The 16 Days of Activism against Gender-Based Violence, which begins on the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women on November 25 and ends on International Human Rights Day on December 10, is a time to galvanise action to end violence against women and girls around the world. The UNiTE Campaign's global advocacy theme this year is: Orange the World: #HearMeToo. Under this theme, the UNiTE partners are encouraged to host events with local, national, regional and global women's movements, survivor advocates and female human rights defenders to create opportunities for dialogues between activists, policymakers and the public. On this occasion, Manusher Jonno Foundation (MJF) and The Daily Star jointly organised a roundtable as a part of MJF's campaign, "Equality through Dignity". Here we publish a summary of the discussion.
♦ Need to build common consensus among key stakeholders (media, donor, Govt. and NGOs) on the importance of evaluating women's contribution, paid and unpaid.
♦ Gather empirical evidence on women's unaccounted work. Government should take necessary initiatives through BBS for time-use survey.
♦ Influence policy and national budget with evidence.
♦ Stronger campaign to raise status of women; ensure women are respected everywhere—educational institutions, workplace, home and community.
♦ Work with men as allies in the movement against discrimination and gender-based violence.
♦ Production by women in the household has 'use value' but no 'exchange value' as it is not traded in the market. Women's production in the household is ignored as there is no price tag attached to it.
♦ Work done for income, remuneration, honorarium, wages and salary is visible work as it has an exchange value and it also has social recognition as 'employment'.
Shahedul Anam Khan, Associate Editor, The Daily Star
The consequences of devaluing women's work are quite apparent. We need to realise that as a society we are significantly responsible for not acknowledging women's unaccounted work; willingly or unwillingly, we allow such devaluation to perpetuate. Unfortunately, women's work at home is not valued in monetary terms. If such valuation could be made, the contribution to Gross Domestic Product (GDP) would be manifold.
Shaheen Anam, Executive Director, Manusher Jonno Foundation
MJF believes that Violence and discrimination against women will be reduced if they have higher status in the family and community. Highlighting women's contribution is one of the ways to raise their status. MJF has launched a campaign titled “Equality through Dignity” to make the general population aware about women's contribution and change their attitude towards them at family, society and state level and thereby reduce violence and discrimination against them.
While women's work outside the home for which they get remuneration is visible, work carried out by women behind the walls of their homes is not visible nor is it evaluated, honoured or accounted for. Even though their work is reproductive as well as productive and has a monetary value, yet it remains invisible and is not factored in the GDP because the system of national accounts does not recognise work that does not go to the market.
MJF is presently campaigning to include women's unaccounted work in the GDP. The result will be recognition of their contribution, a change in perception about women from negative to a positive one which will accord them higher status in the family and community and ultimately reduce violence and discrimination against them. This is not easy to do as the SNA is standardised and economists have not yet found a way to monetise women's unpaid work. However, we are suggesting using the satellite accounting system which many countries are doing and demonstrating the economic value of women's unaccounted work.
Banasree Mitra, Gender Advisor, Manusher Jonno Foundation
The lack of recognition of women's unaccounted work contributes to continued subordination of their position in the family and society. However, it should be noted that it is the unaccounted work of women, both productive and reproductive, that underpins society's well- being, social development and economic growth.
Workload inequalities reinforce broader gender inequalities and restrict women's opportunities to enter into the labour force and therefore economic empowerment. As a result, the issue of gender based violence also reinforces and arises from gender inequalities.
The difficulty of engaging in unpaid care work is directly linked to levels of poverty, domestic violence and barriers towards women's empowerment. Besides, the unequal care burden curtails the enjoyment of women's and girls' human rights, including their right to education, paid job, work, social security and participation, as well as their rest, recreation and leisure.
Inadequate or absence of state policies and practices regarding unpaid work may also challenge or interrupt women's rights to the highest attainable standard of health and an adequate standard of living.
There is a need to push the government for making the unpaid care work visible, so that it rethinks about economic planning to prioritize and ensure allocation for public resources.
Reducing and redistributing unpaid care work can have a major positive impact on achieving gender equality, meeting other development goals, earning power, boosting women's social status, and their involvement in economic and political arenas.
Ayesha Khanam, President, Bangladesh Mahila Parishad
Dignity through equality is not possible without the implementation of basic human rights. This issue should be tackled with a different philosophical approach, as the public's view on women's role in society needs to be altered. If history and politics of the past are studied, it may be deduced that women have been unjustly treated in many ways. We must work in these areas to counter gender -violence effectively. Women from low-income families should be a target group, and in the past we have worked to help such communities. Reproductive and physical demands expected of a woman in Bangladesh are also major concerns.
I believe women's dignity can only be achieved after their rights have been ensured. We need to consider women's economic status in the society while securing their rights because the amount of rights they can access is dependent on their social status.
A gender-responsive economy is needed to accommodate the needs of women as well. No matter how much work is done economically, the social mindset is a matter of debate. I would suggest that we address this obstacle immediately. Also, gender-issues must be part of our education curricula. Students of all ages, especially college and university students should be raising awareness in society about such affairs. A few universities have Gender Studies departments, but many more are needed all over Bangladesh. Equal rights to resources and properties should be addressed; this is a fundamental right of a person and should be available to all people.
Rokeya Kabir, Executive Director, Bangladesh Nari Progati Sangha (BNPS)
Women in Bangladesh should be taught how to value themselves. NGOs and other organisations working closely with women must help women recognise their worth. All political parties should be concerned about the detrimental situations women face on a daily basis. A coalition should be formed and a long, structural procedure is required in this regard.
MB Akhter, Program Director, OXFAM
Women should be up to date with technology. Through our work we have found that mechanical means have helped females decrease their workload. The hierarchy of society should be questioned as well. Small changes, such as accommodating all members of a family in daily activities, can also assist in breaking the current 'chain of command' culture, where men are the main decision-makers.
Maheen Sultan, Visiting Fellow, BRAC Institute of Governance and Development (BIGD)
Women are productively involved in many areas of society. Women's duties include productive subsistence work and care work (housewife duties). Unpaid productive work does not have a statistical analysis.
We forget that threat of violence is a means of enforcing power and it allows the enforcer to belittle the victim. We must not ignore this matter; it should be recognised as it has led to women being looked down upon by our society.
Women who work in the garments sector are, in general, satisfied with the profession as, according to them, it is better than working as labourers. They realise that it gives them the respect of their family members. However, this work is also usually negotiated.
Men who are involved with family work are outnumbered by men who are not. A man in our society is not usually expected to indulge in 'feminine' household duties.
Dr MA Hakim, Professor, Department of Economics, Southeast University
Our national accounting needs to have its scope extended to cater to the 'satellite accounting system.' This will bring to light the determinants of 'unpaid work'. Moreover, the curriculum, starting from secondary school, needs to comprise of subjects related to Gender studies, highlighting the obstacles faced by women in our society.
A level-playing field must be provided to women on both political and family tradition grounds. Distribution of work between all members of a family is essential too. Valuation of a woman's unpaid work is not accounted for and many researchers in this area have also not been able to evaluate said work. Our macro-economic policy should be integrated with matters related to gender equality. Relevant government officials should take the initiative in this regard.
MJF should work on a larger scale to counter these obstacles. The reflection of male chauvinism in our society is there for all to see but this mindset must be changed.
Dr Sanzida Akhter, Department of Women and Gender Studies, University of Dhaka
The economic discrimination and exploitation of women is widely accepted in our society. Women's participation has increased in the workplace and this is a positive sign. Gender roles, however, need to be looked at closely, as working women cannot be expected to complete all the duties of a conventional housewife. In addition, maternity leave and an environment-friendly workplace for women is needed. Women often find themselves in a dilemma while constantly juggling housework and professional work. We must find a place in our society to accommodate these women who contribute to the economy of Bangladesh.
Productive work involves an economic return, and is tangible. Reproductive work, however, does not have a defined value. Both need to be redefined. We must view the devalued work of the 60 percent of women who do not work under the current definition of 'reproductive work.' This may lead to new problems and divisions in the society.
Syed Ehtasham Kabir, Head of HR and Compliance, Mohammadi Group
Our laws should reflect how seriously we take women and thus there should be legal guidelines to be strictly followed, in relation to gender violence. Women in our society need to take leadership roles in various industries. In Bangladesh, a woman's salary is usually spent according to her husband's demands. Violence against women is not just a problem but a mindset. We need to see how much work is actually being done to overcome such major difficulties.
Tanvir Sultana, Assistant General Manager, Palli Karma Sahayak Foundation, PKSF
Gender equality involves education, economy and women empowerment. Women empowerment and participation in the agricultural sector is increasing. Recreational activities should also be provided to women in order to encourage them. Housework (washing dishes, child care, etc.) is also done by housemaids, who are paid a monthly salary. Thus, it cannot be said that reproductive work has no value to the economy. I believe a properly structured system needs to be put into place which would help women combat discrimination.
Sayema Haque Bidisha, Associate Professor, University of Dhaka
One of the root causes of violence against women is disrespect. When a male dominant household includes a non-earning, stay-at-home mother, it has the potential to lead to complete disregard of such an individual. Thus, recognition of all kinds of work done by women is vital.
We must analyse how the economy integrates unaccounted work done by women. The first area which needs to be adjusted in the economy is the labour market. Plenty of labour wages are unaccounted for on a daily basis, as it is undocumented or contractual work. The acknowledgement of labour wages in the economy, especially for women, would help establish how much money labourers are bringing into the market.
The second area concerns stay-at-home women and working women. Both are usually obliged to do substantial housework which does not have any economic value. I also believe that identification of women's contributions in the economy would bolster the cause to end gender violence.
The ministry in control of gender issues is somewhat clueless on the subject of gender budget. Policy making needs to be methodical and must be initiated with the root problems being determinants of policies.
Our general mindset on women needs to be altered. This work is especially dependent on the younger generation, who need to be involved in awareness raising campaigns on gender issues.
Alternate policies, along with the modification of the economy, are highly required in order to realise a truly egalitarian society. Additionally, the private sector can contribute by granting tax incentives, maternity leaves and day care centers. Innovative solutions can be brought about with the right intentions.
Helal Uddin, Project Manager, ActionAid Bangladesh
Unrecognised work includes care work which women around Bangladesh engage in. Household chores of women comprise of cooking, taking care of family members and also dealing with temperamental outbursts, particularly in male-dominant domestic establishments. Acknowledgement of such work would bring changes to our society and the civil rights of women in our country would be promoted.
Our organisation has been working in the region of 'unaccounted care work' since 2013. Our programme has helped decrease gender violence in the areas we have worked in, while our activities have contributed in making husbands realise the true value of the care work done by their wives.
Many experts have stated that 'unaccounted care work' have social, political and economic implications for women. I'd argue that to reach the SDGs, we need to view these concerns on a normal economic standard instead of focusing on satellite accounting. We recently conducted a policy briefing on care work and discussed the possible strategies which could be explored.
Md. Nahidul Hasan Nayan, General Secretary, Sommilito Garments Sramik Federation
When a woman joins work, her pregnancy status is evaluated. However, their male counterparts do not have to go through any medical tests. Maternity leave is a point of debate as many expecting, working mothers face various obstacles in relation to wages, work and holidays during this period. Even though, according to the labour law, women workers are eligible for a 16-week holiday during and after pregnancy, their leave time is usually set by the employers.
Women workers in the garments sector have decreased over the past few years. Factors like lack of work-friendly environment and automation have played large roles in this decline. Equity in such domains needs to be accomplished so that women can advance where required.
Skilled women in various industries are needed. Moreover, more attention needs to be given to proper nutrition for women in Bangladesh. Convenient transportation to and from work is a necessity to ensure the safety of women workers, especially those who work late hours.
Humaira Aziz, Director, Women and Girls Empowerment, Care Bangladesh
A recent UN study revealed that for every four hours of work, women get paid for only one hour.
Unpaid care work is one of the root causes of economic violence. Wife-beating, rape and harassment at workplaces are somewhat highlighted, but other unjust factors of the economy are not usually spoken of. Violence is still not a focal point of Bangladesh's labour policies.
The promotion of time-analysis could benefit women all around the country. For example, agriculture-based households involve women devoting many labour hours in the production process. The Bangladesh Bureau of Statistics can take an initiative regarding unpaid care work. In addition, we do not want to see any market development models or systems which limit the amount of leisure time women get. Women here should be largely concerned with whether they are being represented in the correct manner in relation to their total contribution to the society and economy.
Many believe that such changes could lead to rifts between spouses, but undeniably, progress in such areas are vital for the well-being of women in our society. Stay-at-home wives, who can earn from devoting their skills to various industries, need to be compensated for their commitment to household obligations through the help of linked policies.
Do women who are in need of urgent help actually receive sufficient incentives? A revamp of the distribution of household work will not be possible without the support of the state. Male role models are needed in jobs traditionally considered feminine, day care centers and service work being examples. This could be a determinant in defining equal roles for both genders in Bangladesh. Women-related issues are usually tackled by organisations like NGOs and unfortunately, we do not reach solutions via formal mechanisms.
Tasnuva Kalam Tonny, Programme Organiser and Rappoteur, Nijera Kori
Media representations can either break gender stereotypes or cement preconceived notions. Lack of materials promoting women empowerment and gender-fluidity is a concern.
Exchange programmes, related to the topic of gender violence, may be conducted in public and private universities. Students from all strata of society should be able to participate in such courses which would give each participant an overview of the current scenario related to gender issues. Gender-based violence is not an occurrence only in low-income families. Women, who hold some sort of power, in any field of work, are also targeted by people in our society.
Children must also be taught not to blame their mothers for having their own professional lives. The norm is such that children who feel neglected during their childhood never blame their fathers for being away due to work obligations. Bangladeshi children, traditionally, have been taught that their mothers are supposed to stay home while their fathers should be the bread-earners of the family. Maybe our children should be trained from a young age to recognise the abilities of a woman on the same pedestal as that of a man.
Rabeya Baby, Staff Reporter, The Daily Ittefaq
When we speak of the state and families of our society, both need to work together to better the conditions faced by our women. Day care centers are very important for working women and I myself have also seen fathers dropping off their children to such centers. Our media can play an active role in redefining the roles of females in our society; conventional male roles may be portrayed by women actors. Finally, more women should be brought into the job market as many qualified females are currently not engaged in any professional work.
Our campaign began with a focus on addressing violence towards women in Bangladesh. Development organisations and human rights institutions are constantly working towards the elimination of gender violence. The Bangladesh Bureau of Statistics (BBS) showed us a survey which concluded that about 87% of women in our country are violated in some way or the other. This led us to investigate further and find that the overall status of women in our society was one of the root causes of this problem. Our perception towards women needs to be changed. This is a long-term exercise and undoubtedly a work in progress.