A difficult road ahead: achieving gender equality at the workplace in Asia

A difficult road ahead: achieving gender equality at the workplace in Asia

The workplace is one of the major areas where gender inequality prevails. It was the main driving force when women started to speak up for their rights back in the early 90’s. Gender equality is critical for the development of a country, and equal pay and workplace atmosphere are key indicators in this process.

Workplace issues are deeply rooted in other problems and prejudices that women have to overcome. It starts with male chauvinism, culminating into patriarchy, and it seems this debate has no end. In Asian countries such as Pakistan, India and Bangladesh, women make up almost 50% of its population. When you look at the social structures of Asian countries, you see they are at a clear disadvantage. Every other girl is born with her parents wanting a boy. An Asian woman has to deal with a range of issues, such as illiteracy, domestic violence, gender discrimination, child marriage, and sexism. And while they do the maximum amount of work, both at home and professionally, they are not given equal opportunities to thrive.

Money runs the world, and everyone needs money to live a smooth and satisfying life.  A healthy bank balance can make a person more confident and secure. However, women are deprived of enjoying this independence because of their lack of funds. Additionally, they face several issues at their workplaces, which include sexual harassment, gender-based pay, and delayed promotions. On the Gender Inequality Index 2020, Pakistan places at the 154th place, India at 131st, whereas Bangladesh stands at the 133rd position out of 189 countries.

Women in Bangladesh are not given top positions due to difficult issues, such as lack of education,stereotyping, and gender-specific roles that exclude women.

- Zefroon Afsary, a journalist

In Bangladesh, women are living a difficult life. Those who live in rural areas work in fields and the women of urban areas work in companies, and schools in the government and private sector. About 30% of women are part of the Bangladeshi labour force. A huge number of them work in the garments industry, where they are working around the clock and facing a range of issues.  Their bosses are profiting hugely from their labour. Zefroon Afsary, who works as a journalist,  has been a keen observer of Bangladeshi culture. She has stated that social attitudes and perceptions about women and girls haven’t changed enough. Talking about professional life, she mentioned hardly 3% of women reach up to the position of manager. During her job as a journalist, she also experienced these inequalities herself. Additionally, she has mentioned that women are consistently paid less than men. Furthermore, women are not given top positions due to different issues, such as lack of education, stereotyping, and gender-specific roles that exclude women.  All these points are putting a stain on gender equality in Bangladesh.

In Indian culture, women are treated as commodities and not provided with equal opportunities, which opens up the possibility for exploitation. Patriarchy has strong roots in Indian society and people are stuck in the constant loop of disturbance, destruction, and discrimination towards women. According to a report on Human Rights, one in four girls is raped in India or has experienced harassment in her lifetime. These experiences with harassment transcend generations and take place during their childhood, but also at the workplace. Women in the beauty industry and media have opened up about the gender discrimination they face. Famous Indian actress and dancer Rakhi Sawant talked about her struggles with gender inequality when she was a newcomer. In an interview, she mentioned how she was harassed often by a male director. Adding to this, she has mentioned that respect and dignity for women is at stake. Other Bollywood and Hollywood actresses have also claimed to be paid less than their male counterparts. A country like India, which is one of the biggest democracies in the world, is currently unable to bring about gender equality, and gender disparity is even increasing. Women should be able to earn a fair wage in a safe environment, and currently this is not yet the case.

Governments should strengthen the institutions and departments that are directly concerned with gender issues, and design a framework that handles exploitation and inequality at micro and macro levels. 

In Pakistan, the status of women is not much better. According to The Economic Survey of Pakistan , the literacy rate of men is around 72% whereas that of women is 49%. This includes those individuals who only know how to write their name. Women make up about 49% of the population in Pakistan, of which 22% make up the labour force. Due to the smaller number of working women in Pakistan, we can assume that they are mostly dependent. The news is full with stories of domestic violence, sexual harassment, honour killing, rape, child marriage, etc. Sadly, there is no practical and/or cultural evidence that women are getting the justice and equity they deserve. As long as this is the case, Pakistan cannot flourish and advance itself as a country. As Mohammad Ali Jinnah, founder of the Islamic republic of Pakistan, has stated:

“No nation can rise to the height of glory unless your women are side by side with you. We are victims of evil customs. It is a crime against humanity that our women are shut up within the four walls of the houses as prisoners. There is no sanction anywhere for the deplorable condition in which our women have to live.”


Gender equality is one of the 17 UN Sustainable Development Goals, and its main goal is to achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls. Women are facing inequality and career segregation, which can be tackled by gender-responsive policies. Countries who have secured a commendable position in Gender Inequality Index, have extensively worked on women’s rights and gender equality. It’s time to have conversations about why a lot of Asian countries are behind on this index, as compared to other countries like Norway, Iceland, and Ireland. Important topics to discuss are, for example, disturbing social structures and attitudes.  Among these conversations, the alarmingly low literacy rates should also be discussed. It is one of the biggest sources of unawareness on basic rights and duties. When women are given equal opportunities to learn, read, and write, they can work towards a new level of self-confidence that will allow them to protect themselves.

To solve the workplace-specific issues related to gender inequality, leaders of organisations have to take the first steps with constructive policies. To overcome workplace issues, a safe and enabling environment should always be made feasible. Peer-to-peer learning and role-play activities can help highlight gender issues and bring forth sustainable solutions. Additionally, there is an important role for governments in advancing gender equality too. They should strengthen the institutions and departments that are directly concerned with gender issues, and design a framework that handles exploitation and inequality at micro and macro levels. This is how we can create a safe space for women in our societies, that empowers them on an economic, social, and cultural level. Gender equality can only be achieved when stakeholders and civil society work together. When that happens, positive change for the whole of society can happen.



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