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Women Contribution in Bangladesh

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The Economic Contribution of Women in Bangladesh Through their Unpaid Labor

Analysis and report writing Debra Efroymson, Buddhadeb Biswas, and Shakila Ruma

Editing Lori Jones, Sian FitzGerald, and Ethel Tungohan

Research Save the Coastal People (SCOP), MultiTask, Young Power in Social Action (YPSA), Shahid Nazrul Sriti Sangho (NSS), Bangladesh Integrated Community Development (BICD), Sylhet Jubo Academy, Service of Helping In

land of Poor Agency (Shipa), PULSE, Chadpur Community Development Shangstha (CCDS), Rural Acting Arrangement Center (RAAC), and Karapara Nari Kolan Shangstha (KNKS)

Financial and technical support HealthBridge Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA)

WBB Trust ‐
HealthBridge

Dhaka, September 2007 2
Table

of Contents Acknowledgments..............................2 Summary...........................................2 Introduction.......................................3 Background and rationale.....................4 Purpose..............................................9 Methodology....................................10 Results.............................................10 Analysis............................................21 Discussion.........................................26 Conclusion and recommendations.........27 References.........................................29 Appendices.......................................30 Appendix 1. Poverty Reduction Strategy Paper (PRSP) Appendix 2. List of tasks regularly performed by women Appendix 3. Questionnaires

Acknowledgements WBB Trust and HealthBridge would like to thank CIDA for their financial support to this research and report, without which this work would not have been possible. We also would like to thank the eleven organizations that helped us with the research, and all the researchers who worked hard to obtain quality information. We would particularly like to thank all those who gave their valuable time to answer our research questions. In addition, we would like to thank all the additional people who helped us with this report, including Saifuddin Ahmed, Dipankar Goutam, Syed Mahbubul Alam, and Aminul Islam Sujon.

Summary This report presents background information and research results from a study on the economic contribution of women through their unpaid work. The purpose of the research was to obtain an approximate figure of the economic value of the daily work performed by women in Bangladesh, work consisting of household tasks, farming, etc. for which they receive no pay. The research included a survey and in

depth interviews with women and men, which aimed to understand more about women’s unpaid work and the daily regimen of their lives. 3
Some

key findings include that women typically work 16 hours a day; that most women have no leisure time; and that they bear most responsibility for household chores, including many tasks related to income generation. Most women, even if they have a servant, do their own cooking, and women generally assume full responsibility for tutoring and helping children with school work. Rural women perform a wider variety of tasks compared to urban women. While both men and women recognize that women’s household activities constitute important work, they do not grasp the extent of its economic value. Yet the value of unpaid household work performed by housewives is approximately US$69.8 to $91 billion per year, depending on the economic value assigned to the tasks women perform daily. Introduction In Bangladesh, as elsewhere, men are considered to be the head of the family and its most important member, since it is most often men who earn the income that houses, feeds, and clothes the family. Men also have a far easier time than women in seeking paid employment. Work is typically divided along gender lines, with men being responsible for “outside” work and women for housework and child care. In Bangladeshi families, income earning is usually the responsibility of males, while the remaining family members ‐ usually women and children ‐ are economically dependent. Women have no choice but to live in this dependent condition, due to their relatively lower educational levels and fewer marketable skills, the resultant lack of available employment opportunities, and a lack of social acceptance of women earning a living. This problem is, perhaps surprisingly, particularly acute for middle

class women. The poorest often have no choice but to allow the women to find paid work, while in the upper classes, women are usually educated and can find other ways to spend their time. Middle class women, however, face the greatest social obstacles in engaging in work outside the home, leaving them few choices but to be full

time housewives. Meanwhile, even those women who have paid jobs must continue bearing responsibility for household work, with its many time

consuming tasks. As a result, many women spend most of their time on housework. Women also perform paid labor within their homes, such as taking in piece work or assisting in family productive activities, such as farm work, running a family business, etc. Typically, however, any work that receives little pay is considered unimportant and labeled as “women’s work”, despite the fact that such work actually bring tangible economic benefits to the family. Since housework and childcare are unpaid
1

and are carried out almost exclusively by women, they are considered to be without monetary value. Further, there exists the perception that women innately 1
We are not suggesting that these activities should be paid; rather, that their value should be recognized and acknowledged.
4
“know” how to cook, clean, raise children and manage a household, these are not considered skills or talents that women work hard to acquire from their mothers as young girls, but are rather considered trivial, unskilled tasks. This attitude towards women’s unpaid work belittles women’s status in the family, society, and the nation. This paper addresses these issues, and offers suggestions for remedying some of the problems caused by the lack of importance given to the contributions women make to the family and to society through their unpaid work. Background and rationale
2

Many important decisions about resource allocations are made based on economic calculations. Thus if there are significant problems with those calculations, the basis for the decision

making may also be called into question. Yet, there is a deep and generally ignored problem
*

with all national economic calculations of GDP, the most widely

used measure of national well

being. The guidelines used internationally to 2
This section draws heavily on Marilyn Waring’s book
If Women Counted
. All references are to her book unless otherwise noted.
*
There are actually several problems with calculations of GDP, such as the fact that it also ignores the environment and natural resources, and since it is measured per capita, does not distinguish between countries with fairly equal divisions of income and those with strong disparities. Amartya Sen (as cited in Farmer 2005) has repeatedly pointed out to his fellow economists that income is a means to an end, not an end in itself, and it is livelihood, not income, that should be of paramount importance. This paper, however, focuses on women’s issues, rather than on a broader critique of GDP. calculate GDP—the United Nations System of National Accounts (UNSNA)—contains many biases that, whether or not deliberately, result in the exclusion of most work done by women around the world (Waring 1998). Under the UNSNA guidelines, women’s labor is generally only counted in national accounts if it takes place in the paid workforce, be it in a factory, on a farm, or in an office. If a woman works, but is not paid, then her labor does not count for anything in terms of national measurements of wealth. According to the 1953 UNSNA definition, production totals include “all primary production, whether exchanged or not” (Waring 1998). If a man grows vegetables as his primary occupation, then those vegetables are registered as part of national wealth, even those that are consumed at his home rather than sold on the market. But if a woman grows vegetables for home consumption, they do not count unless she is growing them as her primary occupation. As Waring explains, this means that the creators of the UNSNA feel that the “ primary production and the consumption of their produce by non

primary producers is of little or no importance
.”

In other words, women’s work is of little or no importance. It is very difficult for most women to explain exactly which of their many occupations (raising children, taking care of the house, doing farm work, helping their husband with other income

generating work, and so on) is their primary occupation. Once a woman becomes a mother, and in fact usually prior to this, she has so many occupations that it is 5 impossible to label any one as ‘primary.’ But national statistics are arranged so as to ignore ‘non

primary’ occupations, thus essentially eliminating consideration of the contributions of women. If a woman states that her primary occupation is housework, then she is considered as not contributing anything to the economy. Most types of agricultural work are included in the UNSNA. Some activities, however, are specifically excluded, including carrying water, weeding, collecting firewood, subsistence crop production, and housework. Is it coincidence, asks Waring, that these are specifically the activities most likely to be carried out by women? The fact that housework is specifically excluded from the UNSNA suggests that housewives are not considered as doing anything of economic value. Yet housewives’ activities include food processing, food preparation, care of family members, care of clothing, shopping, household management, and maintenance of accounts. “It is likely that our failure to assign a price for the services of the homemaker has tended to convey the impression that they are valueless rather than priceless.”
--economists Marianne Ferber and Bonnie Birnbaum (Waring 1998)
Yet

the tasks commonly performed by women are not entirely lacking in importance. Certainly clean clothes, a clean home, and meals are essential to those earning an income, as well as to everyone else in society. Little as it may receive financial recognition, it is also obviously important to have someone who takes care of children, the elderly, and the sick. Women’s contributions are undoubtedly essential to the home and thus to society, yet they are assigned no economic value. Meanwhile, a man sitting behind a desk pushing papers, or selling a harmful product, or pedaling war, is considered to be making an economic contribution that must be counted. According to the current system, Waring observes, drug dealers, pimps, and arms dealers make an economic contribution to society; a woman staying home to take care of her children and elderly relatives does not. Imagine the kind of society we create when prioritizing useless or harmful economic activity over social activity; perhaps this goes a long way towards explaining current crises in terms of the heavy burdens placed on working families to meet their needs to earn an income and take care of family members. After all, with only income earning valued by society, society will offer no assistance to carry out other duties, and the difficulties faced by families which receive little or no support from employers or the State to balance work and family responsibilities is well

documented.
3

Meanwhile, when it comes to who controls land, it is informative to look at the definition of a “holder,” used by the 3
See, for example, Heymann and Beem (2005). While the book is about the US, many of the issues addressed are universal. Farmer (2005) refers to the global obsession with generation of wealth rather than with meeting one’s basic needs
(that is, ensuring human rights for all) as “structural violence”, and graphically shows the way such biases generate unbelievable suffering for the poor around the world. 6
Food

and Agriculture Organization (FAO) which is in reference to the person who exercises control over land and is responsible for utilization of existing resources. According to the FAO, the holder is not the person who does the work on the land, but rather the person who makes the decisions, even if s/he never sets foot on the land. It is the holder who will be interviewed in each census. As the FAO explains, “
For

example, if the wife of the head of the household omits to weed the maize on a piece of land for which she appears to be taking operational responsibility, the head may instruct her to do so. In such a case it is the head of the household who is the holder


(Waring 1998). Simply put, the UNSNA virtually guarantees, through mandating that most interviews be with men and by excluding most work done by women, that women will be excluded from national measures of wealth. Although the UNSNA was modified in 1993, women’s work was still virtually excluded (Waring 2003). Bangladesh is not free from this negative influence. Under the 1961 census, women’s work was defined as “productive economic activity”. By the 1974 census, that had all changed: women’s work was defined as “housewife”. This was clearly not because Bangladeshi women suddenly changed their activities, but rather due to a change in definition. In Bangladesh, while crop storage counts as economic activity, food processing does not, despite the lack of any justification for this difference. When men were interviewed in Bangladesh about the work carried out by the women in their households, they responded that “they cook and sew quilts”. When women were asked, their answers included raising chickens, growing vegetables, processing rice, and so on. That is, when only men are interviewed in the census—as is normally the case—they are likely to understate the extent and value of women’s economic contributions (Waring 1998). Islam (2006) cites an estimate of the Bangladesh Home Workers Women Association (BHWA) that the annual contribution of home

based workers to the GDP is about Tk 150 billion (US$2.59 billion
*
). “But unfortunately, this contribution is not reflected in the government statistics. The BBS [Bangladesh Bureau of Statistics] data shows that the contribution of the industrial sector in GDP in FY 2002

03 was Tk 462.37 billion (US$7.99 billion). Of the amount, the contribution of large

scale industry was Tk 325.58 billion (US$5.62 billion), while small scale contributed Tk 136.80 billion (US$2.36 billion). The statistics show that the contribution of home

based workers is larger than that of the small

scale industry” (Islam 2006). In Canada, the US, New Zealand, and other countries, the issue of women’s economic contribution through their unpaid *
Using an approximate exchange rate for 2002-03 of 57.90 taka to the US$
(fluctuations in the exchange rate make accuracy difficult).
7
work has been raised by scholars, activists, and others
4
. As a result, researchers have devoted some attention to the issue, and investigated the scale and estimated value for women’s unpaid work, particularly in the domestic sphere. The United Nations’ International Labor Organization (ILO) has also recommended that such research and estimations be carried out, a recommendation corroborated by the Government of Bangladesh in its Poverty Reduction Strategy Paper (PRSP) (see Appendix 1). Yet little effort has yet been made to put these recommendations into practice. UNPAC (UN Platform for Action Committee Manitoba) estimates that the total value of unpaid work, most of which is performed by women, in the global economy is US$11 trillion
.

Some research has been done on this issue in Bangladesh, particularly by Shamim Hamid (Hamid 1996). Hamid found that the average woman in Bangladesh contributes 4,765 taka (US$133.14
*
) annually to the economy through her unpaid work, of which 3% is from subsistence production and the remaining 95% [sic] from housework. For men, the figure is 219 taka (US$6.12), 29% from own

account subsistence production and 71% from housework. Nationally, Hamid calculated that annually over 188 billion taka (US$5.25 billion) worth of work, uncounted in national statistics, is contributed 4
See, for example, Gender & Work Data Base ( http://www.genderwork.ca ) and
Mothers are Women ( http://www.mothersarewomen.com ); Waring is herself an economist and former Member of Parliament in New Zealand.
*
Using an approximate exchange rate at the time of 35.79 taka to the US$. through annual subsistence production, of which 95% is contributed by women and the remaining 5% by men. Hamid further calculated that Bangladesh’s GDP in 1989/90, calculated at 638 billion taka (US$17.83 billion), would increase by 29% to 825 billion taka (US$23.05 billion) if unpaid work were included. Similarly, Hamid calculated that the percentage of national production attributed to women would increase significantly, from 25% to 41%, if unpaid work were included in the national economy. Meanwhile, the proportion contributed by men would fall from 75% to 59%. Further findings of Hamid included: Conventional GDP estimates capture 98% of men’s production but only 47% of women’s production. Under the present UNSNA production boundary definitions, 95% of non

market production is excluded. Of the total time spent on work in rural areas, women contribute 53% and men 47%. Of the total time spent on non

market work, women contribute 89% and men 11%. An online survey conducted by Salary.com (a Massachusetts, USA

based firm) found that mothers’ unpaid work, if paid at the rate of similar work conducted for pay, would give the average mother an annual salary of US$134,121—the ƒ
ƒ
ƒ
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...certain limits. These are the most common businesses found across most of the world’s economies. The World Bank Review on Small Business Activities establishes the commitment of the World Bank Group to the development of the small and medium enterprise (SME) sector as a core element in its strategy to foster economic growth, employment and poverty alleviation. In the context of Bangladesh, the development of Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs) can be considered as a vital instrument for poverty alleviation and ensure the rapid industrialization. So we can say that the role of Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs) is indispensable for overall economic development of a country particularly for developing countries like Bangladesh. It has drawn a lot of interest among policy makers, academics, businessmen and people in general. Government of Bangladesh has highlighted the importance of SME in the Industrial Policy-2005. SMEs have been identified by the Ministry of Industries as a ‘thrust sector’. As the SME sector is labor intensive, it can create more employment opportunities. For this reason government of Bangladesh has recognized SME as a poverty alleviation tool. As a result they will enhance the standard of living in rural areas. SMEs (Around the world) : Although the definition of what an SME is varies across nations, the most widely used measure is that of the European Union (EU). According to the European Union (2003) SMEs are defined as enterprises which have at most 250 employees...

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Bangladesh

...authority to the powerless. Empowerment of women is a process through which women in general and poor women in particular get the opportunity to join the workforce and contribute to family income and interfere on family as well as social affairs. Empowerment of women in Bangladesh Empowerment of women in Bangladesh Women’s position in the past: In past women were segregated from out of home productive work. They were kept within the four walls. The hearth became the place for them. So cooking, cleaning, washing, giving birth and rearing children became their jobs. Men became the wage earners and all other activities became their responsibilities. In Bangladesh position of the women is very humiliating. Women are the worst suffers. Cause of dis-empowerment there are many reasons of dis-empowerment of women in Bangladesh. Of them the following reasons are the most important. (i) Economic reasons (ii) socio-culture and religious reasons (i) Economic causes: Majority of the women of our country haven’t any economic freedom. From their till death they depend on men. Though many of the women specially the rural women perform the job of rearing ducks and hens, post-harvest activities etc. nobody gives any credit for them. They are regarded as liability of the family. Until and unless they will be given economic freedom , women’s empowerment will not be possible. (ii) Socio-culture and religious causes: In Bangladesh women are the worst sufferers. Social prejudices...

Words: 632 - Pages: 3