The Women, Peace and Security (WPS Index) published a report on gender equality worldwide on Tuesday where Bangladesh has ranked 142th out of 152 countries. Despite slight improvement in informal employment for women, Bangladesh lags behind most of the South Asian countries in overall gender equality. The Business Standard spoke to Taslima Akhter, an activist and photographer, and professor Dr Sadeka Halim, dean, faculty of social sciences, University of Dhaka on the issue.
Gender inequality is our own creation
Professor Dr. Sadeka Halim
Dean, Faculty of Social Sciences
Around 50 per cent of the population of Bangladesh are women. Women's participation in the labour force has increased, but this rise has only been observed in the informal sector. In comparison, women's participation in the formal sector is much lower. The informal sector does not follow any labour law.
Even though Bangladesh ratified ILO 131(the instrument of ratification of the Minimum Wage Fixing Convention, 1970), but when it comes to equal pay, our women are suffering a tremendous discrimination.
In terms of job incentives in Bangladesh, women's jobs do not offer as much as men's, despite the fact that women work for longer hours and tirelessly in the same sectors. Not to mention, along with contributing to the labour force, women are having to do their household works as well.
An equal inheritance law for women in Bangladesh is also a far cry. Even though the prime minister promised to change that law, we have not noticed considerable changes yet. The rhetoric goes on about establishing equal rights of women at large, however it is unfortunate but true that we could not establish equal rights of women even in terms of inheritance.
Our social system is patriarchal. There are a lot of women, as we see, go for work; but they sense fear of the absence of security in every walk of their life. The voices of women are feeble in the political spectrum as well.
We have seen the rise of rape cases in the country lately. Violence against women including the rape cases is reducing the productivity of women in the workforce.
The flaws in our system have given birth to the evil of inequality, and also have allowed the inequality to persist.
The patriarchal loopholes hinder overall progress of women
Activist and Photographer
It is not possible to evaluate the progress of women just on the basis of how many are getting educated or how many of them are getting into the workforce. To evaluate the overall progress of women of a country, we need to understand the law and order, and how social norms work towards women.
The state of gender equality is being discussed at a time when a vicious culture of rapes and violence against women is endangering their lives in Bangladesh. Defying all the odds, there are thousands of women in this country who are working in the garments sector, are underpaid, and their security is overlooked.
Even the laws in our country are not very women friendly. Our laws still deprive women of fair share of property. Even in the cultural orientation, women are seen as the subservient of men even today. Women are defined either as a mother, a housewife, or an object of desire. The portrayal of women in the media, movies or advertisements also contributes to the rise of violence against women.
We have seen the government saying that they are in favour of eliminating child marriage. But the 'Child Marriage Restraint Act 2017' stated it permissible if the marriage is in the "best interest" of the child. So, the law and the narrative of the government are contradictory, clearly failing to uphold the best interest of women.
Our state could not ensure yet that our women can play role as complete citizens. A patriarchal perspective still exists in the state. This condition will remain the same if a drastic step to change the situation cannot be taken.
Even the women who are in the workforce have no option but to do the household chores. Our working women cannot have the necessary leisure they need to grow as leaders, as economists, or as historians.
Through the loophole of this patriarchal system, violence against women including rape is soaring. It is important to note that only punishing the culprit in this land of lawlessness is not the solution when the system itself portrays women as vulnerable.