Despite the massive strides in economic progress in Bangladesh, women’s economic engagement and empowerment remain a subdued reality. Power and Participation Research Centre (PPRC) organized a consultation on “Women-Friendly Urban Services” to identify the service needs of the women in Dhaka. Around 35 women aged between 21 and 56 years participated in the consultation, which was held on 20 November 2019 at YWCA Training Centre. The consultation was done as part of the UNICEF project on “Urban services for children & women: A qualitative study on governance overview and strategy for improved service delivery”.
The consultation provided insight into the hindrances women confront regularly that reduce their access to, or ease of, work. Many women find it difficult to seek out information about new jobs, especially outside Dhaka. Lack of day-care centres also provides a challenge for working mothers who juggle work and family responsibilities. Females are also subject to gender biases shaped by social norms – it is considered improper for married women or mothers to work long hours which may affect their career progress. Salary discrimination is another demotivating factor for women in the workplace. Furthermore, aspiring entrepreneurs often find it difficult to access finance due to gender discrimination or lack of property to show as collateral. Inadequate transport facilities or harassment in public transports also deter women empowerment. Moreover, insufficient information about existing public services adds to the struggles faced by women.
Various women-friendly urban services were proposed to improve labour force participation of women. Government policy to make day-care centres for children at the workplace compulsory, and day-cares for the elderly with skilled caregivers, were suggested. The need for wage gap analysis in the formal sector for educated, urban women to address salary discrimination was stressed. Ideas of flexible working hours, improved communication between employer and employee, a regulatory body for monitoring maternity leave grants, and training for soft skill development were also put forward. Another vital aspect brought to light was the introduction of health and other public services such as basic toilet facilities for females, breast-feeding corners or changing rooms and monitoring of available public services to improve functionality.
The common thread running through these barriers and proposed interventions was the need for implementation and regulation. Interventions by policymakers and other stakeholders are required in order to reduce the widening gender gaps. The consultation also revealed the demand for more women-centric discourse and interactive conversations in society.