Despite a steep 35% growth in female employment in the last decade in the industrial sector, the number of women overall in the job force remains low compared to their male counterparts in Bangladesh. According to the International Labour Organization’s (ILO) flagship report titled “World Employment and Social Outlook: Trends 2018,” female employment in Bangladesh has seen a 35% increase, reaching 18.1 million from 2008 to 2017, while male employment has seen an 11% increase, reaching 45.7 million. Higher growth in female employment was fueled by the industrial sector, especially the apparel industry and services sector. But the agriculture sector still employs the highest number of women, employing 10.9 million workers. However, there is a huge gap between male-female employment ratio and the lion’s share of working women are being employed in agriculture. According to the ILO report, in 2017, the total number of employed people in Bangladesh stood at 63.7 million, of which 28.4% or 18.1 million were women and 71.7% or 45.7 million were male. Total workforce at that time was 66.6 million, of which nearly 71% or 47.2 million are male, while only 29.1% are women. Male employment has seen a 25.44% rise, reaching 21.2 million workers, while the industry sector witnessed a 52.11% increase, reaching 10.8 million workers.
A number of experts, employers and rights activists opined that the rise of corporate and service oriented businesses, as well as the dedicated government policy, has contributed to the increase in female employment. On top of that, the enrolment of women in educational institutions has expedited female participation in the country’s job market. Selima Ahmad, president of Bangladesh Women Chamber of Commerce and Industry, said: “In the recent years, Bangladesh has seen a rise in service oriented businesses. The development in information technology has given rise to ICT related jobs. “This has acted as a catalyst to increase women participation in jobs as female employees are preferred in firms such as call centres.” Selima further said: “Meanwhile, commitment of the corporate firms in ensuring equal opportunity employment and a rise in women entrepreneurship have given women more space for generating their own income.” Meanwhile, Chittagong Women Chamber of Commerce and Industry President Monowara Hakim said: “Women’s participation in employment has increased due to government policy for ensuring equal rights.” Monowara added: “For getting a stronger foothold in the job market, women will have to be equipped with knowledge and training. Then they will be brave enough to take on the challenges.” Centre for Policy Dialogue (CPD) Research Director Khondaker Golam Moazzem told the correspondent: “It is a good sign that the job market is witnessing a positive change. “It is true that the government policy for ensuring equal opportunity and rights to the women in the job market, have acted as a catalyst to expedite the overall employment rate.”
Women’s participation in the workforce has increased, but the number of women in decision-making positions is comparatively low. However, women who are in this position have proved their merit. Selima Ahmad said: “In a corporate company or a manufacturing industry, a decision-maker level employee can be required to be at the office anytime, and the employee could be required to stay till late night. But, it is not an easy feat for women.” She added: “This is why the employer has to ensure workplace safety of their female employees, and ensure their safe return home by providing necessary facilities, such as transportation. They should also invest in their female employees by training them to increase their efficiency.
“As an employee, I am enjoying the same benefits as my male colleagues. However, I feel that the management’s decision regarding increment or promotion is not justified,” seeking anonymity, a female private banker, said. She added: “I think the employers should change their mindset towards women and they should consider a female employee as an asset instead of a liability.” Abdus Salam Murshedy, managing director of Envoy Textile said: “As we belong to the RMG sector, we must salute women’s contribution in today’s industries. Their contribution is beyond imagination.” “It is high time to come up with a comprehensive package for women employed in various sectors. In my office, I have found that female employees are among my most dedicated and best staff.
Apparel workers have become empowered through their financial contribution and they now participate in the decision making process with their family members. “Participation of any type of economic activities makes women empowered and establishes them in strong positions in the society. Economic security is a great success in a woman’s life,” said Rasheda K Chowdhury, an academic. Rasheda added: “Women employment is fueled by the same industries that pay the lowest wages in Bangladesh. While the employment rate of women in top level positions is comparatively low.” The participation of women in agriculture is higher than any other sector. On the other hand, male participation in agriculture has been dwindling in the past 10 years.
Creating quality jobs for women and ensuring equal wages are big challenges. Vulnerable low paid employment still persists in Bangladesh and these sectors mostly employ female workers. As of last year, 12.8 million women worked in vulnerable jobs. Among the 63.7 million total employed people in Bangladesh last year, 36.6 million or 57.45% worked on vulnerable jobs in 2017. “Among the industries, quality of jobs has increased in the RMG sector. But the workers are not well paid,” Sommilito Garments Sramik Federation president Nazma Akter pointed out. Nazma added: “To increase the quality of female employment, an employer should ensure maternity leave with benefits and offer skill training.”