Islamabad: The voices of women need to be ensured and strengthened at the key business forums. This participation has become even more important after-Covid19 scenario to assess what has been the impact of the pandemic on women-led business ventures. The experts from public and private sectors, said this while speaking at the online meeting ‘Challenges of women-led exporting enterprises amid Covid-19’ organized by the Sustainable Development Policy Institute (SDPI).
Muhammad Adeel, Joint Director, State Bank of Pakistan (SBP), was of view that the information regarding incentives for women-led enterprises should be widely disseminated by public and private forums. He said that the misconception that approaching banks to get loans is a cumbersome procedure, needs to be removed now. SBP conducted some sessions in women chambers of commerce and we will do more to dissemination information regarding export finance schemes.
“The government has already advised banks that 25% of loans initiated during Covid19 should go to women,” Mr Imran Ahmed, Additional Director, State Bank of Pakistan, informed the participants and added that the commercial banks have also been asked for the deferment of loan payments. To facilitate digital needs of the women businesses, he said, SBP has allowed refinance scheme as well.
Dr Vaqar Ahmed, Joint Executive Director, SDPI, highlighted that the voices of women-led exporters in major business associations and Chambers of Commerce seem missing. We need to evaluate that if women-specific schemes by Trade Development Authority of Pakistan have been able to deliver the desired results.
“It is unfortunate that in Covid19 times, banks are demanding more mark up and service charges than what is allowed by the State Bank of Pakistan,” Dr Ahmad said adding that It is also unfortunate that even business associations and Chambers of Commerce have not reached out to women exporters and listened to their concerns. As global lockdowns are lifted and countries resume trade in large volumes, Pakistani women-enterprises will need financial support and technical guidance to approach foreign buyers, he concluded.
Ms Farhana Asad, Founder, The Lel Collection, was of view that women-led businesses need help to sustain their workforce and prevent layoffs. Moreover, we need interest-free loans or grants to bear the shocks of the pandemic. Ms. Mehek Humayun, leather sector expert, highlighted that high customs duties have hindered the business in leather sector. The import of inputs from abroad is still expensive. We need to study how other countries are helping the sustainability of women-led enterprises amid Covid-19.
Mr Ahad Nazir, Head, Center for Private Sector Engagement, informed the participants that some of the women professionals in IT sector have been able to export IT services. However, we need to reach out and assess their needs to enable them to expand their businesses, he added. Technical and vocational education institutions should have programs to help develop various skills of women and women-led enterprises. For example, in Covid times women need to learn how to shift their operations online. Ms Mahnoor Arshad from SDPI, earlier highlighted the policy facilitation needs to reduce information and networking costs faced by women enterprises.