Monday, 6 December, 2021

Enhancing Women’s Employment in Bangladesh

Jainab Tabassum Banu Sonali

Enhancing Women’s Employment in Bangladesh
Jainab Tabassum Banu Sonali

In an independent country like Bangladesh where women make up half of the population of the country, the participation of women in labour force is still very low. Only one third of women—aging between 15 and 65—actively does paid jobs and contributes to the GDP of the country. The number of female workers in different companies and positions has been increased in the last 10 years because of implementing the effective methods and policies of the ruling government. However, in order to meet the expectations of Vision 2041, the gender gap in workplaces must be closed by enhancing women’s employment at all levels.

According to a data, women’s participation in Bangladeshi labour force was 24.65 in 1990. In 2019, the percentage has increased to 36.37. The rate is rapidly growing. According to the ILO report in 2017, female employment rate was 29.1% which speedily reached to 36.37% in just two years. It looks impressive if seen one-dimensionally. When the study becomes dialectic and comparative on the basis of gender, the loopholes are detected and the gender-gap in workplaces is clearly visible. In 2017, male employment rate was nearly 71% which far higher than female employment rate in the same year. Currently, the percentage of female employment rate in Bangladesh is higher than that of India’s pre-pandemic rate which was 23.4% in 2019. The global labour force participation for women is 49% which is higher than Bangladeshi rate and for men it is 75% which is close to Bangladeshi male labour force rate.

Enthusiastically speaking, we are progressing on the whole. In Bangladesh, many women are now heading towards service-oriented job markets. The rise of female entrepreneurship has also enhanced women’s space for generating their own income which has surely made them empowered. Here the question of empowerment comes. Only financial independency does not make a woman empowered. When a woman’s autonomous choices and decisions are respected, when she has access to and control over resources just like her male counterparts and when she can set boundaries for the socially and culturally imposed expectations, she can be empowered in the truest sense. Empowerment comes with emancipation.

Fundamentally, empowerment is all about distribution of power. With distribution, the vital issue of gender gap in workplaces appears. The patriarchal society has a fixed mindset which does not want to cater any change in women’s subordinate position in a given society. Although Bangladesh has the lowest gender pay gap, the gender gap on the basis of job positions is still crucial. Women’s participation in job sectors has also increased, but their involvement in the important positions is still inadequate. Their participation in decision-making job positions is still low. Higher job positions require training and profound knowledge of the tasks. Women, from the very basic levels, face discrimination in terms of getting equal access to knowledge and information. As a result, they face problems in getting high-paid higher-ranked job positions. They are often called “untrained” and “inefficient”.

Women's inefficiency as a worker predominantly lies in the lack of their access to education. According to the constitution of Bangladesh, no citizen can be subject to any prohibition or restriction with regard to admission to any educational institution on the basis of gender. Nominally, we are all the same and equal. However, in practice, still there are more prejudices and restrictions on girls’ education. Practically, we are still entrapped in a fragile and gendered cultural form which promotes men as the primary breadwinners and women as domestic slaves. The lack of education makes a woman handicapped in every sense. She cannot grow as a decision-making free thinking being both at workplace and her home.

Decision-making job positions demand the employees to be in the office anytime. Working women are overburdened with two kinds of job—paid office job and unpaid household chores. As a result, it becomes far difficult for them to make a balance between life and work. When they are brutally asked about their long-shift duties or “untimely” attendance at the office by their family members, their lives become more complicated. The lack of a positive support system sometimes forces them to quit their dream jobs. Conventionally, it is expected that women are to compromise and sacrifice. It is okay for a woman to sacrifice her dream for others. It is absolutely unaccepted for a man to do so. This convention is one of the most problematic barriers between women’s employment and the country’s progress.

A country where half of the population is women cannot sustainably flourish and develop if women’s employment is not enhanced and they are not empowered. The last 10 years have been a boon to women’s education in Bangladesh. Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina has implemented many policies for educating and empowering girls. Currently, female students get different scholarships until their higher education. The PM, being an empowered woman herself, has always provided education to all. Majority of the primary-level students are now females which allow them to become school teachers and ground level workers. Sixty percent women's quota is reserved for women in primary schools.

Since education and educational tools along with stipends are provided in primary and higher secondary levels, in most cases, many women give up studying after their schools. Only primary education will not guarantee women to get their dream jobs and high-paid job positions. Moreover, as soon as girls complete their higher secondary education and become 18, they become subject to the inevitable reality of almost every girl’s life—marriage. In most of cases, women, after marriage, become domestic slaves and relentlessly do their unpaid and thankless jobs in their domestic domains.

Marriage is a wonderful bond which should not appear like a shackle to a woman. First of all, parents must educate their female children to the higher levels too. After the successful completion of their higher education, they will seek service-oriented jobs or become entrepreneurs. In any case, some parents want to get their daughters married off during their undergraduate levels, they should make sure that their daughters must get the support from their in-laws to complete their education and get employed. Fortunately, many married women have fabulous in-laws which always help them grow. And unfortunately, most women try heart and soul to establish their identities in such hostile and unsupportive in-laws' environment. Still, the struggle goes on and, like phoenix birds, women rise from the ashes. When we look at the low paid working women in ready-made garments (RMG), we see a bunch of phoenixes taking care of their own wounds before setting to fly again.

In the RMG sector, around four million women are working and contributing to the country’s economy. The government has already taken an initiative to train the garment workers that include both men and women. These garment workers are primarily literate. Those who are poor, vulnerable and illiterate are also given training in sewing, binding, packaging and everything that requires practical skills. In the RMG sector, women workers are effectively more dedicated and hardworking employees. Their contribution is so immense that they should not go unnoticed. Although they get monthly salaries, the RMG companies should sometimes also give them monetary motivation so that the mode of production positively lasts. These poor women work in the RMG sector for the sake of their survival. Women working in other companies face different kinds of organisational flaws.

The structural organisation of work has proved to be more inflexible and volatile than a woman’s ovary. When women are to stay over-time at their workplaces, many questions regarding insecurities hover around their heads. The insecurities are not only about the society at large, but also about the workplaces they are in. The companies should ensure women’s safety at the workplaces first before they point fingers at their professionalism. When women do not want to over stay in the office for security issues, they are called unprofessional. Women are not unprofessional, but insecure. There are many cases of sexual harassments at workplaces which are real, true and a great matter of concern.

When women are provided good and nurturing environment to grow, they develop as super executives. Then when they hold power positions, they are again entrapped in different stigmas. They are called ‘bossy’ and, unfortunately, ‘slut’ too. A well-trained hardworking and dedicated working woman is not bossy, but one of the most important persons in the company who holds the company’s status up in the market. We, the patriarchal toys, are subject to infantile fixation for we cannot think of a female leader bossing around us. The problem is in our mindset which is narrower than our veins. This mindset has already changed so far and needs further reconstruction for the sake of the betterment of the country.

The mindset of the society is essentially, politically, culturally and dialectically historical. Men and women are biologically different. The anatomical difference is a cultural capital for the patriarchal society to keep women out of the table of discussion. When someone is not on the table, her opinion on the menu does not really matter. Women, at one point in their career, become mothers and have to go on a maternity leave. During this leave, in many private companies, women still live in the fear of losing their jobs. Private job sectors do not offer job securities when they provide a handsome package to their employees. As a result, when women remain absent in the workplace due to their pregnancy and motherhood, they are afraid of replacement. They think that they might get replaced by someone else.

Moreover, many companies do not hire women in the top-ranked positions because of this professionally ‘unproductive’ period. The ILO and Gallup jointly asked many women across the globe if they preferred to work paid jobs or care for the families or both. Surprisingly, 70% of the women—regardless of their employment statues—prefer to work in paid jobs. The traditional gender roles influence their preference to a great extent. When pregnancy, motherhood and domesticity become burden to these aspiring and ambitious women, they prefer to hold on to their job positions and identities which they have earned after a lot of struggles.

Motherhood is such a blessing in a woman’s life. An efficient professional woman should enjoy her maternity leave with full supports and benefits. Companies can implement different policies to make women sustain their sense of belongingness. Paid paternity leave can also be beneficial in this case, because the child and the mother both need adequate rest and attention of the father too. When a new mother gets enough rest and nourishments, she heals fast and thus can return to her workplace with rejuvenated energies and positive mindset of contributing more to the company and society.

To think of the worst, even if an efficient woman cannot continue working at a company, she can always use her brain and idea to startup her own business. She can be an entrepreneur and also offer jobs to other individuals. Since our country still does not provide safe and trustworthy environment in the day-care centers, many women have to quit their jobs and sit at home to take care of their young children and family members. There are 74 day care centres that are already been established for the children of low-income working women. Nonetheless, many companies do not have wellness centres where women can keep their children and remain stress-free while working. Therefore, they take this tough decision to quit job for the time being for their family’s sake. Before it gets too late to join any company and restart service-oriented jobs, women can think of becoming entrepreneurs so that they can work at their own pace sitting in their own comfort zones. However, it also requires a huge challenge and toll for a woman to start a business and let it grow. A cooperative system is essential for any sort of growth.

Growth can be painful. Whether it is the growth of a human body or a system, it can be painful and tormenting at times. However, the end result is very beautiful. Our government has been inspiring female entrepreneurship from the grassroots level to the higher level for a long time. For example, Small and Medium Enterprises (SME) disbursed a huge amount of money—nearly four thousand crores—to the women entrepreneurs. “Joyeeta” was established in 2011 to promote women entrepreneurships. This is known as “Joyeeta Foundation” now. Many poor and vulnerable women work and sell their products. They have their own identities and can earn with dignity. When they all started doing this sort of work, they had to go through sleepless nights and bone-cracking training days to learn and master the skills. As soon as they master and went for production, the outcome turned out to be really empowering.

Gender roles and the pressure to conform to these roles prevent women from doing what they can do and becoming what they can be. Moreover, the preset ideology of “male breadwinners” and marital responsibilities also do not let women acquire knowledge and skills. Women also face segregation in the workplaces. Mostly, low-paid, unskilled, representative and sitting jobs are considered as women’s job. There are many empowered women in the country who have successfully showed other aspiring women the right path to reach emancipation and empowerment. Generating money is not the only goal of women’s emancipation. One day, when the difference between a pant’s job and a skirt’s job will be abolished, we will truly become equal and empowered.

Vision 2041 comes up with different goals. Among those gender equality is one of the major expectations that is to be achieved by 2041. For achieving gender equality, ensuring equal access to education and skill-based training are the foundational steps. These steps will lead more women to workplaces, let them grow as professional individuals, help them earn their livelihood and contribute to the GDP of Bangladesh. Our country is officially a developing country. Enhancement of women’s employment at all levels will turn Bangladesh into a developed country by 2041. Our fingers are crossed and our determination is compacted. Vision 2041 will be achieved!


The writer is a Lecturer, Department of English Language and Literature, Premier University Chittagong