Analysing women and work in South Asia

Latest research unveils key issues and opportunities for women and the future of work in South Asia.

The non-inclusivity of women in the world of paid work has long posed persistent riddles to experts and policymakers alike. A new publication "Women and Work in South Asia: Rights and Innovations" sheds some light on the latest challenges and opportunities on the topic in the region. Zakia Islam of our Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung Bangladesh Office spoke with co-author Meghna Guhathakurta, executive director of Research Initiatives, Bangladesh, and former professor of International Relations at the University of Dhaka, on the occasion of the book launch at the head offices of University Press Limited.

How was your two-year endeavour with your paper and publication of this book?

Meghna Guhathakurta: The experience was great because I worked with my former colleagues from the Department of International Relations, University of Dhaka, and got in touch with some old and new faces all over South Asia on a single platform.

The parameters of this volume are very broad and diverse: It covered approaches and theories from different disciplines. The broader outline created an open space to welcome new thoughts regarding possible changes in the future of work, which we might not have seen if we had just kept to a single field. Bringing innovative ideas from the participating authors and discussing those in an analytical framework were really energizing tasks for the editorial team members and the individual authors.

This diversity in approaches and theories opens the book up to a wide audience. First of all, we have to think about the policymakers. But it is also meant for broader civil society, including non-state practitioners, other professionals, and academics. Relevant academics include teachers, researchers and students in fields of gender and development studies, labour economics, public policy, Asian studies, and international relations.


How will care work become economically and socially valued in our society?

Meghna Guhathakurta: I worked on a project where we provided training to a specific group of rural women to engage them in market-orientated activities. Then we identified the problems of the double burden that women were facing as a result of that. They had to go outside for work, which brought them money, and the families were delighted to get cash in their hands even though the families, especially male household heads, were not willing to change their minds about reducing women's share in household work, child-rearing, and cooking. It can be said that this patriarchal mindset will not be changed overnight. However, we have to work together to build the steps through gradual changes.


What are your thoughts on the current debate around gender identity and work distribution?

Meghna Guhathakurta: I do not think work has anything to do with gender identity, but rather it depends on capacity, which can be dealt with the help of technology. Furthermore, it is true that we are sometimes very progressive in mind, but culturally and socially, we still live with patriarchy.

First of all, we have to change our societal mindset. To do that, everyone must be oriented and trained on gender equality and equity. Specifically, we need to review many of our training modules to accommodate opportunities which have not been given to women. Policymakers and other changemakers must work together to bring positive societal changes.


What is your standing on the quota (either declared or non-declared) system available to ensure gender inclusiveness?

Meghna Guhathakurta: The quota system is an affirmative action that many people from several parts of the world may dislike. In my opinion, this system is justified because it addresses the roots of historical discrimination. Women have been struggling for many generations to be on the same page as men are right now. So, this affirmative action should remain until this historical discrimination is eradicated. Nevertheless, at the same time, women should focus more on their capacity building so that the next generation does not face the same struggles.


The book was first unveiled during the Ekushey Book Fair, the national book fair of Bangladesh that was held this year from mid-February to mid-March, and was also presented on the occasion of International Women's Day on 8 March. But the formal launching ceremony took place on 15 June 2022 at the University Press Limited head office. The event was held in a hybrid format – in-person and virtual. It was opened to the public audience through live-streaming on social media. This book launch was attended by authors, editors, stakeholders, civil society members, students, journalists, and representatives from University Press Limited and FES Bangladesh.

Fore more information about the work of our office in Dhaka, visit their website or follow them on social media for regular updates.

Meghna Guhathakurta is the executive director of Research Initiatives, Bangladesh, and former professor of International Relations at the University of Dhaka.

Zakia Islam works as Communication and Project Officer at the Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung Bangladesh Office.

The views expressed in this article are not necessarily those of FES.

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