Greener economies have the potential to minimise gender inequalities and boost women's economic engagement. It provides an opportunity to highlight and revalue women's contribution to society and the economy.
Sustainability has been at the top of the global development agenda for quite some time. In light of today's pressing environmental issues, such as climate change, promoting a "green economy" has emerged as a critical development strategy globally and in Bangladesh. A green economy enhances human well-being and social justice while substantially lowering environmental risks.
In its simplest expression, a green economy is described as a low-carbon, resource-efficient, and socially inclusive economy. Employment and income generation in a green economy are driven by public and private investment in activities, infrastructure, and assets that enable lower carbon emissions and pollution, better energy and resource efficiency, and the protection of biodiversity and ecosystem services.
Bangladesh's commitment to achieving the United Nations sustainable development goals by 2030 demands the participation of all segments of society to transition to a green economy. All of us have a role to play, no matter how small, in promoting a green economy worldwide since social injustice, environmental degradation, and economic instability pose a massive threat to progress and decent living.
If looking at social justice, promoting gender equality serves two purposes. First, women and men have equal fundamental human rights, opportunities, and responsibilities. Second, gender equality is a precondition (and an effective indication) of long-term growth centred on people's needs. Women are crucial to the global green economy movement as a question of social justice because they enrich development processes.
A more gender-balanced development agenda would benefit the world and Bangladesh since it would unleash the productive force of women. A plan that aims to increase the number of women in government, parliament, and the workforce while advancing women's education and informational needs, protecting their rights, expanding their access to agricultural inputs and land ownership, and fostering female entrepreneurship and financial inclusion is needed.
Bangladesh has seen progress in some development agendas: millions of women, particularly those from low-income areas, have entered the workforce due to lower fertility rates and gender parity in educational attainment.
According to recent estimates, only 23.6% of women participate in the labour force in South Asia, whereas in Bangladesh, the figure is 36%. Changes in urban public areas and increased social mobility for women have been spurred by the Readymade Garments (RMG) industry's growth, which employs over 80% female workers and houses nine out of the world's top ten LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) green garment factories certified by the US Green Building Council (USGBC). Surprisingly, small but growing numbers of workers have decided to pursue higher education to become managers or supervisors in the future.
Interestingly, it is not just the RMG industry where Bangladeshi women are distinguished. They have shown time and time again that Bangladeshi women can be successful scientists, entrepreneurs, social and political activists, sportswomen, and farmers.
Last year, three Bangladeshi women made it to the 'best and brightest' 100 Asian scientists for their contribution to research. Moreover, the Covid-19 pandemic allowed women to use social media as a platform for entrepreneurship. An estimate shows that more than half of Bangladesh's Facebook-based online shops are owned by women.
Yet, women are considered among the groups adversely affected by the negative consequences of climate change and environmental degradation. About 70% of the 1.3 billion people living on less than $1 daily are women.
The majority of women around the world do the bulk of the world's unpaid work, and it is often overlooked or disregarded as an economic externality. Women earn less than men and are underrepresented in executive positions.
Many women worldwide have jobs in the informal sector, where they are often paid less and face job insecurity. The amount of unpaid care work done by women is two to ten times higher than that done by men. This work is worth an estimated $10 trillion annually, or one-eighth of global GDP.
The urgency of ensuring gender equality and environmental sustainability calls for concrete actions.
First, women need skill development and improved access to Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (Stem) to break gender stereotypes. Enhanced access to information, communication, and technology can allow our girls to learn the skills they need to become future leaders. We must also ensure that girls can access training, financial resources, and jobs without fear of abuse, harassment, or discrimination.
Second, we must support women struggling to be self-employed or who need entrepreneurial skill development in employment sectors, including renewable energies, organic agriculture, green manufacturing, eco-tourism, and services that support green growth. In doing that, it will be essential to take new steps to provide low-cost childcare for working women from low and middle-income families.
Finally, women must be able to play an equal role in decision-making. A solid representation of women's decisions in the climate and green growth policies can change the game. Offering an equal opportunity to women can increase the pie size for all and shift the pendulum towards inclusion while contributing to green economic transformation in Bangladesh.
Rumana Sultana, PhD, is an Assistant Professor at the Department of Environmental Science and Management, Independent University, Bangladesh (IUB). She can be reached at [email protected]
Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinions and views of her organisation or The Business Standard.