By Satarupa Barua
April 17, 2019
The United States marked April 2 as Equal
Pay Day, which "symbolizes how far into the year women must work to earn
what men earned in the previous year."
In the past decade, Bangladesh has made
strides in narrowing the gender pay gap, lifting the status of women, and
ensuring easier and greater access for women to participate in the workplace.
As a society, however, it still lags in terms of empowering women and balancing
Regardless of women’s participation in the
professional workplace, societal norms are that the woman will be responsible
for household work. This cultural expectation, coupled with Bangladesh's
dominant religious views, makes work-life balance for career women in
Bangladesh even more difficult than their counterparts in Western societies.
Progress Has Been Made
Over the past decade, government policies
have pushed the country toward attaining and maintaining steady progress in
gender equality. As a result, Bangladesh has been ranked No. 1 for gender
equality among South Asian countries for two consecutive years in the Gender
The index, prepared by the World Economic
Forum, considers education, economic participation, health and political
empowerment to measure gender equality.
According to a 2018 report by the
International Labor Organization (ILO), at 2.2% the gender wage gap in
Bangladesh is the lowest in the world, where the average gender pay gap is
According to a report published in the
Dhaka Tribune on July 12, 2018, the number of working women in Bangladesh was
18.6 million in 2016-17, a marked increase from 16.2 million in 2010.
According to The Global Gender Gap Report,
Bangladesh was ranked 48th among 144 countries in wage equity in 2018. Other
South Asian countries ranked much lower, including Sri Lanka, Nepal, India,
Bhutan and Pakistan, which were ranked 100, 105, 108, 122 and 148 positions,
A study by Action Aid Bangladesh, called
“Incorporation of Women’s Economic Empowerment and Unpaid Care Work into
regional polices: South Asia,” released in December 2017, found that a woman in
a typical Bangladesh household spends on average six hours a day doing unpaid
work in the household, including cooking, cleaning, caring for children and
elders, while men spend just over an hour on such activities.
Farah Kabir, country director for Action
Aid Bangladesh, told the Dhaka Tribune that if men and women equally shared
household work, women would be able to earn more because they would be able to
work more hours or put in more effort at paying jobs.
While women have seen access to employment
opportunities, education and health care grow; some say additional action is
needed for on-the-job training, options for elder care and improvements in mass
transportation. Because of the religious and cultural taboo in the country,
many women do not drive, even though they are legally able to drive. Many women
end up relying on mass transportation, where availability is limited.
Many impediments remain that affect women’s
work-life balance: The Bangladeshi culture expects women to cook, clean and
look after their children, even if they have full-time jobs. The discussion
around women’s unpaid household work were renewed by a speech made by Prime
Minister Sheikh Hasina that went viral on social media nearly two years ago.
Sheikh Hasina, widely known for her
straight talk and sharp sense of humour, in a speech in February 2017, said
“People get surprised when they learn that I cook. I don’t understand what’s so
surprising about that? I am a mother and a grandmother. My grandchildren love
to eat food that I cook. It doesn’t matter whether I am the prime minister or
not, I love to cook for my family.”
She told the audience that both her son and
daughter-in-law are professionals and they share household duties, such as
cooking, cleaning, caring for and rearing their children, and helping with
their studies. Neither believes the chores are the job of a particular gender,
The prime minister, however, pointed out
that most households in Bangladesh do not share this belief system when it
comes to sharing household chores.
“Most men would say, ‘I don’t know how to
do this kind of stuff’ or ‘I’m tired,’ ” Sheikh Hasina added. But she
immediately dismissed those complaints, saying, “There is no shame in doing household
chores. … Men usually say, ‘We can’t.’ Why would they say something like that?
What’s so difficult that they can’t do? If you can’t, you must learn. Both the
husband and the wife must share the burden.”
Do Comments On Social Media Speak The
Zahidul Hoque commented after sharing the
clip of Sheikh Hasina’s speech on Facebook, writing, “I have been cooking for
the Customs officers at Chittagong House, (of Customs Department) for last
seven years though I am employed as a driver. But I also always feel delighted
to help my wife.”
Benoy Bhuiyan wrote, “The Prophet himself
used to help his wives in household chores…So there is no scope for any man to
say it is not his duty to help in household chores.”
Nazia Nigar commented, “Honourable Prime Minister,
if every guy was like your son, we the Bangladeshi women, all would have been
very happy house wives.”
Nurul Haque wrote, “We are really inspired
by your speech, from now on we boys would also do household chores.”
Arjumand Ara Bokul commented, “I can’t… why
would they give this excuse? You are absolutely right, everybody must learn.
Thank you honorable Prime Minister.”
Kamrul Hasan wrote, “Yesterday chicken
ranna korlam halka jhol with alu …bolte pari ladies fail.” ((Translated:
“Yesterday, I cooked chicken and potato curry. I can compete with any woman
when it comes to cooking.”))
Ruma Tabassum Nispa vented, “Indeed, they
(men) get so tired coming back from work while women despite working as hard as
donkey never get tired!”
Talat Islam shared a personal experience in
his comment, “I still remember when she herself served us her cooked khichuri
[[a traditional Bangla dish]] at the Dhanmondi residence while we were
conducting a blood donation drive in the memory of the brutal killings of 15th
August (1991/1992). She thanked us for our hard work and said, ‘I should have
cooked better food for all the hard work you are doing but couldn’t as I had to
prepare food for all the people.’ ”
Though the comments largely depict a
favourable leaning toward the prime minister’s view, statistics show the
Bangladesh culture still views women as primarily responsible for household
According to Hazrat Abu Hurayra, the Messenger of God (peace be upon him), “The most complete of the believers in faith is the finest of them in moral character, and best of you are those who are the kindest towards your womenfolk” (Tirmidhi in al-Sunan: Kitab al-Radaa, 3:466-1162).