Women empowerment: Participation in economic activities must enhance

International Women’s Day was celebrated with much fanfare on 8 March. The theme of the day was ‘Women’s equal rights, equal opportunities, let’s invest to advance’. But to ensure women’s equal rights and opportunities, the first thing that needs to be stressed is to increase her participation in economic activities. But the reality is different.

According to a Prothom Alo report, women in Bangladesh enjoy one-third of the legal rights of men. Although the constitution enshrines that no discrimination could be directed at anyone as a citizen. In reality, in terms of women’s empowerment index, Bangladesh’s position is lower in South Asia too, let alone comparing the situation with the developed countries.

Apparently, Microfinance Institutions (MFIs) have been playing the biggest role in financial inclusion of women from the grassroots level. But they cannot use the loans independently they take from these institutions.

A study titled ‘Gender disparity in financial inclusion in Bangladesh’ reveals that 66.31 per cent of women borrowers said that their husbands or other male family members use the money they loaned. Only 29 per cent of women use the loaned money themselves.

The research was conducted among 7,591 men and women of 3,300 families in 56 districts. Some 58 per cent or 4,442 of the respondents were women. According to the findings, financial inclusion of women is achieved through three types of institutions – banks, mobile financial services (MFS) and microfinance institutions. Women are lagging behind men in the fields of banks and MFS. However, they are ahead of men in taking loans from microfinance institutions. Here the gender gap is in favour of women, over 56 per cent.

Several institutions including Grameen Bank and BRAC have played a leading role in providing microcredit in the country. Of the borrowers, 90 per cent are women. But if all the borrowers cannot use the loaned money independently, then how will they be empowered? Whether the women were able to use that loan or not is more important than the number of women taking the loan.

In many cases, even if the women take loans, they cannot use them due to familial and social obstacles. Men give instructions on what the women can or can’t do.

We also ask, why should a woman not be given the right to independently decide on the use of loans in a country where a woman could be the prime minister and the speaker of the parliament? It has been proven long ago that women are capable of building their own destiny.

A woman will make her own decisions about her work. This decision cannot be imposed from outside. If women are to be empowered, their fair share in economic activities must also be ensured.