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বাংলা
Dhaka Tribune

OP-ED: Employment without safety

We are a long way from ensuring secure workplaces for women

Update : 23 Sep 2020, 11:50 PM

Let me give you two scenarios.

Scenario one: The number of working women increased to 18.6 million in 2016-17 from 16.2 million in 2010. Bangladesh secured the 47th position among 144 countries in 2017 as per the Global Gender Gap Report, whereas India, Sri Lanka, Nepal, Bhutan, and Pakistan remain at 108, 109, 111, 124, and 143 positions respectively. 

In the words of eminent political scientist Rounaq Jahan: “Bangladesh has made consistent policy and program interventions from the 1970s onwards to improve women’s condition and reduce gender inequality. Both the government and non-government sectors have played significant roles, and they have often worked in a collaborative fashion.”

Like many other working sectors in Bangladesh, women’s participation in the civil administration has increased a lot over the years. The number of women officers in administration is increasing day by day because of the government’s various measures.

According to the Ministry of Public Administration, there are seven deputy commissioners (DCs), 38 additional deputy commissioners (ADCs), 145 UNOs, and 173 assistant commissioners (Land) in 64 districts who are women. About three years ago, in 2017, six DCs, 16 ADCs, and 106 UNOs were women. Apart from the administrative sector, the number of women in other sectors is also increasing.

Scenario two: A 2018 Kormojibi Nari study on female workers found that four in every five female workers had reported verbal harassment, 23% reported physical harassment, while 12.7% experienced sexual harassment at the workplace. ActionAid conducted a study in 2019 which revealed that 80% of garment workers in Bangladesh have experienced or witnessed sexual violence and harassment at work, with 90% saying their job is negatively impacting their health.

On September 3, assailants attacked Ghoraghat UNO Wahida Khanam and her father Omar Ali at the official residence in Dinajpur. On September 18, a 16-year-old girl was held captive and gang-raped in a Tisha Plus Paribahan bus in Comilla. The girl was a garments worker in Gazipur and returned home five months ago for the Covid-19 pandemic. She had gone to Dhaka a few days ago in search of a job.

The reason I am pointing out these scenarios is to show that Bangladesh has made impressive headway in women’s empowerment in the past decade, but the question of women’s security remains a matter of profound concern. The participation of women has increased appreciably across all sectors. However, we are a long way from ensuring adequate, harassment-free, and secure workplaces for women.

Women’s rapid employment doesn’t mean women's empowerment. The United Nations Development Fund for Women (UNIFEM) adopted women's empowerment principles, in which Principle 3 states about women's security as: 

“Taking into account differential impacts on women and men, provide safe working conditions and protection from exposure to hazardous materials and disclose potential risks, including to reproductive health. Establish a zero-tolerance policy towards all forms of violence at work, including verbal or physical abuse, and prevent sexual harassment.”

Although the number of women officers in the field administration has increased, the security has not been properly ensured. The incident of entering the house of an important official of the government and carrying out such a barbaric attack on her must be a matter of concern. 

If even a UNO is so vulnerable in her residence, it is easy to imagine how fragile the security of others is. The government has deployed armed Ansar members to provide security at UNO residences across the country following the attack. Well, I welcome it. But is that the solution to all the problems? Who will think of the security of other officials who are serving in various other departments?

Md Jahid Hashan is a post-graduate student at the Department of Political Science, the University of Dhaka.

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