A significant aspect of the economic transformation of Bangladesh in the post-independence 50 years is the participation of women in the workplace. In these five decades, women have made a significant contribution to the success of the growth in the gross domestic product (GDP). In the golden jubilee year of independence, it can now be proudly said that one of the areas where Bangladesh has lagged behind is the participation of women in the workplace. According to the International Labor Organization (ILO) 2019, the participation rate of women in the workplace in Bangladesh is 36 percent, which is 23 percent in Pakistan.
According to the government agency Bangladesh Bureau of Statistics (BBS), in 1974, women made up only 4 percent of the workforce in the country. This rate increased to 6 percent in 1980 and 23.9 percent in 2000. However, the participation rate in the labor market increased to 36 percent in 2010. In 2013, however, it decreased to 33.5 percent. According to the latest BBS Labor Force Survey 2016-17, the share of women is 36.3%. According to the survey, the size of the labor force in the country is 8 crore 35 lakhs. Of this, 6 crore 8 lakh worked for wages. The total workforce is 4 crore 22 lakh men and 1 crore 8 lakh women.
Women in the workplace
The participation of women in the labor market of independent countries has gradually increased. However, a large portion of women in the labor market are engaged in informal or low-income and risky jobs. In the last 50 years, women have been playing an important role in the development process of the country. According to a study by the Center for Policy Dialogue (CPD), a non-governmental research organization, women contribute about 20 percent to the country’s gross domestic product (GDP). However, if the value of work inside and outside the world is taken into account, the contribution of women will increase to 47 percent. This means that the contribution of men and women in the overall economic development of the country can be said to be equal. According to the latest BBS survey, 16 million women are working in the three broadest sectors of the economy: agriculture, industry and services. However, despite the increase in women’s participation in the production system, the majority of women workers are laborers. The rest are involved in various professions including teaching, medicine, banking, business and trade. Women are also holding positions in various high positions including the top executives of different organizations. However, a large number of women in the labor market are engaged in informal work. For example, more than half of working women are involved in agriculture. Another large part works in the garment industry.
Women’s participation in decision making is low. According to the BBS, there are currently 7.8 percent women in the top echelons of the administration. However, the number of women from deputy secretary to secretary level is 1 percent or less. The number of women in approved posts in government and semi-government institutions in the country is much less than that of men.
Women in the ready-made garment sector
When it comes to women’s empowerment in the country, the name of the garment sector comes first. The journey of the economy of independent Bangladesh started as an agrarian economy. Within a few years, the economy began to change as a result of the advent and development of the ready-made garment industry. At present, the contribution of the garment sector to the gross domestic product (GDP) is 11.16 percent. About 4 million people work here. About 63 percent of the total export income comes from the garment sector. This information is from the Export Promotion Bureau (EPB).
The participation of women in the readymade garment sector started in the seventies. It started with Riaz Garments. It is a pioneer of the country’s garment industry. It was established in 1973 by a businessman named Riaz Uddin. At first, the garments made by this company were sold in the market of the country. In 1986, five years after its establishment, they first exported 10,000 shirts to France. That is the first garment export of the country. Riaz Uddin, the owner of the company, was keen to work with women from the very beginning. But the social situation at that time was not so favorable and it became impossible. For that, Riaz Uddin used his daughter to make clothes in a garment factory. Since then, women have gradually become interested in the garment industry. According to the Asian Center for Development, 59.12 percent of the 4 million workers currently employed in the sector are women.
When asked, Fahmida Khatun, executive director of CPD, said women’s participation in the workplace has increased significantly in the last 50 years. The participation of women in all conventional and non-conventional sectors is noticeable. Women are now interested in paid work outside the home. As a result, the unemployment and semi-unemployment rate of women is decreasing. Women have also taken a big place as entrepreneurs. She said that it is now proven that women in Bangladesh can be involved in all kinds of activities. Although the presence of women is much less in the case of acquiring special training or technical skills.
It is also a fact that women are left behind in various fields including higher education due to social and family responsibilities. Fahmida Khatun said that in order to maintain the momentum of the country’s economy, the employment rate of women should be further increased. A large part of women are young and active. In order to bring them to the labor market, various initiatives have to be taken in the public and private sectors. Because, growth will not be sustainable if half of the population cannot be involved in development.