Women's Empowerment in South Asia: A Review Article

This article review of following articles Kabir, S. L. (2013) Women’s Participation in South Asian Civil Service- A Comparative Analysis of India, Pakistan and Bangladesh, Dhaka: AHDPH. Afroza, S. (2013) The Emerging Role of Women in the Civil Service (Administration) of Bangladesh- An Introspective Analysis from 1971, Dhaka: Pathakshamabesh. Panday, P. K. (2013) Women’s Political Participation in Bangladesh: Institutional Reforms, Actors and Outcomes, New York: Springer. Mahtab, N. (2009) Women In Bangladesh: From Inequality to Empowerment, Dhaka: AHDPH.
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In the 21th century, one of the most widely discussed issue is women’s development and empowerment. Almost all the countries, whether developed or developing, are striving to achieve the pinnacle of women’s development by enhancing their participation level in decision making. Not unlikely, women empowerment has been one of the major concerns of South Asian governments for the last few decades. Global pressure and policy prescriptions of different international agencies have been key factors in the empowerment of the women of South Asian region. Globally, empowerment of women is increasingly being focused in all spheres of policy decisions. Thus, in the midst of globalization, the nations of South Asia are showing eagerness to incorporate women’s empowerment as a key component in their development thinking and practice. Social, political, cultural and economic aspects of women are under spotlight of governments of this region. In order to analyze the state of women empowerment in South Asia, this article selected four recently published research-based books on women’s empowerment. This article looks at women empowerment from different angles as focused by the four researchers. This article compares four books on the basis of certain criteria. These include methodology used, presentation of materials and relevance of the analysis and universal applicability of the inferences drawn.
Women’s Empowerment Defined
Both Panday and Kabir have defined women’s empowerment as women’s participation in politics and administration. Kabir has presented a detailed picture of the civil service systems of these countries, their historical developments from Mauryan period via British Indian era to the present system. The conceptual discussions of this book is precisely presented enabling readers to easily understand such concepts as women, gender discrimination, bureaucracy, representation and administrative culture. The author’s explanation of the administrative culture of these countries on the basis of Hofstede’s four dimensions and women’s place in the scheme will be useful for other researchers in the area. Thus, the author has succeeded in establishing a relationship between theory and practice. Significantly, participation of women in the civil service and factors influencing such participation has been considered as one of the critical issues of women’s empowerment in South Asia by Kabir. Kabir has also pointed out the cultural factors shaping the state of women’s empowerment through participation in South Asian civil service. According to her, it is the tradition and culture of the patriarchal society which mostly impede women from actively participating in political and administrative arena of this region.
The other three books by Panday, Afroza and Mahtab have presented the case of Bangladesh to show why women’s participation both in politics and administration is important to empower women in the society. All these three books have presented, to some extent, similar cultural dimensions that have been the legacy of this part of South Asia. Both Afroza and Panday preferred to study the critical factors of women’s participation in administration and politics empirically. On the other hand, Mahtab has presented the theories of women’s empowerment and practice in the context of the policy process in Bangladesh. She also has briefly discussed global efforts in facilitating empowerment of women.
Panday’s work focusing at the grassroots level politics provides important observation to understand the variables like literacy, education, family culture, institutional mechanism of local government in Bangladesh. He has assumed that women’s participation is mostly overlooked in rural areas. Hence, he sought to delineate the importance of women’s participation at the grassroots level to boost the campaign of women’s empowerment in Bangladesh. Defining women’s political participation as a form of women’s empowerment in the Bangladesh context one can conceptualize similar cases in other South Asian countries as culturally this region share similar legacy.
On the other hand, Afroza has focused only on one particular cadre to show how women’s role is emerging in the civil service of Bangladesh. Through such delineation, she believes, women’s empowerment in the civil service will emerge as women move to occupy key positions in the bureaucratic hierarchy. She sees increasing women’s participation in administration cadre would enhance the opportunity for all female members of all BCS cadre members to be empowered.
Discussion and Conclusion
Kabir has followed both the primary and secondary methods. Besides following books, journals and reports on women’s development issue, the expert survey method has been conducted which is helpful to triangulate any study. She chose respondents from the lower level, mid-level and higher level bureaucrats. This has made the data more reliable and effective in analyzing the issue. But the questionnaire used for data collection could have been included in the book to give a brief idea about it. Whereas, Panday and Afroza narrowed their focus to answer the research questions they had set. Mahtab’s work is purely based on desk research and content analysis. Panday interviewed a wide variety of people to analyze the data on women’s participation. But Afroza, while focusing only on one cadre, could have selected more respondents with wider range of variance.
However, the case study method could have been followed by Afroza to depict the real experience of the women civil servants about their personal and work life. Even the interview of the young generation, basically women studying at the university level could have also been considered to supplement the perception of the incumbents. It would further triangulate the study for generalization in the broader context of South Asia. It would also have helped to explore the perception of the upcoming women civil servants. The author has explained the problems of the women from various dimensions and almost all the chapters have covered this issue vibrantly. But the recommendations suggested by the author are too insufficient and narrow to solve this widespread problem. The richest chapter in this book is the comparative analysis of findings with similar research in related field where the author has done a short but splendid comparative analysis on this issue and this will help a reader to understand the pros and cons of the issue. Importantly, Afroza has argued that women of BCS (Administration) Cadre are being empowered regularly and due to such development the empowerment of women in the entire civil service is encouraging to facilitate policy measures designed for women’s empowerment.
Panday’s inference from his intensive qualitative analysis shows that political parties in Bangladesh are not proactive as regards women’s political participation. Rather, they show reluctance at women’s political participation. Sometimes political parties highlight the issue of women’s political participation in the party agenda only to attract the attention of the international community and women’s voters. Apart from the political parties, non-government organizations (NGOs) are other important players at the rural level in Bangladesh. Significantly, not only Bangladesh has seen the rise of a huge number of NGOs providing microcredit to the women but also all the nations of South Asia have observed this instance. It implies that NGOs sometimes informally play a role in making women politically active at the rural level. So, Panday’s conclusion in pointing out that NGOs as important players is quite a common case for women’s empowerment scenario in South Asia. Furthermore, Panday argues that at the lowest level of local government structure is the guiding force for women’s empowerment in a country through women’s participation in politics. Panday identifies that educational background, access to wealth, family dynamics and absence of institutional mechanisms are the key reasons for low women’s participation in politics. Similarly, Kabir, while studying the South Asian civil services, has found that poor socio-economic and educational background, non-cooperation of husbands and family members, reproductive role of women, apprehension of getting posted in remote areas and superiority complex at organization level are all affecting administrative development of the women in this sub-continent. Both Panday and Kabir mention that the institutional and organizational systems are responsible for insufficient women’s participation.
Kabir, having discussed the social and cultural architecture of the society of this region, argues that in India it is not gender but caste that they are discriminated against in every from recruitment to promotion, deputation, posting and transfer. So, it is noticed that the problem of caste is more severe in the Indian civil service than the gender problem. As concluding remarks, she has pointed out that due to quota reservation the participation of women in the civil service and legislature is higher in Pakistan and Bangladesh as compared to India. This is partially acceptable as they are being motivated due to quota reservation. But quota system will not be able to change the whole picture unless people change their mindset. So, according to Kabir, the prime emphasis should be given to attitudinal change instead of quota reservation. If the prevailing patriarchic belief is removed then the scenario will also change automatically.
Afroza argues that the taboo “women shouldn’t be in the BCS (Administration) Cadre" has been totally changed. But, the discrimination in terms of attitude (mainly socio-religious), on the job facilities and the legal provisions are yet to be women-friendly. Most interestingly, women’s acceptability and contribution is now a reality. They are seen in all the tiers of the government. In the conclusion, the author has mentioned that the attitude of male officers towards women is changing in a positive direction. This change is very positive and will create a congenial environment for the women civil servant to be more competent and more productive. The author also has stated that only highly educated segment of the women and the women whose parents are university graduates have been found dominating in the civil service. Moreover, Afroza argues that women joining civil service in recent times think that the quota reserved for them should be removed as they want to compete with their males counterparts to be empowered. It indicates that in Bangladesh the scenario is changing and women are willing to be empowered through their self-belief and ability. Afroza’s inference, to some extent, contradicts those of Kabir’s as former sees growth in women empowerment through participation whereas the later argues that women are still to be empowered in the civil service.
All the four studies have argued that the barriers to women’s participation and empowerment are quite similar in South Asian countries and some specific reform efforts are needed to change the organizational and institutional systems. Significantly, in South Asia, the attitude of the male must be changed to gear up the efforts of bringing women in the forefront.
Over the years South Asian women have been dominated by the men. Masculine society and multifarious religious blend have presented several dimensions of women’s underdevelopment. All four works have addressed these dimensions differently. But these have contributed to a great extent in understanding the nomenclature of women’s empowerment in South Asia.