challenge due to the double burden of patriarchy and poverty, writes Srinivas Reddy
“My daughter and I were a burden on my parents,” says
20-year-old Moushumi Akter Mou from Mirpur.
Married off at the age of 14, Mou could not complete her schooling.
After her daughter was born, her husband remarried, leaving her feeling
vulnerable and hopeless. “I felt that if I had a job, my life might be
These words are unfortunately common among young women in Bangladesh
who, for no fault of their own, are often made to feel worthless and are
unable to earn a living for themselves, thus denying them economic and
Around the world, women face challenges in joining the labour force. In
Bangladesh, this is especially a challenge due to the double burden of
patriarchy and poverty. One symptom of this problem is the low female
participation rate in the Technical and Vocational Education and
Training (TVET) sector, particularly in formal institutions. Women’s
participation in TVET in Bangladesh ranges from 9 to 13 percent in
public institutions and 33 percent in private institutions. Only around
one in five instructors in technical institutes is a woman.
Underprivileged Children’s Education Programme (UCEP) Bangladesh, a
leading vocational training institute, conducted a study recently to
identify barriers preventing young women from accessing technical
vocational training. The study identified multiple obstacles. Of the
girls surveyed, 25 percent highlighted the lack of family support as the
biggest barrier, followed by 21 percent who identified society’s lack
of acceptance. Also cited were concerns about safety at the workplace,
insecurity travelling to and from work and the distance from training
centres to home. Once enrolled, some girls dropped out. Of these, early
marriage was the most common reason, accounting for more than half of
the dropouts. Others cited health and family reasons. The study
respondents were from urban locations. In rural locations, the factors
may be even stronger.
Over the past decade the Government of Bangladesh has demonstrated a
strong commitment to bringing women into the labour force. In March
2012, a National Skills Development Policy (NSDP) for Bangladesh, the
development of which was supported by the International Labour
Organisation (ILO), was approved. This policy recognises the low
participation rates of women in skills development, and states that
special efforts are necessary to correct this gender imbalance,
particularly in the formal training system. It also proposes several
measures such as promoting women’s inclusion in “non-traditional”
courses for better employment opportunities; social marketing and
awareness raising; separate washrooms for women; and recruitment of
female instructors wherever possible.
Subsequently, a National Strategy for Promoting Gender Equality has been
formulated with ILO support. This has the explicit aim of increasing
female participation in TVET through a comprehensive and holistic mix of
social, economic, institutional and systemic transformational measures.
A strategic framework and objectives have been outlined with a clear set
of priorities and targets. Objectives include increasing female
enrolment by at least 25 percent, transforming mind sets and attitudes
to eliminate negative perception towards “non-traditional skills” for
women and establishing a gender responsive environment with appropriate
support systems. ILO is working with the Ministry of Women and Children
Affairs to ensure integration of the gender strategy in their annual
plan, budget, and monitoring system and training institutions.
In addition to supporting the Government of Bangladesh in promoting
gender equality in the skills system and TVET institutions, ILO’s skills
programme which in recent years has been funded by Canada and the
European Union, is supporting hundreds of women like Mou in
non-traditional occupations. These include carpentry, furniture making,
hospitality (e.g. baker, chef, etc.) and food processing. Pilot
initiatives in male dominated occupations and sectors help demonstrate
ways in which the skills system can be made more gender equal.
As a result of the systemic changes taking place, Mou took up the
challenge to learn a non-traditional trade in high demand. She is now a
qualified refrigeration and air conditioning technician after having
accessed training at UCEP Mirpur Technical School.
“My family members and others encouraged me to go for it. I took those
remarks seriously and came to the refrigeration and AC technician trade
to make a difference,” she says.
In order to increase girls’ participation in technical and vocational
training programmes, efforts need to involve families, society, training
providers, employers and government. Ambitious policies and action
plans that succeed in transforming gender norms and relationships in
society are required to bring about gender equality in the workplace, to
create opportunities for more women like Mou.
— The writer is Country Director of the International Labour
Organisation (ILO), Bangladesh and the article
was carried by IPS.