Skilled Women Are Breaking Labor Force Barriers in Bangladesh

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Dolly owns and runs “Lovely Fashion,” a tailoring shop in Tongi near Dhaka, the capital of Bangladesh. She is in her mid-twenties and earns around BDT 12,000 (USD 150) a month.  “I work hard. I can support my family to live with dignity in the society,” says Dolly. “Finally I have peace of mind and financial independence.”

Dolly working in her tailoring shop
Dolly working in her tailoring shop

From childhood, Dolly was self-motivated. She struggled against the barriers that held back her. The lack of economic opportunities is an obvious barrier for the many women belonging to earlier generations. Dolly first experienced her mother’s life, who got married at an early age and could not finish her secondary school. After marriage, she faced the challenge to feed and fulfill the basic needs of her family with her husband’s limited income. Her mother wanted to financially support the family but lacked the opportunity. She aspired for her daughter’s life to be different. Dolly’s mother motivated her to build her career and become financially independent. After completing secondary schooling, Dolly was looking for entrepreneurial opportunities. She came to know about the Montage Training and Certification (MTC) – a private vocational training institute. The institution provides a number of free short-courses and stipend with support from the Skills and Training Enhancement Project (STEP). She enrolled herself in dress making and tailoring courses from July to December 2012.

With assistance from the STEP, more than 100 institutes like MTC provides free skills training and financial support to the students. This made it possible for Dolly and hundreds of young women like her from low income families to enroll in technical and vocational courses and gain valuable market oriented skills that later turned their lives around.
The Government of Bangladesh is implementing STEP with financial assistance of $100 million from the World Bank and the Government of Canada. One of the activities of STEP is to support six months short-course training programs to develop skills and increase employment opportunities for those who are interested in entering the labor market. Until December 2014, 12,763 female students received support from the project. Among them, around 25% graduates get job within 6 months of the course completion and about 40% are in further education and training aspiring for skills of even higher levels. Dress making and tailoring, computer technology, beautification, and garments are some of the programs that are particularly popular among women.
After completing the six-month course, Dolly started a tailoring shop with the stipend money and her mother’s savings. Despite initial struggle of running a new business, her hard work, diligent and welcoming personality attracted an increasing number of customers. After five months, she needed additional support for running her expanding business. She even trained and employed two more women.
Women in the past could hardly think about going to vocational training schools or starting up their own businesses. The series of awareness campaign, financial and policy support from the Government of Bangladesh are the recent game changers. All these ignited the idea of independence and self-reliance among the women in Bangladesh. They have now broken the mold and come forward with innovative, employment and entrepreneurial skills to create their own livelihood and even support their families. 

The benefits of female empowerment through skills training are visible all over Bangladesh.


The contribution of women in the national economy between the ages of 20 and 50 has increased. Growing number of educated women, coupled with the increasing opportunities in the labor market have contributed in increasing the female labor force participation rate, which has increased from 26.1 to 36.0 percent in between 2003-2010 (The World Bank, 2013). It is just one step towards female empowerment, yet a steady and big one for shaping their futures.


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