THE inclusion of women in formal economy and public services has not ended gender discrimination for women. Bangladesh Paribar Kalyan Sahakari Samiti members said, as New Age reported on Wednesday, that their official designation and status in the pay scale are gender-biased. There are about 28,500 family welfare assistants who take the family planning services to people’s doorsteps, especially in rural areas. However, about 4,000 of them, who are male, were made family welfare inspectors under Grade 16 in the new pay scale but the rest, 23,500 female assistants were kept under Grade 17. Asked about the discrepancy between male and female field-level family planning work force, the director acknowledged the assistants as the strength of all their programmes but failed to shed light on why with same job description, the females are called assistants and assigned a lower status when their male counterparts are called inspectors. His response also failed to explain why men and women are given different job titles with varying ideological weight. This gender discrimination has socio-economic consequences as female welfare assistants as their promotion and pension benefits are at stake. It contradicts the government’s much-celebrated policy of women’s empowerment and gender mainstreaming.
Women in other sectors too face similar discrimination. According to various surveys, women’s labour is treated unequally in the apparel sector as women are hardly promoted to higher position. A survey of the Asian Development Bank and the BRAC Institute of Governance shows that the participation of women in labour force has increased over the years in Bangladesh but the terms of their participation in the labour market are still discriminatory. The experience of women migrant workers proves the point. While a higher number of women are going abroad as domestic helps, they work in an extremely unfavourable working condition. In the face of economic exploitation and sexual abuse, around 4,500 domestic workers returned home from Saudi Arabia in three years. In Bangladesh, for the same work, gender pay gap — which is the difference between gross average nominal monthly wages of male and female employees expressed in percentage of wages of male employees — was 57 per cent in 2017 and 54 per cent in 2016. Particularly, in the informal sector, women’s labour is differently valued. In other words, women’s empowerment programmes relaxed women’s access to formal and informal economy but it failed to break the patriarchal barrier to ensure equal wages.
The government, under the circumstances, must acknowledge that inclusion alone will not ensure gender equality. The government must disprove the use of gender-based job titles in its offices as is evidenced in the family planning department and address the concern of family welfare assistants immediately. In order to address larger issues of gender gap in income, the government must investigate whether its own policies and programmes are effectively and adequately equipped to deal with male biases in society and the state.
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