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How to boost female employment in South Asia

Martin Rama's picture
What's driving female employment in South Asia to decrease


South Asia is booming. In 2018, GDP growth for the region as a whole is expected to accelerate to 6.9 percent, making it the fastest growing region in the world. However, fast GDP growth has not translated into fast employment growth. In fact, employment rates have declined across the region, with women accounting for most of this decline.

Between 2005 and 2015, female employment rates declined by 5 percent per year in India, 3 percent per year in Bhutan, and 1 percent per year in Sri Lanka. While it is not surprising for female employment rates to decline with economic growth and then increase, in what is commonly known as the U-shaped female labor force function (a term coined by Claudia Goldin in 1995), the trends observed in South Asia stand out. Not only has female employment declined much more than could have been anticipated, it is likely to decline further as countries such as India continue to grow and urbanize.

The unusual trend for female employment rates in South Asia is clear from Figure 1. While male employment rates in South Asia are in line with those of other countries at the same income level, female employment rates are well below.
From the South Asia Economic Focus
Source: South Asia Economic Focus (Spring 2018).

If women are choosing to exit the labor force as family incomes rise, should policymakers worry? There are at least three reasons why the drop in female employment rates may have important social costs. First, household choices may not necessarily match women’s preferences. Those preferences reflect the influence of ideas and norms about what is women’s work and men’s work as well as other gendered notions such as the idea that women should take care of the children and housework. Second, when women control a greater share of household incomes, children are healthier and do better in school. Third, when women work for pay, they have a greater voice in their households, in their communities, and in society. The economic gains from women participating equally in the labor market are sizable: A recent study estimated that the overall gain in GDP to South Asia from closing gender gaps in employment and entrepreneurship would be close to 25 percent.

It’s time to end malnutrition in South Asia

Idah Z. Pswarayi-Riddihough's picture
Chronic malnutrition remains prevalent across the region as many poor South Asians cannot afford nutritious foods or don’t have the relevant information or education to make smart dietary choices.
Chronic malnutrition remains prevalent across South Asia as many poor South Asians cannot afford nutritious foods or don’t have the relevant information or education to make smart dietary choices.

In Sri Lanka, as in the rest of South Asia, improving agricultural production has long been a priority to achieve food security. 

But growing more crops has hardly lessened the plight of malnutrition. 

Chronic malnutrition remains prevalent across the region as many poor South Asians cannot afford nutritious foods or don’t have the relevant information or education to make smart dietary choices. 
And children and the poorest are particularly at risk.

South Asia is home to about 62 million of the world’s 155 million children considered as stunted-- or too short for their age. 

And more than half of the world’s 52 million children identified as wasted—or too thin for their height—live in South Asia. 

Moderate-to-severe stunting rates ranged from 17 percent in Sri Lanka in 2016 to a high 45 percent in Pakistan in 2012–13, with rates above 30 percent for most countries in the region.

Moderate-to-severe wasting rates ranged from 2 percent in Bhutan in 2015 to 21 percent in India in 2015–16, with rates above 10 percent for most countries in the region. 

The social and economic cost of malnutrition is substantial, linked to impaired cognitive development, chronic disease, and lower future earnings.

And sadly, much remains to be done to ensure children across South Asia can access the nutritious foods they need to live healthy lives. 

In World Bank art exhibition, artists unpack displacement stories

Juliana J Biondo's picture
Installation shot of Unpacked, a mixed media sculpture by Mohammad Hafez and Ahmed Badr. © Bassam Sebti/World Bank
Installation shot of Unpacked, a mixed media sculpture by Mohammad Hafez and Ahmed Badr. © Bassam Sebti/World Bank

As the World Bank Group strengthens support for refugees, internationally displaced people, and their host communities, the World Bank Art Program curated a multi-dimensional art exhibition entitled, Uprooted: The Resilience of Refugees, Displaced People and Host Communities to contribute a unique perspective. This exhibition showcased the creative voices of those artists touched by the refugee crisis, or those artists who were refugees themselves.

Artist Marina Jaber from Iraq. © Bassam Sebti/World Bank
Artist Marina Jaber from Iraq. 

The Uprooted exhibition included a visual art exhibition and musical performances featuring over 30 artists from places such as Bangladesh, Pakistan, Colombia, Lebanon, Iraq, Syria, Jordan, Central African Republic, Burundi, and Guinea. The artists produced works that questioned the impact of transience in individual lives and entire communities of people.

One capstone of the exhibition was the construction of a shed intended to evoke the shelters found in places such as the Azraq Refugee Camp in Jordan. For the exhibition, the shed was enhanced with murals on its sides. Each mural was done by the hand of a different artist – Suhaib Attar, an artist from Jordan and son of Palestinian refugee parents, Marina Jaber from Iraq, a country with millions internally displaced people, Diala Brisly, a refugee from Syria, and Didier Kassai from the Central African Republic, a country in which violence and war have forced hundreds of thousands into displacement. 

In Bangladesh, building the skills for the 4th Industrial Revolution

Mustahsin-ul-Aziz's picture
With the onset of the fourth industrial revolution, the landscape of jobs, and the skills required for jobs, are quickly changing around the world. Bangladesh is no exception. Already the Ready-Made Garments (RMG) sector—the leading export sector employing a significant portion of the workforce— is undergoing major automation, which threatens the loss of jobs by the thousands.

This places significant importance on continuous skills training to prepare the workforce ready for future jobs. For this, what are the policy options for Bangladesh? How can the country move forward to ride the wave of the changing tide while leveraging the burgeoning youth population?

To answer these questions, and contribute towards the skills dialogue, an International Skills Conference was organized recently in Dhaka under the theme “Building Brands for Skills of Bangladesh”. The conference brought together national and international policymakers, skills development practitioners, academics, and researchers, from China, Singapore and India for two days of knowledge sharing and networking.
 
A memo agreement between Bangladesh and China

Organized by the Technical and Madrasah Education Division of the Ministry of Education of Bangladesh and supported by the Directorate of Technical Education and the Skills and Training Enhancement Project (STEP), the conference covered topics ranging from connecting skills and jobs to future proofing technical education institutions to raising the brand of skills of Bangladesh. After two days of knowledge sharing, two important themes emerged:

Initial findings from the implementation of the 'Practical Guide for Measuring Retail Payment Costs'

Holti Banka's picture

MoMo Tap in Côte d'Ivoire
In November 2016, we published the “Practical Guide for Measuring Retail Payment Costs”, an innovative methodology that can be customized to country needs and circumstances, without losing the international comparative dimension.

The guide enables countries to measure the costs associated with retail payment instruments, based on survey data, for the payment end users, payment service/infrastructure providers, and the total economy. The guide also enables countries to derive projected savings in shifting from the more costly to the less costly payment instruments.
 

April 2018 global poverty update from the World Bank

Christoph Lakner's picture

In April, PovcalNet revised the World Bank’s global and regional poverty estimates from 1981 to 2013. The next major update of global and regional poverty estimates is scheduled for October 2018, when the global poverty estimates for the reference year 2015 will be released. This will coincide with the launch of the next Poverty and Shared Prosperity report (the 2016 Poverty and Shared Prosperity report can be found here).

Managing climate risks in South Asia: A “bottom up” approach

Poonam Pillai's picture
Surma river between Bangladesh and India
The Surma River that flows between Bangladesh and India. Photo Credit: Poonam Pillai

Being from Kolkata, I have always been used to floods. Prolonged flooding typically meant schools and offices closed, traffic jams and a much-needed respite from the tropical summer heat. However, it was during a field visit to the flood prone northeastern border of Bangladesh, where rivers from India flow downstream into Bangladesh, that I fully appreciated the importance of disaster early warning systems and regional collaboration in saving lives, property, enabling communities to evacuate and prepare for extreme weather events.

Disaster early warning systems, along with other information services based on weather, water and climate data (sometimes known as “hydromet” or “climate services”) play a key role in disaster preparedness and improving the productivity and performance of climate sensitive sectors such as agriculture.  Along with investments in resilient infrastructure, risk financing strategies and capacity building measures, they are a key part of a toolkit for strengthening disaster and climate resilience.  Research shows that for every dollar spent on disaster early warning systems, the benefits range from $2-10.  In South Asia, these are particularly important given the region’s extreme vulnerability to climate risks and staggering socio-economic costs arising from extreme weather events.

Can modern technologies facilitate spatial and temporal price analysis?

Marko Rissanen's picture

The International Comparison Program (ICP) team in the World Bank Development Data Group commissioned a pilot data collection study utilizing modern information and communication technologies in 15 countries―Argentina, Bangladesh, Brazil, Cambodia, Colombia, Ghana, Indonesia, Kenya, Malawi, Nigeria, Peru, Philippines, South Africa, Venezuela and Vietnam―from December 2015 to August 2016.

The main aim of the pilot was to study the feasibility of a crowdsourced price data collection approach for a variety of spatial and temporal price studies and other applications. The anticipated benefits of the approach were the openness, accessibility, level of granularity, and timeliness of the collected data and related metadata; traits rarely true for datasets typically available to policymakers and researchers.

The data was collected through a privately-operated network of paid on-the-ground contributors that had access to a smartphone and a data collection application designed for the pilot. Price collection tasks and related guidance were pushed through the application to specific geographical locations. The contributors carried out the requested collection tasks and submitted price data and related metadata using the application. The contributors were subsequently compensated based on the task location and degree of difficulty.

The collected price data covers 162 tightly specified items for a variety of household goods and services, including food and non-alcoholic beverages; alcoholic beverages and tobacco; clothing and footwear; housing, water, electricity, gas and other fuels; furnishings, household equipment and routine household maintenance; health; transport; communication; recreation and culture; education; restaurants and hotels; and miscellaneous goods and services. The use of common item specifications aimed at ensuring the quality, as well as intra- and inter-country comparability, of the collected data.

In total, as many as 1,262,458 price observations―ranging from 196,188 observations for Brazil to 14,102 observations for Cambodia―were collected during the pilot. The figure below shows the cumulative number of collected price observations and outlets covered per each pilot country and month (mouse over the dashboard for additional details).

Figure 1: Cumulative number of price observations collected during the pilot

Encouraging more women to take part in regional trade

Mandakini Kaul's picture

Across South Asia, women represent a hugely underutilized source of growth. In fact, the South Asia region has some of the world’s lowest rates of female labor force participation - only 36%. Even where women work, they are mostly confined to less-remunerative low-skill jobs, and remain excluded from most trading activity. To make it easier for more women to work in all fields of endeavor, World Bank projects in the region have begun to look at development projects through a more gender-focused perspective.
 
One such area is regional trade and connectivity. After a long hiatus, the political momentum for cooperation within the eastern region is growing, especially in the Bangladesh Bhutan India Nepal (BBIN) corridor.  The Indian government’s Act East Policy, combined with the new Motor Vehicles Act that allows vehicles to cross the BBIN border with ease, represent a unique opportunity to reimagine inclusive growth by enabling more of the region’s women to benefit from this corridor.
 


Accordingly, the South Asia Regional Trade Facilitation Program (SARTFP), an Australian government-funded program being implemented by the World Bank, seeks to improve the conditions for women to trade between these nations and to create more remunerative livelihoods.

Regional cooperation in conservation: South Asia shows the way

Andrew Zakharenka's picture
Illegal trade in wildlife and conservation often were not considered high priority for countries of the South Asia Region. In the first ever attempt, the governments of Bangladesh, Nepal, and Bhutan joined forces to strengthen regional cooperation for wildlife conservation. And it was a successful one.

The regional project assisted the governments in building and enhancing shared capacity and institutions to tackle illegal wildlife trade across their borders and invest in habitat and wildlife conservation of critically endangered species. It was clear from the onset that these issues would require both national leadership and regional coordination.
 
Launched in 2011, the project initially had a delayed start. Yet, by December 2016, when the project ended, it became clear that governments coordinated efforts successfully. The three countries participated in regular joint action planning and practice-sharing meetings, signed protocols for and cooperated in transboundary actions, as well as held consultations and public events at the local, national, and international levels.
 
The project supported conservation programs of dozens of endangered species, including crocodiles being released here into the wild. Sundarban area, 2014

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