The difficulty in accessing financial assistance, the stress followed by pledging collaterals and the huge interest rates on bank loans were among the problems women entrepreneurs in south Asia, especially from the lower and middle income groups, encounter.

This was a common observation made by a delegation of women entrepreneurs and representatives from government bodies from Sri Lanka, Nepal, Bangladesh and Maldives during their visit to a weavers’ hamlet in Anakaputhur, a city suburb.

The delegation interacted with weavers of Anakaputhur, who for the past decade have been successfully experimenting with making fabric from natural fibres.

“Across south Asia, with rare exceptions, the lack of easy access to finance is barring women from low income groups from becoming successful entrepreneurs,” said Rezaani Aziz from Sri Lanka, who is part of the steering committee of Asian Women Entrepreneurs Symposium.

“If women mange to get finance, the high interest rates and the huge collateral demanded are obstacles that discourage us from improving our quality of life,” said Chullante Jayasuriya of The Asia Foundation, a non-governmental organisation that brought the delegation to Anakaputhur.

Among the delegation was Nepal’s Sabita Maharjan, who survived domestic violence and was forced to fend for her young children, and who, with the help of Business Service Centre for Women Empowerment, was able to set up her own hosiery unit.

“Sabitha rose and succeeded through sheer grit and determination. She is a privileged beneficiary as interest rates on loans are as high as 40 per cent,” said Mangala Karanjit, general secretary of the Centre.

Luna Shamsudd Oha, an entrepreneur in Bangladesh, said it was an entirely different situation in her nation thanks to the micro credit scheme. Bangladesh had realised that collateral was a big stumbling block to development and extended collateral-free credit up to 1 million Taka. Ms. Oha said the weavers in Anakaputhur had innovated by making and stitching fabric from fibres, banana stem, for instance, which in Bangladesh was disposed of.

The lessons picked up by the delegation in their visit to various south Asian nations would be shared and attempted to be replicated in their respective countries, she said.

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