According to the United Nations, gender gaps cost the economy about 15 per cent of gross domestic product (GDP). An increase in female employment rates in the OECD (Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development) countries to match that of Sweden could boost GDP by over USD 6 trillion. However, it is crucial for a country to realise that growth in GDP does not automatically translate into a reduction in gender inequality. The change should begin with the smallest of elements, primarily the mindset of people.
It is no secret that in almost all places worldwide, women are still perceived as secondary citizens by the occupants of the nation. Education is a fundamental right of human beings. And according to ABC news, a girl with an extra year of education can earn 20 per cent more as an adult. Despite the immense contribution women can make in an economy, the majority is not participating in schools and in the workforce. How does this impact the economic growth of a country and what are the main issues that are adding up to this effect?
Lack of women entrepreneurs
There are more than 11 million US firms owned by women. But this only demonstrates half part of the story. The hurdles and obstacles women encounter while embracing entrepreneurship are completely different and difficult than their male counterparts.
Sabrina Rahman, global graduate - Finance at British American Tobacco Bangladesh (BATB) stated, "Although governments and several NGOs are giving facilities for women to start businesses, the acceptance of women as leaders and decision-makers has not trickled down to all aspects of the population, starting from suppliers to retailers. And definitely, for a business to flourish, it is essential for it to have a good front end and back end connectivity to deliver the best quality and affordable products to your customers." As it is evident, women are still considered to be inferior and are more associated with subordinate positions.
Sabrina added, "Women are not taken seriously when they embark on the mission of entrepreneurship. So due to the result of all these hurdles, most of the women-led companies are stuck as small and medium enterprises (SMEs) which could potentially grow into empires. This eventually is holding our country back, our economy and our growth as global citizens."
Women unable to participate in late night work
In South Asian countries, like Bangladesh and India, women are discouraged from working late. This is not only due to the preconceived notion that women are homemakers but also due to the fact that society itself is unsafe for women. In addition, a rise in crime against women has scarred the minds and beliefs of families that rather than staying out late, it is better for their girls to sit at home.
Mastura Tasnim, currently completing MSc in International Relations from Nanyang Technological University, said, "Women entering the workforce are vital for economic growth. While I agree that security risks and family issues remain, we need to look at it more closely to see who it really impacts -- the aspiring middle income group. Women from high income backgrounds typically join in service sector jobs at higher pay, have more accommodative family structures and face fewer high risk situations. Women from low income backgrounds on the flipside cannot afford to heed either security or family issues. It is the middle income group that suffers the most from the social pressure and find the risks insurmountable. We need to figure out how to make work safer and more accessible for this group of people."
Women working in the informal economy go unrecognised
In Bangladesh, numerous women are working as homemakers, caretakers, house helpers and nannies but all this work is not being regulated by the government. Most of them are underpaid, are mistreated and surprisingly, are not trained properly. All this could be prevented if the government recognises and regulates their contribution to the economy.
Gawain Kripke, policy director at Oxfam America, said, "Simple things like clean cook stoves, which cook faster and don't require foraging for fuel, or water points that make it easier to get water, can really help." He went on to explain, "We undervalue women's choices and their happiness and even their health," and added, "all of these things that, again, economists wouldn't measure but are so important." It is evident that women around the world are doing so much work that is uncompensated and unrecognised. By taking all these involvements under the umbrella, the GDP of Bangladesh, or of any other country, will rise significantly.
Women are underpaid than men globally
It is baffling to see that in spite of having the same educational background, skill set and aptness, women are considered to be incompetent and inefficient. One of the main reasons is attributed to motherhood and inability to provide after work commitments. This, actually, cannot be seen as an inability or incompetent characteristic of women since the underlying flaw lies within society who asks for women to divide their attention equally to work and home and who stereotype women as homemakers only.
The gender wage gap is estimated to be 23 per cent, according to the United Nations. This means that women's contributions, despite being employed, are being under-recognised and this finally has a negative effect on the economy. In the era of innovation and technology, where teamwork is crucial for productivity, it is disheartening to see how, still, only half of the portion of the community is encouraged to present their views on the table. It requires great initiatives, campaigns, promotional activities and immense amount of authentic data to convince people that education is inherently necessary for women empowerment and that empowering women is essential for a positive economic growth. It is high time to abolish the gender divide to make people realise that there is nothing more beautiful than being humans and only by harnessing the strength of a collective human force can countries and continents create a drastic long lasting impact on society and economy.
The writer is a third year student of BBA programme at the Institute of Business Administration (IBA), University of Dhaka. She can be reached at [email protected]