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July 23 2010

Empowering Women in Bangladesh

Nicole Kurokawa Neily

The New York Times brings good news from Bangladesh, where a reporter recently confirmed what IWF has been saying for years: economically empowering women has a positive effect on society.

From the article:

Mr. Mobarak, a Bangladeshi who has advised his country’s government, found that the presence of apparel jobs appears to bolster school enrollments of girls, especially for young girls.

“A doubling of garment jobs causes a 6.71 percent increase in the probability that a 5-year-old girl is in school,” Mr. Mobarak writes in a summary of his findings.

The effect is more muted for girls 16 to 19 in age, who are more likely to drop out earlier to start working in the factories. And there is no significant effect on boys, which might be the result of  the relatively low employment of men at lower levels of the industry. (Not surprisingly, men still manage and own most Bangladeshi garment factories. But in politics, Bangladesh’s two main parties are led by women – Sheikh Hasina, the current prime minister, and Khaleda Zia, a former prime minister.)

Mr. Mobarak also found that girls who live in villages with garment factories tend to marry later and have children later than the girls who grow up in villages without factories. In other countries, this has typically happened as women get more educated, but Mr. Mobarak’s survey of 1,500 families suggests that it is happening slightly differently in Bangladesh, which has a literacy rate of just 55 percent.

“Girls do seem to take advantage of these jobs at 17 to 19 years old, and that allows them to delay marriage and child bearing,” Mr. Mobarak told me in a telephone interview. “Even if it’s not happening through education, it is happening through work.”

Giving women the opportunity to accumulate wealth means that they are less dependent on others – husbands, fathers, foreign aid, or the government – and are better able to control their own lives. In my mind, that’s the real definition of feminism!

Independent Women’s Forum’s mission is to improve the lives of Americans by increasing the number of women who value free markets and personal liberty. Sister organization of Independent Women’s Voice.
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