Income security, decent work and economic autonomy for women

Female migrant worker flying off to work, in search of a better life. Photo: UN Women

The issue

Only 4.6 percent females and 17.7 per cent of males are in formal sector employment. Because of systemic barriers, women account for only 8% of Bangladesh’s entrepreneurs, and only 25% of women have an account at a formal financial institution. Women continue to take on a major portion of domestic and unpaid care work, irrespective of them having jobs or not. In the formal sector, women earn an average of 21 per cent less per hour than men. Controlling for differences in age, educational background, industry, occupation and geographic location, yields an estimated a gender wage gap of 15.9 per cent, but including the effects of industrial and occupational segregation into the estimate yields an estimated wage gap of 23.1 per cent was noted(1)

How we are making a difference:

UN Women Bangladesh is committed to protecting and promoting the rights of women to work in just and favourable conditions in diverse sectors and occupations through changes in policies and practices. UN Women aims for women to have better access to economic resources, training opportunities, social security and social protection, and essential services that will reduce the unpaid care burden on women and enable them to engage more in productive work. UN Women in Bangladesh engages with the private sector to adopt the Women’s Empowerment Principles and commit to gender-responsive business policies and practices that will empower women within their own institutions and outside.

  • Analyzing policies for women’s economic empowerment
  • Protecting the rights of women migrant workers
  • Empowering female Ready-Made Garments (RMG) workers
  • Unlocking local investments for women’s economic empowerment

Analyzing policies for women’s economic empowerment

UN Women, in partnership with UNDP, has commissioned studies to understand opportunities in Bangladesh for enhancing women’s economic empowerment and build the evidence base for sound policy advice.  

  • Key macroeconomic trends and policies have been analyzed to establish a link between the macroeconomic performances and policies of the recent past and impacts on women's economic empowerment and engagement opportunities, both positive and negative.
  • Institutional analysis has been undertaken to understand the ways in which key institutions shape, enable or constrain women’s agency in economic activities, including through producing or reproducing social norms and cultural ideas of femininity and masculinity.
  • The changing nature of labour supply, especially female labour supply, economic opportunities for women across the various sectors of the economy have been assessed to identify highly potential and high value sectors for women.

Findings of these studies will be shared widely with policy makers as inputs to the mid-term review of the government’s 7th 5-year plan (2016-2020), and formulation of the 8th 5-year plan (2021-2025) and other policies and plans.

Protecting the rights of women migrant workers

Ready-made Garment (RMG) workers’ rally on safety and equity. Photo: UN Women

In Bangladesh, women make up only 4.12 per cent of all migrant workers. In 2004, it grew to a significant percentage of 18.66 in 2015. The growth however had a slight dip bringing it down to 15.58 and 12.12 per cent respectively in 2016 and 2017.The 7th Five -year Plan envisioned that women will make up to 30 percent of the total number of outbound migrant workers by 2020.

Since 2006 UN Women Bangladesh is working to empower and promote the rights of women migrant workers in collaboration with Ministry of Expatriates’ Welfare and Overseas Employment (MOEWOE), Bureau of Manpower, Employment and Training (BMET) and UN agencies such as ILO and IOM. We work for better protection of the rights of migrant workers throughout the migration cycle through improvements in policies and services for women migrant workers.

At the policy level, UN Women is contributing gender-perspectives, emphasizing the rights of women migrant workers, and ensuring participation of women’s rights groups in the regional and global normative process including Colombo Process, Abu Dhabi Dialogue and GFMD. At the national level, we are advocating for adopting and implementing gender responsive elements of Standard Terms of Employment (STOE) for Women Domestic Migrant Workers (WDMWs) by the Government of Bangladesh in its negotiation with labour receiving countries. UN Women is also supporting MOEWOE with identification of higher-value occupations and safer migration destinations for women so that they have more options for a safer and empowering migration experience.

In terms of services, UN Women in partnership with ILO is supporting BMET to improve effectiveness of pre-departure trainings for female migrant workers. In addition, Labor Attachés, BMET and District Employment and Manpower office (DEMO) officials have been sensitized on the needs and vulnerabilities of women migrant workers to be able to provide better services and information to women and support their safe migration.

UN Women also supports community-level interventions. Popular street theatre and radio programmes have been developed to spread information on safe migration to potential migrant workers and help them make better decisions on whether to migrate or not and how. Approximately 15,000 people have been reached by these messages on the risks of illegal migration and the opportunities and pathways to legal migration. Under a reintegration programme, a total of 24,554 (male 13,451 and female 11,103) people were sensitized through courtyard meetings on the challenges faced by women who migrate abroad for work and the contributions that they make to the Bangladesh economy through remittances, in order to reduce the social stigma that women migrants face when they return to their community.  

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Empowering female Ready-Made Garments (RMG) workers

There are almost 5,000 ready-made garment (RMG) factories in Bangladesh, contributing to the biggest export earning sector (80.7% of the total export earnings) in the financial year of 2017. Women comprise 60 – 70% of the RMG workforce, but with low literacy level, knowledge and little control over their working conditions.

UN Women is working with partners such as ILO, employers and employees towards improving working conditions for women in RMG sector. This includes removing gender-based barriers, discriminatory attitudes and practices at work, addressing sexual harassment at work and on their way to work, improving workers’ financial literacy and access to financial services, and training female workers to build their confidence and aspire for higher-level jobs towards empowering livelihoods for RMG workers.

At the policy level, UN Women and ILO are partnering to analyze growth and employment trends in the sector, and bottlenecks and opportunities for women to identify policies needed to ensure continued employment opportunities for women.

For skills enhancement of RMG workers, we have piloted a life-skills training course that teaches negotiation, communication and supervisory skills to the workers, and helps build their confidence to pursue higher level positions as well as challenge workplace issues such as sexual harassment. 200 workers have participated in the training so far. With a view to creating enabling environment for women workers in the factory, the male supervisors were brought under the sensitization program. 100 male supervisors were provided 12 hours sensitization sessions on gender equality and empowerment of female workers. In the 16 hours sensitization program, the supervisors received training on different issues, that demonstrated gender-sensitive work-place behaviour.

A learning app on sexual harassment at the workplace and immediate public places has been developed and RMG workers are able to access information on what sexual harassment means, where to seek help in case they get harassed, etc. through this app.

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Unlocking local investments for women’s economic empowerment

UN Women, together with UNDP and UNCDF Bangladesh are working jointly to promote women’s economic empowerment through removing bottlenecks and biases against women in Bangladesh’s local economic planning and investment systems. The Integrated Local Economic Development programme aims to increase women’s access to opportunities and public and private investments to develop women-led or gender-responsive businesses at the local level. Through working with local government institutions, we address structural impediments that prevent women, especially from economically marginalized communities from entering the labor market, with a particular emphasis on unlocking domestic capital for economic empowerment and entrepreneurship of women. This includes working with local governments on gender-responsive planning for the use of Local Development Funds (LDF) so that investments in infrastructure and services that support women’s economic activities will be prioritized. The project also builds the capacity of women to develop or expand their enterprises, and effectively engage with local government and financial institutions.