Almost half of the women entrepreneurs, who signed up for taking charge of Union Digital Centres (UDC) across the country, have dropped out after five years. According to the Access to Information (a2i) Programme at the prime minister’s office, less than 5 per cent of the remaining women enterpreters are regularly attending their workplace. In 2010, the UDC service was initiated in the country’s all the 4,547 Union Parishads. These centers aim to provide necessary information and services like public examination results, downloading government forms, birth and death certificates, online enrollment, data entry, VGD/VGF database, job news and other services at people’s doorstep.
Each of these centers’s mandatorily appointed one female entrepreneur along with a male entrepreneur. However, women entrepreneurs started dropping out since the very start. According to the UDC census of Bangladesh Bureau of Statistics, which was published in December 2013, only 4.71 per cent of women entrepreneurs were regularly attending their respective centers, while 29.46 percent were attending only once or twice a week.
One of the main reasons of the decline in number is lack of training facilities. Every UDC entrepreneur needs to have a certain level of computer and internet skill which many women entrepreneurs lack. A2i sources said, when the first batch of women enterprenues were appointed despite not meeting the job requirement, the officials assumed they will learn the necessary skills on the job. Training facility was provided to the first batch as well.
However, after several women of the first batch dropped out, the new batch of women entrepreneurs were not provided any formal training. They received an online tutorial, but due to fluctuating internet speed in most of the rural areas, the online tutorial was not very useful. A male entrepreneur of a Chapainawabganj UDC said, his female colleague could only open and shut the computer, and she had absolutely zero knowledge about internet.
The female entrepreneurs also complained about payment inequality. Although the payments are supposed to be divided equally between both entrepreneurs, in reality, the scenario is completely different. UDC enterprenure of Haripur Union Lutfunnesa works with male enterprenure Shariful Islam. “What he earns is his and what I earn is mine,” she said. While male enterprenues can earn as much as Tk 20-25 thousand per month, women interprenures hardly make Tk 10,000.
Muklima Khatun used to work as an enterpreneur in Bolaier Chor UDC, but she quit after she got married. “I expected to earn a reasonable amount of money, but without any goverment stipend, it’s hard to earn much money from this work,” she said. Two women enterpreneur from Nandigram and Aria Upazila of Bogra said that they are looking for other line of works. Programme coordinator of A2i Mohammad Mazedul Islam said that the local government has taken initiatives to train Upazila and Union Parishad chairmen-members. Eventually, the UDC enterprenuers will be trained as well.