OPINION: How is Bangladesh faring in gender equality?

DHAKA (The Daily Star/ANN) - The readymade garment industry, which employs more than four million people, is creating job opportunities for women. 

Bangladesh has been making good progress in the Global Gender Gap Index presented by the World Economic Forum. The index is usually calculated based on four parameters including health, education, economy and politics to gauge the state of gender equality in a country. Although Bangladesh stepped a notch down to 48 in 2018, the country is leading the charts compared to its neighbours. Even countries like the USA, Singapore, and Italy are lagging behind Bangladesh in this regard.
That said, the report measures women’s disadvantage compared to men and is not, strictly speaking, a measure of equality. Gender imbalances to the advantage of women do not affect the score. Hence, this does not strictly adhere to the fact that women are in some cases better off. There are some gaps and loopholes. For example, a study indicated that 32 percent of men in Germany believe that it is their right to physically assault their spouses in certain circumstances. Surprisingly, a significant number of women concurred. The performances of countries like the USA, Germany or Switzerland are considered benchmarks in terms of gender equality based on the participation of women in the workforce and the laws that enforce the participation. Even then, women in those countries face barriers due to the conventional societal approach. 

If the situation is this dire in the developed nations, one can safely assume what it is like in the large number of developing nations across the globe.

According to the World Economic Forum index, Bangladesh is leading the entire Asian region in terms of female workforce participation. This is in contradiction to the fact that gender disparity in the economic activities is consistently increasing. On a global scale, female workforce participation in Bangladesh dropped to 135th position compared to the 124th in 2017. According to the 2017-18 Global Gender Gap Report, Bangladesh is falling behind in terms of female representation in important posts. Female representation in this case is only 10.7 percent as opposed to male participation which stands at 89.3 percent. This, however, is not only a scenario in Bangladesh but also a global phenomenon. Female health disparity is another sore point in Bangladesh.

However, there is a silver lining to all the negativity. Based on assistance from government and non-government organisations and private companies, women all around the country are progressing in terms of appropriate representation. For example, the RMG sector, which employs more than four million people, is creating job opportunities for females. It is estimated that female participation in this sector is more than 80 percent.

Females represent half the population in the country. They are now breaking social stigma to join economic activities. This is a reflection of the strategic use of national and international regulations for women’s empowerment.

Government and non-government sectors, sometimes individually and in various cases in unison, are contributing to women’s advancement and empowerment. Female participation in primary education is somewhat jawdropping. The participation of girls in primary education was recorded at 95.4 percent in 2017, whereas in 2008 it was only 57 percent. Bangladesh is proudly leading efforts in terms of closing gender gaps in enrolment in primary and secondary education. The government is not only providing scholarships but also working to ensure female-friendly environment and infrastructure to ensure further female participation. 

To stop the gender disparity trend, the government is continuously working to achieve the set targets in female development, even going to the length of allotting history-making funds for this sector in the FY2018-19 national budget. From all this, it would appear that Bangladesh has started to believe that female participation will be a major driving force behind its ambition to attain the middle-income status.

In the last decade, female participation has increased significantly at the service sectors such as restaurants, hotels, catering, resorts, etc. Active participation of women in the healthcare sector is also quite optimistic, with a significant increase in the number of female doctors and nurses.

However, disparity remains in terms of gender-based earnings. A recent report by a development organisation noted that over 70 percent of women in Bangladesh do not have any property entitlement. Females are subject to pay gaps, especially in the blue-collar sector where there is a gap of at least 50 percent. The recent proliferation of start-ups and updated HR policies are likely to put a cap on this trend. However, the predicament lingers on a broader scale.

Hence, regulations and positive attitude alone will not be enough to bridge the gap. There have to be functional applications too. As Anne-Birgitte Albrectsen, a renowned leader in development and gender equality, said, “No country will come even close to true gender equality unless they broaden their focus beyond laws, policies and equal access to service and employment.”

Md Kyser Hamid is Deputy Managing Director and Head of Retail Business, IPDC Finance Limited.


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