Dr Muhammad MusaA gender-equal world is not only a moral imperative, it is also a critical organisational and social requirement as well as smart economics. Diversity is a key ingredient to growing a strong and inclusive socioeconomic structure that is built to last. Diversity of ideas, backgrounds and experiences fuels innovation. Research has proved that organisations and countries that embrace diversity have more solid and competitive footing. Parity and inclusion benefit us all. A McKinsey Global Institute report finds that $12 trillion could be added to global GDP by 2025 by advancing women’s equality.

At BRAC, we believe that transformation of our world starts with transforming perspectives on gender balance. Our integrated gender transformative approach strengthens the voice, choice and space for women and girls to combat violence and eliminate all forms of gender discrimination with the active engagement of men and boys.

Investing in women and girls and making them agents of change are fundamental to how we work. We focus on strengthening agency as well as facilitating systems, platforms and interventions that support women to make decisions vital to their family’s wellbeing. Through our social development programmes, we have been driving better educational and work opportunities for girls and women, as well as better healthcare where women are in charge of their sexual and reproductive health and rights. We are also focusing on ways to increase women’s participation in local markets and power structures.

Despite notable progress in poverty reduction, the number of extreme poor in Bangladesh is still staggering, with 3% of the global extreme poor population residing here. BRAC has been a committed partner to the government with its women-centred Graduation approach, which over the last 17 years has already helped over 1.9 million families to break free of the cycle of ultra-poverty, and unleashed their inner potential to play an active role in market economy.

Our microfinance programme supports women in accessing financial services, to gain equal control over economic resources, and become a key player in the economy. To illustrate, in 2018 alone, 7.1 million clients accessed financial services through our microfinance programme, 87% of whom were women.

Women in Bangladesh have made great strides in building the nation’s economy. Bangladesh is among the few countries in South Asia that has increased female employment in the last decade, while also cutting the wage gap between men and women significantly. Even though the female labour force participation rate has increased, around 30% of the working age youth are not yet in education, training, or employment, and majority (87%) of them are women. Around one-fourth of the educated women are unemployed. To bridge this gap, our skills development programme is facilitating development of employable skills, linking programme graduates with decent work opportunities, and promoting entrepreneurship among them. 46.22% of our learners are female. We are increasingly placing girls in non-traditional trades such as mobile phone repair, motorcycle servicing, electrical work, and light engineering to break gender stereotypes.

One of the key challenges faced by women in Bangladesh is limited control over and access to economic resources, particularly to land and other fixed assets. Agricultural and non-agricultural land ownerships by men are about six times and twelve times higher than women respectively. Our human rights and legal aid services programme has been piloting innovative approaches to improve the rights and property ownership ratio of women.

Growing up as a girl in Bangladesh is much tougher than growing up as a boy. Almost all girl children are born by shouldering a set of pre-determined, deep-rooted social bias and systemic disparity. Our gender justice and diversity team has been working on transforming prevailing socio-cultural gender norms, building capacity of staff and stakeholders to challenge and change those normative practices, creating a supportive environment for girls and women, and advocating for gender justice at all institutional set-ups.

Gender inequality is a complex socio-political issue, but proven solutions are there at our hand. Despite what might often seem like a set of insurmountable barriers, girls and women throughout the world have been bravely defying the odds and pursuing a more prosperous future for themselves and their families.

All they need is equal access to education, skills and opportunities. Multi-stakeholder partnerships are required to support them to pursue such opportunities with persistence. BRAC continues to reach out to its partners, peer groups and key stakeholders to build a social movement through its programmes and advocacy work. We will accelerate our effort in this regard in the coming days.

We stand committed alongside our teams and network of partners, allies and supporters to redress the power dynamics, and build a more equitable world where no one is left behind.