Being a woman has never been an easy task. Even in today’s modern world, where there are many movements supporting women’s rights and developments in women’s lives, there are still many challenges that a woman faces and fight against in her everyday life. These challenges get bigger and harsher especially if you are a woman who lives in the not so lucky part of the world. As the scale of the challenges get bigger, the effort you have to put in to win over those challenges also steps up, sometimes even reaching a point that makes one’s life miserable. This is valid for many women who live in underdeveloped or developing countries, including Bangladesh, a country of various beautiful women with constantly smiling faces regardless of their life conditions.
As a country with a female leader, it is expected from Bangladesh to have powerful women that are active in every part of life despite the country’s year-long struggle in both political and economic spheres.
“Having a women leader sends a positive message to every woman in Bangladesh,” says parliamentary speaker, Shirin Sharmin Chaudhury, implying that Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina is a role model for the country’s women. Actually, since 1988, Bangladesh has never had a male prime minister and today, even the opposition leader is a woman, which more or less shows the scale of opportunities that the country offers to women as well as what a woman can achieve in Bangladesh.
As a matter of fact, when you are walking around in the capital city Dhaka, it is quite noticeable that there are women everywhere being active in both the social and economic spheres of everyday life. However, it is also very noticeable that being active economically and socially does not mean improved life conditions for the women of Bangladesh.
Although there are women who are at the top ranks of the pyramids, like female ambassadors and police officers who, as Bangladeshi Foreign Minister Abul Hassan Mahmud Ali mentioned, work in U.N. peace keeping operations, most of the Bengali women are actually working in jobs that require lower skills and thus provides less for the country’s female population, whose 12.5 percent are actually the head of their households. Bangladesh is an agricultural country and thus women tend to work in agriculture. According to the World Bank, 60 percent of women in Bangladesh are participating in the agriculture sector.
Smiling faces of Bangladesh: Being a woman in a developing country
Pronita (30) is one of the millions of Bengali women who has been working in a factory producing clothes for brands like H&M and Marks & Spencer for years, Dhaka, Bangladesh, April 16.
Women dominate 80 pct of garment industry
However, despite the high percentage of the agricultural workforce, the garment industry is the main one that females dominate. Bangladesh is the second-biggest textile producer in the world and 80 percent of this sector is occupied by female workers. Occupying this sector empowered Bengali women to a notable extent since they started to earn their own money and become involved in economic life which ultimately led them to conquer their social life as well. Yet, they actually earn not more than $5 a day and are usually not very lucky to work in an environment with good conditions.
“I’m really content with my job,” said Pronita, a 30-year-old woman who has been working in a factory producing clothes for brands like H&M and Marks & Spencer. However, when she was asked how many hours a day she is working, her manager approached and answered for her: Eight hours.
“And if they do overtime, like working 10 hours instead, we pay for that time too,” he added. Five years ago, a garment factory named Rana Plaza collapsed in Dhaka, causing the death of 1,134 people, many of whom were young women supporting extended families, while injuring more than 2,500 others. It gained international attention on Bangladesh’s role as the world’s second-largest garment producer, and led the government and manufacturing associations to promise big improvements. Many of the world’s top clothing brands said they would stop contracting with factories if they failed to improve safety for their workers. A movement called
“fashion revolution” emerged following the incident, aiming to bring attention to the dark side of the industry by focusing on the working conditions of the ones who produces the clothes. The movement is quite active on social media and uses the hashtag #whomademyclothes. Since the incident, according to the foreign minister, they have come a long way and are still trying to improve the working conditions. However, according to a recent study by the Center for Business and Human Rights at New York University’s Stern School of Business, workers at about 3,000 of the country’s 7,000 factories are still exposed to life-threatening risks, ranging from a lack of fire safety equipment to serious structural flaws. In total, there are 4 million women who work in the textile industry. “Women take part in all possible occupations in Bangladesh,” said Ali, although the garment sector is the one in which women are the most prominent. Even at night, when the street vendors show up, you can see that many of them are women, selling food and clothes alongside men. Women are also quite active in the service sector. For instance, hotels are full of women workers who always serve with a smiling face and it is not a surprise at a hotel in Bangladesh to see a woman manager. Still, it should be noted that the average woman in the country earns approximately 60 percent of what a man earns for the same amount of work.
Smiling faces of Bangladesh: Being a woman in a developing country
Fifty-one percent of Rohingya refugees who escaped from Myanmar brutality and took refuge in Bangladesh are women and 150,000 of these women are single mothers, Cox Bazar, Bangladesh, April 17.
Only 4.8 pct of firms has female top managers
Although it is not easy to come across women who work in high-skilled jobs in the day to day life in the country, which has the literacy rate of 55.1 percent for women, according to state officials, there are many incentives in the country to encourage women to receive education and have high-skilled jobs.
“In the future I would like to see myself in top positions and I think they will give me the opportunity to accomplish that,” said Sadia Rahman, an engineer who works as a quality assurance executive at a pharmaceutical company, while adding that there are many successful women like her in the pharmaceutical sector. Still, only the 4.8 percent of the firms in the country have female top managers.
“We are more than 40 female executive managers here. Our female to male ratio is three to one at management level,” Rahman added, while highlighting that women feel safe in their working environment, which is why they want to participate in the workforce there.
“If we don’t feel safe, how will we work?” she further asks.
Yet, despite the existence of such promising women who expect a bright future, on the other side of the coin, there are the women who have to deal with the worst conditions without any expectations from their future: The refugee women.
Cox’s Bazar, a city in southern Bangladesh, has been hosting around a million refugees, including more than 650,000 people who came to Bangladesh following violence in Rakhine state of western Myanmar last year. Myanmar’s security forces have been accused of rape, killing, torture and the burning of the homes of Rohingya villagers after insurgents attacked about 30 police outposts on Aug. 25. The U.N. and the U.S. have described the army crackdown as an “ethnic cleansing.” About 700,000 Rohingya Muslims flooded into neighboring Bangladesh to escape the violence. Bangladesh and Myanmar agreed in December to begin repatriating them in January, but there were concerns among aid workers and Rohingya that they would be forced to return and face unsafe conditions in Myanmar.
Fifty-one percent of the refugees are women and 150,000 of these women are single mothers. Just like the refugee men in the camps, they do not have any work or education opportunities. Still, there are some initiatives that aim to open workshops for women to provide training, including the one from the Turkish Red Crescent which teaches women to sew. However, these women who fled from the brutal conditions of their home country still have to deal with many challenges. The biggest problem that refugee women are facing, according to the Shamimul Huq Pavel,who is in charge of the camps, is gender-based violence, which in his opinion is caused from the fact that most men are having more than one marriage.
Although the RCCC officer denied it, according to the officers of Turkish Red Crescent and Turkish Diyanet Foundation (TDV), another big problem is harassment and rape.
“There is no place safe for women in the camps,” officer Oğuzhan Adsız, foreign humanitarian aid expert deputy of TDV, said.