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Opportunities for Women's Economic Empowerment in Agro-based Industries

The landscape of women's employment in Bangladesh's agricultural sector is multifaceted, as revealed by recent surveys and studies. The Labour Force Survey 2022 highlights that approximately 18.43 million women are engaged in agriculture, making up 26.2 percent of the total employment. Moreover, there has been a significant rise in the representation of women in skilled agricultural, forestry, and fishery roles, reaching 75 percent. However, their involvement in formal off-farm agro-based industries remains disproportionately low, with data from the Survey of Manufacturing Industries (2019) indicating that only 22.36 percent of the total workforce engaged in agri-processing comprises women.

A deeper dive into the agro-processing sector paints a concerning picture of gender disparities. A study on the Labor Market and Skill Gap Analysis (2021) reveals that merely 22% of females are employed in surveyed agro-processing enterprises. Furthermore, women predominantly occupy lower-paying roles within these establishments, with their average monthly income being half that of their male counterparts. The gender pay gap further widens in managerial and professional positions, underscoring the persistent financial challenges faced by women in this sector.

Beyond economic disparities, social and cultural barriers also hinder women's empowerment in agriculture. The Women’s Empowerment in Agriculture Index (2014) highlights that approximately 77 percent of rural women in Bangladesh are disempowered. Additionally, findings from a study conducted by the Manusher Jonno Foundation (2019) indicate that 38.05 percent of female workers experience sexual harassment in factories, further exacerbating the challenges faced by women in the workforce.

In response to these challenges, a proposed study aims to provide insights into job creation, female labor force participation (FLFP), and gender equality in agro-based industries. By examining the barriers faced by women, both social and economic, the study seeks to inform policies and interventions that foster an inclusive and safe environment for women's meaningful participation in off-farm agro-based industries.

The study's overarching goal is to conduct a comprehensive assessment of women's engagement in agro-based industries, encompassing both formal and semi-formal establishments.

The specific objectives are as follows:

a) To identify and categorize the specific areas within agro-based industries (formal/informal) where women are predominantly engaged.

b) To examine the existing working conditions for women in agro-based industries, encompassing factors such as job security, remuneration, occupational safety, and opportunities for skill development.

c) To identify and evaluate emerging economic opportunities within agro-based industries, with a focus on areas exhibiting potential for growth and diversification. Particularly, investigate off-farm agro-based activities and higher-value agricultural segments as potential avenues for women's economic empowerment.

d) To evaluate the barriers that hinder women from entering high-growth areas within agro-based industries, considering socio-cultural, economic, and institutional factors.

Team Member(s): 

1. Mohammad Yunus (Team Leader)

         Research Director, BIDS

2. Taznoore Samina Khanam

Research Fellow, BIDS

3. Kashfi Rayan

Research Associate, BIDS

 Sponsor:  World Bank Group, Dhaka. 

Duration: March to October 2024 

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