POST TIME: 27 January, 2020 00:00 00 AM
Young women in Bangladesh: The wasted half of the demographic dividend potential
Nimmi Hamid

Young women in Bangladesh: The wasted half of the demographic dividend potential

Youth of Bangladesh are far from ready to take the opportunities offered by the 21st century.  However, when it comes to young women, which is almost half of the entire youth population, the inequalities are wider and choices are even less available. The misuse of the vast majority of the human resource has cast a shadow on the sustained developmental progress of Bangladesh. In 2016, the Global Youth Development Index (YDI) ranked Bangladesh 177 out of 183, highlighting the need for much greater and strategic investment to unleash the potential of the demographic dividend.

The government of Bangladesh has worked relentlessly through policies and programs for the economic and social gains for its women. Owing to that, Bangladesh ranked 48th in the overall 2018 Global Gender Gap Index across the spectrum of economic, educational, health and political empowerment, just above USA and way ahead of other South Asian and most African nations.

That being said, Bangladeshi women are yet to break free from the barriers and disadvantages they face nearly every steps of their lives. The Youth Survey 2018 Report conducted by BRAC Institute of Governance and Development (BIGD) and Advocacy for Social Change (ASC) found out that while very few youth have no formal education, only 4per cent young women actually study beyond HSC as shown by the Figure

The Youth Survey 2018 learnt that 90per cent of the Youth who are not in Education, in Earning or in Training (NEET) are young women. The high NEET for young women suggests their engagement in household chores, and the presence of institution barriers limiting their participation in labour markets. Reducing the number of young women in NEET has become a prime concern and steps should be taken promptly by all development stakeholder to address the issue.

The report found out that young women are 13-percentage point more likely to have reported not having a role model than the young men. 24per cent of the young women stated that they have access to the internet while and only 10per cent were confident about their computer literacy. 14per cent assessed their English language skills to be good.

Therefore, limited education, little skill and almost no environment for exposure or a mentor to look up to, leads young women in Bangladesh to increasing joining the NEET category.

Additionally, freedom of movement is another factor that significantly limits the activities of women in Bangladesh. Being able to move freely is essential for them to access education, training, social network and employment. However, the survey shows the starkest difference in case of freedom to move freely between men and women. Only 40per cent of the surveyed young women believe they have the liberty to go places, which is half as much as young men. This may stem from the lack of security and safety women in Bangladesh feel to travel independently. For example, in a report Ain O Salish Kendra (ASK), a member of the Child Rights Advocacy Coalition (CRAC) claimed that over the last five years 90per cent of rape victims were children and teenagers.

This is alarming and extremely essential for the Government of Bangladesh, Civil Society organizations and the people of the country to enforce diligent, efficient and strict laws and raise awareness to ensure women’s safety.

While Bangladesh has become a case of ‘Development Miracle’ from a ‘Basket Case’ and female employment in Bangladesh has seen a 35per cent increase, reaching 18.1 million from 2008 to 2017 (ILO), men and women are still not represented equally in the labour force here. Women continue to be underrepresented in the workforce.

According to McKinsley Global Institute, both advanced and developing countries stand to gain if women participate in the labour force at the same rate as men, work the same number of hours as men, and are employed at the same levels as men across sectors. .On the same note, PWC in its report, Women in Work Index 2018 notes that increasing the female employment rates in OECD countries to match that of Sweden, could boost GDP by over USD 6 trillion. That being said, it must be noted that growth does not automatically lead to a reduction in gender-based inequality.

Women’s economic empowerment undoubtedly boosts productivity, increases economic diversification and income equality in addition to other positive development outcomes. However, despite the benefits of women's economic participation, significant legal, structural, and cultural obstacles persist. This prevents young women to have access to the 21st century opportunities. Until we address discriminatory norms and policies, women will not have equal access to opportunities.

I believe that this can be overcome through the right type of policies, environments and attitudes. Besides education, it is crucial that young women in Bangladesh are equipped with the necessary skills, good health and effective choices because they present an enormous opportunity to transform the future.

Only then, women in Bangladesh can become the utilised half of the Demographic Dividend Potential rather than the Wasted Half of the Demographic Dividend Potential.

The writer is a policy analyst