Gender equality is a key factor for sustainable and equitable development. It's needed not only for ensuring sustainable development but also for solving a lot of problems of our society related to gender discrimination. Women empowerment matters for the development of a country. It helps to ensure justice, poverty eradication, economic growth as well as a well-balanced society.
According to Amartya Sen's capability approach, development is primarily related to the empowerment of individuals, both men and women. And all of these issues, gender equality and women empowerment are intrinsically connected with the dignity of women.
Dignity is one of the most essential things for the human spirit. Only with dignity can a person lead a happy life, and maybe even make a difference in the world. The UN noted that "achieving gender equality and realizing the human rights, dignity and capabilities of diverse groups of women are central requirements of a just and sustainable world."
In this day and age, after so much progress in women's education rate, health care services and women's empowerment, why are women still stuck in narrow boundaries? What is the identity of a woman who does not play a direct role in earning money, but does housework, child rearing and takes care of her family members and husband? What is her identity - a housewife or a 'do-nothing'? Are all these chores done by the women not any kind of work at all? Then it can be said that since men are earning, only their activities can be considered as 'work'.
On the other hand, since women are not earning, there is no value in women's hard work. That is the idea which is prevalent in our society today. However, in 2018, a study by CPD, a well-known research institute and think tank in the country, revealed that women work three times more than men, which translates into 78.8% of the total GDP in 2017.
Despite working three times as much as men, most women who are not directly involved in earning money are considered to be doing nothing at all. Nowadays we are very much concerned about inclusive development, but my question is how can we think about inclusiveness or equity without providing the same opportunities and dignity to women and men?
In a recent divorce case in China, one court ordered a man to pay his wife for the housework she did during their marriage. This verdict has been widely discussed in Bangladesh as well as in other Asian countries. China's new law has made people rethink this issue.
There are only 36.42% women who earn money directly by actively participating in the labor force. But among them many get exhausted and tired because of their household works. And in this way women are being hindered in their creative work.
So do we still believe in the discriminatory attitude of the patriarchal society? We often talk about women's freedom; but do we really believe in giving them the freedom, rights and dignity that they deserve? Amartya Sen states that, "freedom is at the core of the development process", and he further argues about development being a process of expanding the real freedoms that people enjoy.
If the women of the society are backward, the society can never move forward. Therefore, equal rights of every person in the society must be ensured for the sake of a sustainable and equitable society. Perfection can be achieved only if everyone is treated equally in terms of payments, work opportunities and such.
The role of the state in ensuring human dignity of women is undeniable. The government should not only think about the progress of women's education but also think about how the benefits of women's education can be utilized to meet the needs of the society.
To expand the range of women's area, the government can ensure various developmental activities to reduce the workload of women and to develop women's creativity. They may include steps such as setting up adequate day-care facilities in the country, setting up government cafeterias for cheap, good quality and safe food while at the same time, providing cheap and easily available services for things concerning various household chores as laundry services etc.
In addition, there is a need to ensure access to equal opportunities for men and women in various state activities. Moreover, for establishing sustainable people-centered development within a country, there is a need to have fair representation of women across different levels of decision-making bodies.
However, government incentives alone are not enough to solve all these issues as they can't be solved by introducing any specific law. Every citizen of the society has the responsibility to create opportunities for women. Family education, institutional education, ethical practices and the development of human values are important here.
In conclusion, to ensure an inclusive society there is no alternative to providing equal human dignity to men and women. We hope that the concerted effort of all and a change of attitude can give us a society where all people will be able to enjoy basic human dignity and work together for a better world.
Sadia Islam is an assistant professor of Dhaka School of Economics
Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the opinions and views of The Business Standard