Bangladesh is among the few countries in South Asia that has increased female employment in the last decade while also cutting the wage gap between men and women significantly and it should keep this momentum going to create more gender equality, says a World Bank report released today.
While acknowledging Bangladesh’s achievements, the report also notes that women still have limited choices, control and decision-making power over their employment, finances and economic assets even though the female labor force participation rate increased to 36 percent from 26 percent between 2003 and 2016.
The report, Voices to Choices: Bangladesh’s Journey in Women’s Economic Empowerment, finds women’s participation in the workforce is less than half of that of men in Bangladesh, and the country can become more prosperous more quickly if more women get work with higher-quality and higher-paid jobs. More than one-third of women in the labor force are unpaid family helpers.
“Bangladesh has made great strides towards making men and women equal in many areas, particularly in health and education. But women need more economic empowerment,” said Robert Saum, Acting World Bank Country Director for Bangladesh and Bhutan. “Bangladesh’s female labor force participation is lower than that of Nepal (80 percent) and Vietnam (77 percent) and lifting social and economic barriers will help Bangladesh unlock a significant part of the country’s productivity.”
The report also finds gender gaps in asset control, financial inclusion and entrepreneurship. In rural areas, for example, women own land at much lower rates than men: agricultural land ownership by men is about six times higher than ownership by women, and non-agricultural land ownership by men is about 12 times higher than it is for women. Today, more rural women are claiming their inheritance, and compared to a decade ago, brothers are more supportive of sisters claiming inheritance. Still, a large majority of rural women give up their rights to inherited land.
Women in Bangladesh have also fewer choices than men in where they save and borrow money. According to the report, working and non-working women across urban and rural areas agreed that working women have to hand over most of their earnings to their husband or family. Only 36 percent of women have bank accounts, compared to 65 percent of men, and most do not control financial assets. Good practice examples on how to improve women’s use and control of financial assets include gender-sensitive banking institutions, female-owned bank accounts and providing financial literacy training.
Although the rate of female entrepreneurship has been growing, women-led businesses continue to be small and concentrated in specific sectors: only 1.7 percent of enterprises in the formal sector are owned by women, which is among the lowest rates of women’s enterprise ownership in the world. A stronger enforcement of existing laws and policies to ensure that women own land and have access to financial products and business opportunities will help reduce social barriers.
In addition, barriers such as a high rate of marriage among girls under 18 hold them back from achieving their potential, as marriage is the most common reason why girls drop out of school. Despite the reduction in child marriage in the last decade, about six out of every 10 girls still gets married before age 18.
“Women often face discrimination in job search, hiring, and promotion processes; in entering high-skill and management jobs; and in accessing credit and starting businesses. Ethnic minority women face even harsher discrimination,” said Jennifer Solotaroff, World Bank Senior Social Development Specialist and the report’s lead author. “Our findings show that steps such as providing child care facilities, ensuring safe transportation, and encouraging girls to study science, technology, engineering, and mathematics will pave the way for more women to get quality jobs.”