Challenges South Asian Women Face On Economic Empowerment.
South Asian countries are emerging economic countries, and the majority of women gets blocked from
economic participation because of obstacles which includes laws and regulations, cultural and societal
norms. If we see it thoroughly, roughly half of the region’s population comprises of women where they
don’t have access to their basic rights such as health, welfare, education and income and the rate of
these factors are found to be the lowest as compared to the rest of the world.
The geography of South Asia includes four major countries i.e. Nepal, Bangladesh, India and Pakistan.
Within this region, women is playing a vital role in economy of South Asian countries like India and
Pakistan which has benefitted the country not only on social, economic, and cultural levels but also it
increased the involvement of women in workforce which is very much desirable across the region.
Education level is rising in South Asian countries which is resulting in a change in job preferences and
wages. Mostly males migrate abroad for earning and enhancing their careers which makes women to
work back in their homelands but unfortunately, they have to work on low wage agricultural jobs as
they are not capable of working in other sectors due to low literacy rate.
Stats of Female Labor Force Participate Rates shown below:
Other major factors of women not being involved in working out of their homes are the domestic duties
which they are supposed to carry out. National sample survey shows 31% of women are involved in
domestic duties which is itself considered as a full time job.
So, in result they spend most of their time at home and invest time in taking education.
There are number of factors which doesn’t let women to take part in economy, one of them is our
society which doesn’t allow them to work with freedom as thousands of harassment cases are reported
in South Asian countries, specially India as it is the second most populated country in the world and
women holds the major contribution in population. Mostly women are employed in garment industry
and call center in South Asian countries.
In fact, every South Asian country has been ruled by a woman like Hindra Gandhi ruled India, Benazir
Bhutto ruled Pakistan and Haseena Wajid ruled Bangladesh. Despite of having female prime minister,
these wonder women didn’t take substantial steps for the empowerment of women in their respective
But now the trend is changing among these countries and many NGOs are working on the
empowerment of women which is encouraging the notion of having women workforce in the national
economy. Along with that, female teenagers have become more concerned about their future as they
have realized that this is how their future is going to be secured.
Specifically talking about women in country like Pakistan, it is observed that that women are constrained
by their own family members and their stereotyped perspectives of what constitutes to a perfect and
ideal women. Almost 40% of women population in the country are not working. As per research paper
on FLFP, it showed the calculation that in a country like Pakistan if this women population starts working
somewhere, then the country’s economic growth rate would be doubled than the current growth rate.
The employment of women population within the South Asian region is fairly due to some major factors.
The four represented countries of South Asian region namely,—Nepal, Bangladesh, India and Pakistan—
have had varied reasons and experiences in the context of challenges women face on economic
empowerment. Earlier this year, in the month of March, private sector actors and civil society
representatives from across South Asia, and local and international researchers, came and sit together in
Kathmandu Nepal, to find out ways to use data and evidence-based policy to promote women’s
economic empowerment. The policy dialogue was organized by Evidence for Policy Design, and funded
by UK Aid’s BCURE Program, with the support and collaboration of International Growth Centre.
As per the International Labor Statistics, Nepal is a South Asian country that has the highest female labor
force participation rate (FLFPR) in South Asia (80%), it ranks below Sri Lanka, India and Bangladesh (and
just ahead of Pakistan) on UNDP’s Gender Development Index (2016). Because of massive male outmigration
in the country, women work out of necessity, but primarily hold low-productivity, low-wage
agricultural jobs. As de-facto household heads, they face a double burden of work, outside and within
In Bangladesh, female labor force participation rate is approximately 58% and it is rising, mainly because
of country’s thriving export-oriented garment industry. Rubana Huq of Mohammadi Group shared that
female garment workers are seen giving tiffin money to their husbands. But few women advance
beyond the sewing line.
In contrast to it, India female labor force participation rate has drastically declined despite country’s
high economic growth. According to Farzana Afridi, who is the associate professor of Economics at
Indian Statistical Institute (ISI), Delhi, cited her research showing that this trend is driven by rural,
married women with young children.
And while country like Pakistan has seen high rise of female labor force participation rate because of
increasing women skilling programs and immense availability of more jobs for women, female labor
force participation remains constrained by social norms and safety concerns.
Women population want to work and be part of the national workforce but lacks
Approximately 31% of women in the Indian region who spend most of their time on domestic duties
would like to engage in some kind of job, according to the National Sample Survey. If these women
population had joined the labor force and contribute to the national economy then Indian female labor
work force participation rate would rise almost by 21 percentage points. In a country Pakistan, almost
40% of women population who are not in the labor force say they didn’t have enough to do in the
previous day; a quarter of them say that they would work if they found a suitable job.
Issues like poverty due to primary responsibility of care economy
As primary caregivers in a society, almost all women population all across South Asia face time poverty
that limits their natural ability and skills to invest in their human capital and social networks in the
society. Former member, National Planning Commission of Nepal, Bimala Rai Paudyal commented that
males are unwilling to share the burden at home and also lack the competence to do so. Therefore, due
to this there are growing calls for better data on women’s time usage to understand their constraints.
To enable more women to join, remain and progress in the work force, support in the form of childcare
services and flexible working conditions is required. Experiments of Atonu Rabbani, associate professor
of economics at the University of Dhaka, in Bangladesh suggest that women are willing to pay for
childcare services, but don’t trust the available service providers.
Society Social norms restrict female’s physical and economic mobility.
In a country like Pakistan, higher levels of education among female population are not properly
translating into higher Female labor force participation rate, mainly because of the outdated
perspectives and ideas about their appropriate role in society. Women face street harassment and lack
of safe transportation options. According to Hadia Majid, assistant professor of economics at the Lahore
University of Management Sciences, few women are visible in public spaces, perpetuating a norm of
public spaces as male spaces.
Things like workforce “Glass ceilings” a metaphor which is a barrier within the corporate hierarchy that
prevents or hinders female’s from obtaining higher positions in their jobs, exist across countries and
economic sectors specifically in the South Asian regions. While, if you talk about the 3 million of the 4
million total workers in Bangladesh’s garment industry are women, mainly at supervisors levels. This
may partly be because of historically lower human-capital levels among women, but contemporary
social and cultural factors also play a role. Women sometimes decline promotions as longer hours
interfere with domestic responsibilities. Families may not be supportive, and working late or travelling
far from home presents security challenges.
Another challenge that female’s usually encounter is the limited access to public services within their
respective countries. Again, in a developing country like Pakistan, some orthodox males don’t allow their
women relatives and other family members to be registered for the national ID system. Within the
South Asian region, many women individuals lack proper education and also full awareness of their basic
and fundamental societal rights, and may even find institutional settings and interactions hostile.
Last but not the least, the enabling policy environments exist, but context and implementation matter.
Country like Nepal’s new constitutional provision for political reservations for women is a promising
opportunity. Chhavi Rajawat, the first female sarpanch of Soda village in Rajasthan, described how her
status as sarpanch is changing parents’ aspirations for their daughters and daughters-in-law. Soledad
Prillaman, a PhD scholar at Harvard University, shared her research showing that women’s participation
in self-help groups makes them twice as likely to engage with local politics; and communities feel the
positive impact in higher levels of public goods provision.
It is depicted from the facts and statistics that South Asia’s economy has the tendency to be boosted by
taking women in the working sector of the country. It is proved that women has immense potential and
role in playing for the growth of the country. By educating and giving women the platforms to work, it
can result in turning the tables of country’s economy by huge margin. However, the major obstacles that
hinders the women from working are in good number and they need to be eradicated through
educating the people and mindsets of individuals. Although with time there is good improvement seen
in different South Asian countries by women being involved in working force of the country, but there is
still a lot to be done to let women utilize their potential to the fullest.