Empowering women as well as promoting gender equality is crucial to the accelerating sustainable development in Bangladesh. Ending all forms of discrimination against women and girls is not only a basic human right, but it also has a multiplier effect across all other development areas. From the 1990's, the women of Bangladesh joined the job market in large numbers. Before that, they were mostly engaged in household work and commonly dependent on the men.
Lack of financial contribution to the family and superstition held back women. Nowadays, the scenario has changed. The ready-made garment (RMG) industry has brought about a revolution in women empowerment. At present, around 4.0 million women are employed in the RMG industries. They make around 80 per cent of total employment in the sector. The industry has radically changed the lives of millions of women over the last one decade.
Meanwhile, female workforce participation in Bangladesh is among the highest in the Muslim world at 59 per cent. Presently, women dominate blue-collar jobs as majority of them are working in RMG. At the same time, employment in white-collar jobs has steadily increased as women are also engaging themselves in agriculture, social services, healthcare and education sectors.
Three decades ago women and girls were not generally allowed to make decisions about their own life. Tradition and culture forbid them to leave their homes. Typically, women used to stay at home under the domination of men.
These days, things have significantly changed and it has impacted a positive sign in the gross domestic product (GDP) growth rate. Moreover, the role of women is crucial to truly overcome poverty. They play a key role in navigating their families and their community to a better life. When girls are equipped with the proper resources, such as education, they have the ability to help their families and entire communities to escape poverty. When women earn an income, they reinvest 90 per cent of it in their families. Additionally, educated women have healthier babies and are expected to educate their children. It's a simple formula: empowerment is the total sum of changes needed for a woman to realise her full human rights.
The empowerment of women has brought down gender abuses to an endurable level in the workplace. One or two negative news or image does not portray the whole scenario of the country. We have to understand that, Bangladesh is a densely populated country with 160 million people. As a moderate Muslim country, however, religion couldn't impede with access of working women in the workplace because both male and female have the equal right to work and Islam allows equality between male and female. In the past, mental torture was also used as a form of abuse against women and in many cases, women used to keep themselves mum and tolerate tortures. In recent times, the scenario has changed as women are earning and have become a part of economic activities. However, women still face discrimination. Underage marriage, especially in rural areas, remains a serious social problem.
IMPACTS ON HUMAN DEVELOPMENT INDEX: Women empowerment has been playing a significant role in socioeconomic changes in Bangladesh. According to United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), the male and female literacy rate was 44.3 per cent and 25.8 per cent respectively. The gap between male and female was 18.5 per cent and subsequently in 2015, the literacy rate of male and female stood at 64.6 per cent and 58.5 per cent respectively. This is a big development in the field of women empowerment.
In 1990, the gender parity index (GPI) was 0.58 per cent, whereas in 2015 the index moved on to 0.89 per cent which indicates a good progression in terms of equality between men and women. Due to empowerment, more women are nowadays involved in work, directly and indirectly. Thus they do not like to take too many children. As a result, the population growth rate has come down drastically. As women's awareness has increased, at 45.67 deaths/1,000 live births, Bangladesh had the lowest mortality rate in South Asia in 2014.
Finally, women now have a big presence in power and politics, professions and business.
The writer is a Capital Market Analyst.