Women's status as an unequal segment of society is brought to awareness on days such as International Women's' Day, International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women and International Day of Zero Tolerance to Female Genital Mutilation.
But for women, these days are not required as a reminder of the inequality and violence they often face. Most of them have to face this starting from the time they wake up till they go to bed.
According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), Bangladesh holds the second-highest position in the lifetime prevalence of sexual partner violence against women (49.7%), ranking only behind Ethiopia (58.6%).
Violence against women in educational institutions and workplaces across the country continues due to lax monitoring and limited access to justice.
One of the most common reasons women drop out of tertiary-level education and don't join the high-end job market is because of the prevalence of sexual harassment and other forms of gender-related violence in these spaces.
Looking at the recent Global Gender Gap Report 2023 by the World Economic Forum (WEF), Bangladesh has ranked first among South Asian countries in terms of gender parity, with a score of 72.2%. Bangladesh ranked 59th globally, indicating significant progress in achieving gender parity.
Based on assistance from government and non-government organisations and private companies, women all around the country are progressing in terms of appropriate representation.
For example, the RMG sector, which employs more than four million people, is creating job opportunities for females. It is estimated that female participation in this sector is more than 60%.
But at the same time, personal experience sharing sessions with these empowered and skilled women says otherwise. They are still being harassed, abused and in extreme cases violated at work, which is causing them to reduce their participation in the workplace, making them move to the informal sector, such as domestic support work.
While Bangladesh also scores high for women in politics, it's still one of the toughest countries to be in as an employed woman. The 2023 labour force participation rates show that 82.7% of men in Bangladesh work, while only 36.3% of women do. Of these men and women who are employed, over 95% of women work in the informal sector.
Jobs as wage labourers, self-employed, or unpaid family caregivers are common, and that means less than 5% of Bangladesh's female workforce have a safety net in terms of paid leave, unemployment and social security should they be sick, laid off or otherwise unable to work for a period of time. This leaves the country ranking 147 out of 156 in terms of economic advancement and opportunity for women.
Bangladesh is in the middle of implementing several laws and policies to protect women and girls and their basic human rights. However, as Human Rights Watch notes, there are several challenges to the success of these laws, including a failure to ensure accountability and poor enforcement. This can be traced back to Bangladesh's patriarchal and patrilineal traditions.
This is by no means a recent discovery; a 1979 article in the Population and Development Review states: In rural Bangladesh, patriarchy interacts with the economic class to produce a rigid division of labour by sex, a highly segregated labour market, and a system of stratification that places women at risk of abrupt declines in economic status independent of the processes of class differentiation.
Despite significant strides towards gender equity in the last 43 years, these attitudes have not fundamentally changed. A 2020 paper for the Electronic Research Journal of Social Sciences and Humanities echoes the 1979 PDR report.
In Bangladesh, it has long been a common scenario that men dominate, oppress and exploit women, and it is accepted by social institutions because of its patriarchal structure. In the family, women are considered as passive dependents and property of their husbands, which spills into workplace behaviour.
In order to change the elements of the gender imbalance, it's clear that the first change needs to be in attitudes towards gender. A growing body of evidence has affirmed that engaging men is key to achieving gender parity.
From gender-based violence (GBV) to avoiding domestic work and caregiving duties, men's behaviour is influenced by social norms. These norms are also shaped around views of masculinity. Men can play an essential role in challenging the patriarchal beliefs and practices that promote the subordination of women.
Men also play a vital role in promoting gender equality. The simplest one is to understand, be empathetic and speak up when something wrong is happening in front of them. There are some other things that can be done.
Understanding sexist behaviour and assumptions
This is probably the most important step. Sexism has been a problem for centuries, and it has had a significant impact on the lives of women and girls around the world. By learning about the history of sexism, a man can better understand its roots and how it continues to perpetuate today. It's important to be mindful of our own biases and assumptions. If a man notices their own sexist remarks or finds themself engaging in sexist behaviour, they can self-check and try to do better in the future.
Challenging sexist stereotypes and assumptions
Men can challenge sexist stereotypes and assumptions by speaking out against them when they see them. For example, if a man hears a male or female colleague make a sexist joke, he can call them out on it. Men can also educate themselves about unconscious biases and how to challenge them. Research by the Harvard Business Review shows that companies with more inclusive cultures are more innovative and successful.
Supporting women's career development
Men can support women's career development by mentoring them, sponsoring them for promotions and advocating for them in the workplace. For example, a male manager can mentor a female employee by providing her with guidance and support. He can also sponsor her for promotions by recommending her to other managers. A study by the McKinsey Global Institute found that companies with more gender diversity in their leadership teams are more profitable.
Promoting gender equality in the workplace
Men can promote gender equality in the workplace by supporting policies that promote gender equality, such as equal pay for equal work and paid parental leave. For example, a male employee can advocate for paid parental leave by talking to his manager about it. He can also support policies that promote equal pay for equal work by talking to his colleagues about the importance of pay equity. A study by the Pew Research Center found that 72% of Americans believe that men have an equal responsibility to work for gender equality.
Being an ally to women
Men can be allies to women by listening to them, believing them and supporting them. For example, a male employee can listen to a female colleague when she talks about her experiences with sexism. He can also believe her when she tells him about her experiences. Additionally, he can support her by offering her help and support.
By working together, men and women can create a more just and equitable society for everyone, then someday we will not just depend on special days of the year to recognise the contributions of women in the economy.
Raisa Adiba is a development practitioner and social scientist with 6+ years of experience.
Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinions and views of The Business Standard.