Percentage of female-headed households rising  

Marksman   | Published: August 14, 2018 22:16:49 | Updated: August 15, 2018 20:45:30

According to an appraisal   by   the   Bangladesh Bureau of Statistics (BBS), there has been a significant   increase in the ratio of female-headed households to male-headed ones. During   the two decades between 1994 and 2014, the rate of increase in female headship had been modest -from 8.7 per cent to 12.5 per cent (World Bank figures). That means a little more than four per cent rise in female-headed families over a 20-year period working out to a very slender annual rate of increase in this respect.

Against  this backdrop, the just-reported  spurt  in the  female-led  households   from 12.5% in 2014  to 14.5 % or thereabouts   in 2017-18  makes you sit up and wonder how in    less than four years   there has been such  a   marked    increase      in    the  percentage  of   households     headed by  women. Given   rapidity of the trend in recent years and the high absolute number of our population,   are we    looking at a   geometric progression in   woman-headed   households!

What are the factors behind the uptrend in the feminisation of the headship of families? The causes  are wide-ranging: Death  of   husband as the  only earning member, ineligibility of the man   to run  his family  for any number of reasons, divorce or abandonment, husbands  working abroad (figures high in Chattogram and Sylhet) and  greater employability  of women in certain sectors.

The ILO flagship report titled, "World Employment and Social Outlook -- Trends 2018" stated that female employment has seen a 35% increase to reach 18.1 million from 2008--2017. Fuelled by the industry sector -- garments -- where the female is mostly employed, male labour is in short supply to the   farming sector leaving   women to fill up the vacuum. As earning members and sensible spenders women are participating in decision-making at the family level.

Generally, women are triply disadvantaged: 'They experience the burden of poverty, gender discrimination and absence of support as member of the household.' Even in the   female-headed households, the woman would solicit help from one or the other male member of the extended family or a fellow villager in the neighbourhood.

Some research work   has been focused on   utilising the potential   of   the female-headed households in curbing incidence of   poverty. Actually, one line of thinking is 'if female-led households are in fact poorer than other households, headship should be seriously considered as a potentially useful criterion for targeting anti-poverty interventions.' There is a  contrarian  viewpoint  based  on an assumption that  such  incentive  may trigger  proliferation  of  female headship not necessarily leading to reduction of poverty.

Spread of functional literacy, especially among adult illiterate women and men   can be a big catalyst for generating balanced gender relationship.  But let's not forget that an inexpensive yet  powerful  method of  raising  economic and  social status of women  lies in monetising  women's contribution  to the upkeep and  welfare of their families. Their routine value addition to the GDP needs to be reciprocated through a package of support to incentivise their development and creativity.             

In the corporate, business, entrepreneurial and government   sectors women are gaining entries by virtue of   equal opportunity policies of recruitments. Yet, in moving them up on policy- and decision-making ladders matching efforts are still awaited.  

One final word-since female-headed households are a relatively new phenomenon, this should attract focused research undertakings.


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