Empowering women through skills development
The Government of Bangladesh ratified the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discriminations against Women and adopted the Beijing Platform for action at the United Nations Fourth World Conference on Women in 1995. The Government gives high priority to poverty reduction and has undertaken major efforts to improve social protection for the vulnerable groups.
Despite the equality of rights provided under the Constitution, a patriarchal social system dominates women's lives in Bangladesh. This system upholds a rigid division of labour that controls women's mobility, roles and responsibilities and sexuality. Thus, Bangladeshi women face a host of inequities, including: (a) low economic and political participation, (b) low literacy, (c) poor health and nutrition, (d) social discrimination, (e) unequal legal provisions, and (f) gender-based violence and trafficking.
Legislation that defines the rights of women exists. In recent years, new laws have been enacted, for example, dowry prevention, prevention of women and child oppression, and prevention of acid throwing. However, for a large number of poor and illiterate women access to the judicial system is an incalculable hurdle. Although the Government has established support centres for counselling and legal assistance, these efforts remain insufficient. People are not aware of the existing legislation and its enforcement is not prevalent.
Poverty is pervasive in Bangladesh with a per capita income of US$370 a year. While 40% of the population lives below the poverty line, landless female headed households face the worst conditions, with 95% of them living below the poverty line. With poverty very much a rural phenomenon, investment in skills training is crucial to facilitate economic growth and reduce poverty in Bangladesh. Increased participation in non-farm sectors is critical in reducing poverty among women as they have little access to cultivable lands.
The Asian Development Bank provided financial assistance together with the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation to the Directorate of Technical Education to develop employable skills among unemployed youths, women and the poor. The Skills Development Project aims to reduce poverty by providing market responsive skills training to these vulnerable groups so that graduates can be employed in domestic or overseas labour markets. This project is being managed by Mr. Babar Ali (Project Director) and is advised by consultants hired by Swisscontact, GTZ-IS, and Maxwell Stamp Ltd.
The economically active population in Bangladesh is about 49.5 million where women occupy only 13 percent. Majority of the economically active women are unpaid family workers. While underemployment rate of men is 10.9 percent, which of female is 68.3 percent according to the recent labour force survey data. The Project aims to empower women through skills training, among others. It will provide employable skills training so that graduates can be employed in domestic and overseas job markets. Those who want to start their own businesses, it will provide entrepreneurship training and arranges credit for operation. It will also upgrade skills of underemployed as well as employed so that they can receive more salaries as a result of the increased labour productivity. The Project provides managerial training to women workers for their promotion in industries.
Under the Project men are targeted for continuous sensitisation on gender quality, Ms. Selina Choudhury (Gender and Social Development Specialist of the Project) said. At the institutional level, the project offers regular training sessions and workshops for male executives of companies on meeting the gender awareness requirements in their job descriptions and, more broadly, on gender-sensitive labour practices such as the recruitment of female labourers and provision of equal wages for equal work. At the project level, the Project trains principals and school administrator (who are mostly men) to provide equal opportunities in skills training and employment services. Community-based motivational campaigns are planned to encourage women to break out of their traditional roles.
Women's growing participation in markets both as buyers and sellers has been a significant indicator of increased empowerment at the household level. Based on his 10 year experience on the Katalyst project in Bangladesh, Mr. Manish Pandey, Regional Director of Swisscontact said enhancing rural women's mobility and access to markets in all seasons in cost-effective ways for selling their products at fair prices will lead to higher incomes and upgrading their standards of living. At the same time, they can get access to better health services, educational opportunities and financial services. He will work closely with the consultants and other stakeholders of the Skills Development Project to empower women economically in Bangladesh.
Increasing awareness of government officials and communities on the importance of pro-active interventions and resource allocation to encourage women's participation in skills development is critical for the success of the Project, Prof. Dr. Nitai Chandra Sutradhar, Director General of the Directorate of Technical Education said. Building partnerships with local government institutions to strengthen support for gender inclusive skill development is being made. As a result of this project, many women will be given opportunities for job training, gainful employment, promotion to higher managerial posts, and more importantly economic empowerment.
Source: News release of Swisscontact South Asia Regional Office.