whole. Taking a broad international comparative approach informed by a liberal-feminist perspective (articulated most cogently in the work of Fischer, Reuber and Dyke), it is argued that far-reaching cultural change to address entrenched patriarchal attitudes is needed in addition to a program of legislative and regulatory reform. These reforms include full implementation of the national policy for women in development 2011 and a comprehensive credit policy for women entrepreneurs. Such changes will help turn the sector into an engine of growth in Bangladesh and at the same time give women greater independence and better access to fundamental rights.The findings show that traditional legal systems, traditional models of inheritance and entrenched male-dominated hierarchies in the financial system restrict the capacity of women entrepreneurs to run SMEs. Specifically, laws around formal economic rights do not support women in Bangladesh. These laws inhibit their ability to accumulate assets that can be used as collateral, which then makes it harder for them to obtain loans. Further, women are less likely to obtain a loan than men are even if they meet the requirements, and they face higher interest rates. To remedy this, women must be given the same property inheritance rights and access to credit as men. These fundamental rights must not only be granted, but also enforced.

Author Biography

Chowdhury Dilruba Shoma is a graduate of the Crawford School of Public Policy at The Australian National University, where she completed a Master’s of Public Policy, specializing in development policy. Currently, she is working as Joint Director in the Financial Stability Department of the Central Bank of Bangladesh, based at the head office in Dhaka, Bangladesh. dilrubashoma131@yahoo.com, dilruba.shoma@bb.org.bd. Acknowledgment: The author is grateful to Professor Norman Abjorensen PhD, Crawford School of Public Policy at the Australian National University for his excellent suggestions, constructive criticism, and discussion in preparing the manuscript. She is also grateful to Associate Professor Bingqin Li PhD, Crawford School of Public Policy at the Australian National University for her cordial assistance during the preparation of the manuscript. The author wishes to thank Professor Diana J. Fox PhD, Co-Executive Editor, Journal of International Women’s Studies, at Bridgewater State University for helpful comments on an earlier draft of this paper. The views expressed in this publication are those of the author and not those of the Bangladesh Bank.