Despite success stories of women gender equality is still an unachieved goal, particularly in developing economies like Bangladesh. Women success are still treated as outliers rather than the norm when reported in the media and rightfully so as women face an uphill battle due to social and cultural norms prevalent in Bangladesh. Disparity in earning among male and female is evident even during pandemic, yet women are no longer sitting in the house, balancing their work-life along with family commitments during the crisis. Now many studies in Bangladesh say the difference between gender earning has dropped to some extent but still there is a long way to go. Bangladesh is about to graduate from LDC soon and emphasis on Sustainable Development Goals 5 (gender) and 10 (equality) that address the issue of gender equality has become of paramount importance.
The classical inequality trap is intrinsically the gender inequality due to some intertwined cultural, social, and economic factors (Niimi, 2009). In addition, a report by UNESCO (Ref) mentioned that even if there were enough evidence to decide progress level in female health and education, still a gap persist. This disparity can emerge from additional demographic dimensions of caste, class, religion or ethnicity. However, if gender inequality is completely elevated, per capita income in Bangladesh will increase by 30.2% after one generation and 71.1% higher after two generations compared to the touchstone economy. Estimated aggregate income will rise by 6.6% and 14.5% respectively during the same period (Kim & Shin, 2016). Therefore, there is a vested interest to tackle gender gap in Bangladesh.
In the early 1980s and 1990s, the female employment landscape started to transition due to rise in ready-made garments (RMG) industry, paving way for Bangladesh export biased growth. A study by Ward et al. (2004) shows in nearly 3,600 garment factories, 80 to 90 percent of workers were female. Wage gap based on gender in Bangladesh, highlighted by a paper by Salma Ahmed and Mark McGillivray (2015), is on the decline decreasing by 31% between 1999 to 2009 due to strict law enforcement and better quality of education. Measures to minimize the wage gap in Bangladesh includes tried and tested initiatives such as access to education for women, enforcement of minimum wage laws, and greater transparency. According to the International Labour Organization (ILO), key policy areas to reduce the gender pay gap are contracts, promotions, and remuneration that still needs to be structurally addressed by Bangladesh policy makers.
The extent of gender gaps in socio-economic and demographic attributes forms an important element in the analysis of the status of empowerment of women. According to Olivia Mitchell of the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania, the penalty women face for becoming mothers is due to their lack of negotiating skills and the bias women face from employers. Further, economists Francine Blau and Lawrence Kahn of Cornell University claims that a big portion of wage gap is undefined, which highlight the importance of new policies in order to reduce the gap. In essence, “empowerment of women” is a multi-dimensional concept and, as such, requires a careful examination of a wide range of social, economic, cultural issues at all levels. In 2013, it was reported that gender gap has turned back to the same place where it was in 2008. The most alarming point is extreme poverty among 1.6million Bangladeshi is heavily skewed towards women. Even though government is investing in infrastructure and human capital development to tone down the distance and increase capacity in order to stimulate economic development, women have very delimited scope in formal job sector. Well paid jobs access ratio for male and female is still grossly unfavorable which verify the fact that not only gender gap is not improving, rather is on the decline (Shibli, 2018). Another article summarized that, the Gini index of income, known as a measure of income inequality, has marked up from 0.39 in the early 1990s to 0.48 in 2016, illustrating an increasingly nonsymmetrical income distribution over time (Jahan, 2021).
Our analysis of gender gap uses primary survey data collected by Research & Professional Development Center (RPDC) of Brac Business School. It was an independent phone survey, on the economic impact of COVID-19 on Bangladesh. Respondents were surveyed on many demographic and earning-related questions. Among those, data from income overview before covid, employment status, change in income after covid and their future expectations about increase or decrease in income has been used here for the analysis.
If we look at the Figure 1, women are concentrated in low paying job. When income is less than 15,000 proportion of women is more compared to men. However, as income scale increase, fewer women are involved. This means despite increase in female participation in economy, it is largely restricted to low paying activities. So, why does this proportion decrease at higher income ranges? Some factors might include less education, skills, and socio-cultural expectation of women. However, economists using very sophisticated tools found that more than a third of the wage gap remains unexplained even when factors such as these are included as "control variables" in the models. In other words, the gender pay gap relates both to women's greater representation in lower-paid sectors such as teaching and health care, as well as the wage differential between women and men in comparable roles.
Data in Figure 2 shows change in income after covid, where for both male and female, percentage of increase in income was more or less equal. But for decrease, nearly half the male’s income decreased out of 1002 respondents while 44% of female’s income decreased out of 418 female respondents. This may be explained due to both that more men are involved in job sector as well as female are engaged in low-income jobs where chances of job loss or pay cut were less likely compared to high income groups.
Figure 3 gives an interesting overview of future expectations on income rise for both genders. 40% of unemployed males think that their income will rise out of 89 unemployed male respondents whereas 52% employed males think their income will rise out of 913 respondents. Now for employed people thinking this is logical but simultaneously it creates a question in mind that why so many unemployed people are so optimistic about their rise in income without having a job. The same optimism is visible for the female portion as well.
Most of the Asian countries still follows patriarchal rules in society which causes gender inequality. For that education is a must along with empowerment. The above explained summaries from graphs represent a part of our lives that still creates impact. It is necessary to mention that this difference is not limited to wage only, it further links up with job opportunities. It might be a little difficult task for policymakers to realize gender equality immediately but in long term it is achievable.
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Niimi, Y. (2009, December). Gender Equality and inclusive growth in developing Asia: ADB economic working paper series, 186. Retrieved from https://www.adb.org/sites/default/files/publication/28400/economics-wp186.pdf
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Amin, S. and Pebley, A.R. (1994), “Gender inequality within the households: the impact of women development in 36 Bangladeshi villages”, Bangladesh Development Studies, Vol. XXII, Nos 2-3, pp. 121-54.
Shibli, A. (2018, September 23). Why do women get less pay than men? The Daily Star. Retrieved from https://www.thedailystar.net/opinion/open-dialogue/news/why-do-women-get-less-pay-men-1637131
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