In order to ensure economic solvency and become more empowered in the society, it is key for women to participate in the labour force. The higher the number of working women, the more they will be able to contribute to the economic growth of the country.
Female labour force participation in Bangladesh is higher than in other South Asian countries, reaching 36.31% in 2019, the highest level since the country's independence in 1971.
However, it fell to 34.54% due to the Covid-19 pandemic, which is still concerning and can impede the rise of women's participation in the labour force.
The reduction of women participation in our labour force also originated from many other reasons such as waiting for government jobs, lack of opportunities, early marriage, salary discrimination and so on.
However, lack of childcare centres in Bangladesh is another reason behind it, which has not been highlighted enough.
In Bangladesh, women employment is high in the agriculture and ready made garment (RMG) sectors. Although participation in the service sector is increasing gradually, many other sectors do not have enough working women in different positions, especially in higher positions.
We have enough capable working women but the lack of day care centres poses a huge problem for working women with children. Many families have both parents working, so babies or small children cannot be left alone at home.
Being a mother and a working woman is not easy because often, she has to carry out all her household duties as well as her professional work, which means every day is a 'double day' for her.
Bangladesh has delivered promising results in decreasing gender gap in workplaces and it is striving towards fulfilling the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) of women empowerment by 2030.
But we are lacking in our efforts to ensure our working women are getting what they need to be more productive at work. Working mothers tend to get extra stressed, thinking about the safety of their children they had to leave behind at home.
Interesting point to be noted is that in developed countries, the increased number of childcare centres established by government and private initiatives alleviates this tension of working mothers with children. Such arrangements are not well developed in our country.
If a female worker has the qualifications, interest, strength, and passion to work, they will not only earn but also add value to the company they are working for. An earning mother can also better ensure the basic needs of her children.
In this regard, the absence of childcare centres or similar facilities in workplaces discourages women from joining the workforce or continuing working after childbirth. This hampers their individual and social growth and it definitely has a negative impact on our economic growth.
If proper childcare centres can be established through private, public or individual initiatives, working mothers could be motivated to join workplaces.
This will help them focus more on their work and also be more engaged at the workplace. Hence, the absence of childcare centres is compelling a large portion of our human resources, i.e, women, to stay home and remain out of work.
Establishing childcare centres in both government and private workplaces is a dire need. Otherwise, the country would not be able to motivate a large percentage of women to join and continue with their careers.
For example, many women do not return to work after having children because their offices do not provide childcare facilities.
As of November 2019, there are 10,467 branches of banks across Bangladesh. Almost all of them do not have any day care facilities.
The same goes for educational institutions: there are over 100 private universities, but how many of them have childcare facilities? A similar scenario exists in the case of telecommunication, pharmaceuticals, toiletries and other sectors in Bangladesh.
Even most government organisations lag behind in terms of childcare facilities. If we strive to increase women's inclusion in workplaces for better economic prosperity, we need to establish childcare centres on a much larger scale.
In contrast to our country's overall picture regarding childcare facilities, countries like Malaysia have a very promising scenario.
Many big companies in Malaysia, such as Maxis Berhad, MayBank, Manilife, Sunway Group and BASF Petronas have childcare facilities. It ensures female workers' higher productivity as well as higher employee retention.
The Malaysian government is going to make the establishment of childcare centres mandatory in all government offices. It has provided annual grants amounting to approximately $2.27 million and $6.81 million for 2019 and 2020, respectively, for this purpose.
The grant will be increased in the near future to develop the childcare facilities in most government workplaces. Malaysia opened the nation's first green childcare centre in 2019 that helps children heal from trauma.
Furthermore, they have registered private childcare centres available across key cities that are also reasonably priced with many facilities that ensure a safer, entertaining and educating environment for children.
As recent datas suggest, the economic participation of women in Malaysia has increased and gender gaps have narrowed down.
Most of our working mothers in Bangladesh have to leave their children to the domestic workers, who are not trained about child rearing. Often they cannot fully concentrate on the child as they have to do other household chores.
As a result, many children suffer from long-term emotional and physical problems. We can solve these by establishing childcare centres which provide an environment for breastfeeding and other facilities for parents and children to engage in together.
Childcare facilities are also important for single mothers who often lack child support from the fathers and cannot afford a domestic worker.
According to a research conducted by the psychiatry department of the Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujib Medical University, 54% of single mothers are living with depression due to mental pressure from workload and economic stress.
Moreover, as the trend of nuclear families is increasing in Bangladesh, there is also an increase in the number of dual-career couples. These couples require childcare centres in their offices more than ever.
We have seen with proper planning, we can implement massive infrastructures, the Padma Bridge being one of the best examples. So we can also establish childcare centres in every office in the country with proper planning and assigning of resources.
To keep up with our development plans, we must fully utilise our capable human resources, both females and males, but it will not be possible to employ all of them with the absence of childcare centres.
In this regard, to establish childcare centres across the country, we need mutual cooperation between local government bodies, private organisations and international partners and donors.
Some NGOs and international associations have established a few childcare centres in Bangladesh. But these are not enough.
Therefore, all stakeholders, such as government officials, NGO officials, delegates of international associations, and even parents, especially mothers from different occupations and professions, should be included in this endeavour.
Dr Md Asadul Islam is an assistant professor of Management at Brac Business School, Brac University.
Tafriha Kamrul Neha is currently enrolled as a third-year student at Brac University.
Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the opinions and views of their organisation or The Business Standard.