THE participation of women, who constitute a large part of the working population, is needed for the overall development. But the desired development is not possible unless their participation is ensured and a safe environment is created for them at work. Discrimination between men and women in the workplace must be eliminated.
Our country has come a long way in agriculture today. Many factors have played an important role in it and the involvement of women in the agricultural sector is a major one. According to statistics, 81 per cent of women are directly contributing to agriculture. Their contributions include land preparation, the sowing of seeds, application of fertilisers and pesticides, manufacture of various agricultural implements, the threshing of crops, etc. The contribution of women in various activities including cattle rearing is also outstanding. But there is no social recognition of women’s contribution in agriculture. They are not considered a workforce and, often, not even paid remuneration. Thus, women are discriminated against in different sectors including the agriculture and the apparel sector. To ensure the safety and empowerment of women, we must first identify and address the obstacles that women face on a regular basis.
The number of working people in Bangladesh is 54.1 million and 18.2 million of them are women. But a safe and healthy work environment has not yet been created for women. A large portion of working women suffers from insecurity at the workplace. A survey finds that close to four-fifths of women in the apparel sector are somewhat abused.
The contribution of women to the work force is underestimated in our country. As a result, they have been victims of wage inequality almost all the time. According to a report by Oxfam, the number of women workers in the labour market has risen to about half a core in the last one decade, 77 per cent of which are rural women workers. Most of them are victims of wage inequality. A joint study by World Vision Bangladesh and Steps Towards Development, ‘Economic Equality for Women’, says that 61 per cent of women workers earn between Tk 100–200 daily. For domestic work in the capital, where a male caretaker is paid Tk 6,000–7,000 monthly, a female worker is paid Tk 3,500–4,000. On the whole, a woman worker earns about Tk 36,000 less a year because of wage inequality and faces financial loss which is a huge obstacle in the way of women’s empowerment. According to the latest data from the Agricultural Information Service, 45.6 per cent of women working in agriculture are not paid. The remaining 54.4 per cent get paid less than what the market value is.
A majority of women workers in our labour market are rural women who are either poorly educated or uneducated. As a result, they are engaged in low-wage risky jobs, such as construction work, and are deprived of the opportunity to turn themselves into skilled workers through advanced education and training.
Sometimes, women work for longer hours than men do even though they do not receive any additional remuneration or benefits for this. Because of their social backwardness they are forced to accept it. About 74 per cent of women workers in the country are forced to work overtime.
In our society, women workers continue to be underestimated and many social customs hinder their work ethic and way of life. Many women start working at an early stage; but when the financial situation of their family gets a little better, they retire from their careers often under pressures from their family.
We need goodwill and awareness to overcome these obstacles. With a little effort the path for women can be made easier, enabling them to invest their full talent and energy in the development of the country. Steps must be taken to ensure that.
A safe work environment needs to be created so that women can work independently in the workplace. Women are victims of harassment in various ways not only in the workplace but also when they travel. In this case, a separate transport system can be arranged for working women in big cities. Appropriate legislation and law enforcement are also important for the protection of women.
According to the World Economic Forum, despite women’s progress in political participation, Bangladesh has failed to address wage inequality, one of the major obstacles to women’s empowerment. So, an appropriate wage structure has to be formed and steps have to be taken to reduce the wage inequality of women workers. None of this, however, will help women if we do not bring them into the light of education and if we do not make them competent and skilled through proper training. The inequality between men and women in the workplace will not decrease unless these issues are attended to. Therefore, emphasis should be laid on education and training of working women.
Changes in social attitudes are also a must to empower women. Many people still think that women do not need to work outside if their families are financially stable. It is a manifestation of the authoritarian attitude of our patriarchal society towards women. It is, therefore, crucial to change social attitudes to reduce gender inequality and facilitate the participation of women in the workplace. Society also needs to accurately evaluate the housework done by women. Working women have to work even when they come home after being out all day. This time is not calculated within their working hours and they do not receive any wages for it. This perspective needs to be changed and women’s housework should be evaluated as labour.
In order to turn a developing country into a developed country, it is necessary to include both men and women in the economy and to ensure their safety and security. All forms of discrimination against women must be eliminated. They must be treated with respect and dignity both at home and at work. In no way can their work be underestimated.
Afsana Rezoana Sultana is a student of agronomy at Patuakhali Science and Technology University.