Women leaders including the Speaker Jatiya Sangsad; Shirin Sharmin Chaudhury, Chief Finance Officer and Director of PRAN-RFL Group, Uzma Chowdhury; Oracle Bangladesh Managing Director Rubaba Dowla and World Bank Bangladesh Country Director Mercy Miyang Tembon too support the BGMEA President Dr. Rubana Huq and recommend upgrading technical knowhow of the women leaders and workers, keeping up with the changing times.
Women are at the forefront of Bangladesh’s apparel manufacturing sector. They constitute around 80 per cent of the total workforce in the RMG industry. Lately, the country – which is ruled by a woman premier as well and with great success and unparalleled leadership for the last many years – is also witnessing a significant rise of women in decision making positions, be it in the Government, corporates or business bodies and trade associations. BGMEA President Dr. Rubana Huq is a case in point. Like the BGMEA President, one would come across many such women leaders in almost every walk of life today.
However, the new era of the fourth industrial revolution which is categorised by not just a technological innovation but also a fusion of technologies has posed new challenges for all. In the given context, a clear understanding of automation, use of modern technologies and presence of skilled human resources are essential to adapting to the fourth industrial revolution (4IR).
A McKinsey report titled ‘Jobs Lost, Jobs Gained: Workforce Transitions in a Time of Automation’ predicts that as many as 800 million workers could be displaced in 42 countries by 2030, which is almost a third of the global workforce, while as per another study, women workers are more vulnerable than their male counterparts to losing their jobs due to automation in five key sectors in Bangladesh including the readymade garment industry. It said women in low-wage occupations with less education are likely to be impacted more due to high risk of automation in readymade garment and textile, furniture, agro-processing, leather and footwear and tourism and hospitality sectors at the beginning of 4IR.
“In the five key sectors, two in five jobs are at risk,” underlined the study titled Future Skills Finding Emerging Skills to Tackle the Challenges of Automation in Bangladesh, which was carried out with an aim to assess the present situation on occupational role and skills in the key sectors at the advent of 4IR.
“This is a need to clearly understand the challenges faced by any industry in order to design a solution that will help it become successful in this world dominated by the internet of things (IoT), and automation,” says Mehdi Anwar, a professor of electrical and computer engineering at the University of Connecticut.
Industrial revolutions have happened earlier also; if they have destroyed jobs in one sector, created thousands in others. However, this time, it is widely argued that fourth industrial revolution is all about adapting to new technologies and its impact is going to be rather significant on the apparel sector, which is the primary driver of Bangladesh’s economy, feels many experts. According to Dr. Rubana Huq, around a quarter of garment manufacturing activities in Bangladesh will be automated by 2023, up from 8 per cent now. So, workers, especially females, need to be skilled and reskilled so that they can continue to contribute to this important business, underlined the BGMEA President while calling upon the different agencies to disseminate education for skilling the enormous number of female workers as they have been tremendously contributing to the industry.
Not only the women workers, business leaders also felt it was equally pertinent to upskill the workers and the entrepreneurs alike in order to equip them with the knowledge of advanced technology and digital transformation.
“The Government has many plans and programmes for rescaling and upscaling of skills and now we need a pilot project to scale up the skills of women workers and entrepreneurs,” stated Dr. Rubana Huq, adding at least 10 female workers from each readymade garment factory should be included in the programme as they are facing challenges amidst massive expansion of artificial intelligence and robotics in the production process.
The women business leaders recommended the Government should initiate a pilot project in this direction.
The scenario of women entrepreneurship in Bangladesh has been progressing in the right direction, claimed Uzma Chowdhury, Chief Finance Officer and Director of PRAN-RFL Group, while adding some women entrepreneurs, nevertheless, have been facing difficulties in accessing finance due to the fallouts of the coronavirus pandemic.
Echoing the same sentiments, the Speaker Jatiya Sangsad, Shirin Sharmin Chaudhury said it was very important that female entrepreneurs get collateral free loans as they face different difficulties in getting a business up and running.
Oracle Bangladesh Managing Director Rubaba Dowla also stressed women’s adaptation to digital devices to tap into the opportunities of working from home amidst the outbreak. “E-commerce has flourished amidst the outbreak of COVID-19 and more women are now working in the field from home,” underlined Rubaba Dowla, while the World Bank Bangladesh Country Director Mercy Miyang Tembon recommended that education in technology should commence from childhood.
Echoing the same, Shirin Sharmin Chaudhury said that women workers and entrepreneurs should be trained properly to avail technology and using them efficiently in their workplaces and businesses. “Without training and education, only the availability of digital technology and devices will not yield any results,” maintained the Speaker of the Jatiya Sangsad while adding that the Information and Communication Division may consider launching a pilot initiative to train women on how to avail and use digital devices at low cost or free of cost.
Innovative ideas are also required to address the critical challenges women entrepreneurs are facing amidst the digital transformation, Shirin added.
Meanwhile, in an encouraging development towards empowering women through education, EPIC Group and BRAC have decided to join hands. In its continual efforts, the renowned Hong Kong-based EPIC Group has entered into a strategic collaboration with Building Resources across Communities (BRAC; previously known as Bangladesh Rural Advancement Committee) to pave the future for women empowerment in Bangladesh through a co-created technical and professional initiative.
The collaboration was launched on 18 October 2020.
The Epic Group, which has always been known for its commitment to the social wellbeing of its employees, believes this partnership with BRAC will help rigorously train, mentor and evaluate over 500 employees, and thereby enable them progress through several leadership roles at EPIC.
“Ever since the inception of Bangladesh, BRAC continues to empower women and train them to adapt to new technologies so as to make them job-ready for future. Women empowerment in today’s times has, unfortunately, got neglected in every industry across the globe. Keeping this in view, the collaboration between EPIC and BRAC holds lot of relevance and is worth every applause,” underlined Jenefa Jabbar, Director, Human Rights & Legal Aid Services and Social Compliance, BRAC.
So, even as automation and technological advancements could be challenging to some extent, it would also offer new opportunities for economic advancement for women. However, to tap those, stakeholders including the Government and private players need to join hands to technologically upskill women through concerted and creative solutions to equip them for the change that lies ahead.