Let's say a forest is burning but luckily you controlled half of the fire leaving the other half burning. Do you take a big sigh of relief thinking yes, I got it under control? The answer is, "No", and you certainly don’t think of a blooming timber business from that forest. That’s why don’t let the low gender gap fool you into thinking Bangladesh has achieved full economic empowerment for women.
The latest report of the UN says the gender wage gap in Bangladesh is the lowest in the world since it came down to a staggering 2.2 per cent in March 2020, although the world average is 21.2 per cent. But where is the female representation in the high leadership, decision making and advisory positions of all sectors? According to the 2016 labour market composition of Bangladesh, only 3.25 per cent of employed women work in the public sector and 8.25 per cent work in the private sector. The remaining 89.5 per cent are employed in the informal sector with varying, and often unpredictable, earning patterns and according to 2019 World Bank report, the labour force participation rate of women aged 15+ was 36.37 per cent representing the growing number of women in the working sector but achievement in the upper strata of profession for women has a big grey area. It’s time to address the root issues and try pragmatic solutions for that.
The rigid gender role perception battles with the paradigm shift of women stepping into the world of economic productivity met with instinct driven resistance which pushes women into the whirlwind of the glass ceiling phenomenon where even having the same competence and ambition, their progression happens at a slower rate than that of their male counterparts. Studies say this gender role perception makes women go through extensive managerial negotiations within their organisation regardless of merit. Apart from that, we glorify how our girls are doing great in primary and secondary education but in tertiary education they fall behind as girls make up 47 per cent of the students at the HSC level and 40 per cent or less in university due to family and societal pressure of marriage, religious obstacles, restricted movement owing to lack of safety, security, interruption or complete cessation of study post marriage. How can we possibly expect women in higher position if their opportunity to possess knowledge and skills are nipped in the bud? Along with that, pregnancy, unequally distributed family responsibilities, restriction of free movement, late work hours, stereotypes of women being emotional, less ambitious, dependent and misogyny of the patriarchal mindset act as pivotal factors against women climbing high in their profession.
To uplift and break out of the situation of social constraints against women's high level economic progression, it is necessary to integrate knowledge of global culture and be exposed from an early life to women’s participation in decision making, starting from family to state levels. Increased mentorship and patronisation for women in tertiary level of education and creating workplace childcare, breastfeeding facilities, and workplace security for women as well as distribution of household work evenly among family members and parity in social rights will change the situation gradually. That being said, 2.2 per cent gender wage gap due to micro credit, garments workers and informal labour workers, uneducated and stuck in poverty trap should not indicate that economic empowerment for women is done, rather presence of women in every professional aspect with equity of wages and opportunities should be the hallmark of true economic empowerment of not only women but also the whole country.
The writer is a 3rd year M.B.B.S Student,
Shaheed Suhrawardy Medical College, Dhaka.