Financial Articles Collection from Various News Paper
Women empowerment and sustainable development
Muhammad Zamir | April 30, 2018 00:00:00
One factor is generally agreed upon in international law which is women enjoy rights and inherent human dignity equally with men. This is reflected in the Cairo Declaration of Human Rights in Islam (CDHRI), the United Nations Bill of Rights and other international human rights instruments including the Commission on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW). These measures affirm that women’s rights and their empowerment and full participation in decision-making process and access to power and resources are fundamental not only for fulfillment of their moral, ethical, spiritual and intellectual needs but also for the achievement of equity, equality and development within each society.
It may be recalled here that the advent of Islam heralded an unprecedented era of women emancipation and empowerment whereby status of women was exalted to being claimants of codified rights not only to own and inherit property, take part in economic activities but also to be able to seek and transmit knowledge.
One needs to realise the inherent importance of women in the context of a country’s development paradigm as they usually constitute about 50 per cent of the population. Equality in terms of opportunity consequently assumes an important role in the context of socio-economic growth. It is this aspect that creates for every government the need to generate sustainability with regard to their participation within the matrix of development.
It is clear that policy-makers in different societies, particularly in developing countries, need to attach necessary cognizance to women empowerment through appropriate policy actions that will ensure equitable distribution of resources for creating a just and inclusive society – be it in matters regarding health-care, nutrition, access to civic amenities, education or in the creation and support of micro-entrepreneurship. This should be reflected through gender sensitive development activities.
We need to remember that Article 16 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights has reiterated that there is need to respect, protect and promote the family as a unit through harmonious partnership. This has also been reflected recently in the international acceptance of the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action, the Beijing plus 20, the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and the Agreed Conclusions of the 60th Session of Commission on Status of Women through a gender-sensitive approach.
Within the developing world, gender equality, more often than not, are affected due to shortcomings in the way governance is carried out in this sector. One could identify the following drivers as causes of women disempowerment: (a) regressive and discriminatory socio-cultural mindset, norms and laws that restrict women and girls’ access to opportunities, resources and power; (b) gender-insensitive chronic under-investment in social sectors of health and education; (c) asymmetry in awareness and access to information; (d) exclusion and non-participatory planning, decision making and resource allocation and lastly, (e) violence against women. All these factors unfortunately juxtapose together and eventually thwart efforts aimed at poverty reduction. We also need to remember in this context that violence and discrimination against women are obstacles to the achievement of the objectives associated with equality, development and peace.
In this regard, there is also need for all developing countries to recognise the potential contribution mechanism of those associated with civil society, media, human rights institutions and other non-governmental and community-based organisations in the realisation of objectives related to empowerment of women and girls and their full integration within the development process. This factor will be particularly applicable in any country with a large rural population. It may be pointed out that Bangladesh has accorded special emphasis on uplifting women and girl children in the rural areas. Emphasis is being given with regard to their education facilities (particularly through the distribution of free text books required in schools) including functional literacy, health-care, family planning and stopping child marriages. This is having a cumulative effect in removing vulnerability and marginalisation.
We have to understand that these steps can succeed only if there is political commitment.
The other measure that is being advocated in different developing countries in parts of Asia and Africa is the question of reserved quotas for women in representation to political processes, in government institutions, economic enterprises and social organisations. Such a course of action has been prevalent in Bangladesh for many decades. However, in the recent past we have witnessed violence, demonstrations and opposition to the continuation of the existing quota framework in this country. In response, the Prime Minister has made an announcement regarding abolition of this system. A proviso has, however, been kept whereby some indirect quota benefits will be made available for disabled people and women. One needs to wait and see how the new regulatory process will be implemented.
Meanwhile, the OIC-Independent Permanent Human Rights Commission (OIC-IPHRC) has made a suggestion that needs to be followed by Muslim countries. It has affirmed that the OIC Member States “should endeavour to allocate at least 5.0 per cent of their respective gross domestic product (GDP) to promote education with positive discrimination for skill-oriented vocational training for women and girls” with emphasis on science and technology to enable them to actively participate in economic, social and cultural development on an equal footing.
It has also been suggested by the United Nations and other related human rights institutions that all governments should attempt to close data gaps by investing in national statistical capacity. It has also been pointed out that all countries need to systematically collect, analyse and use gender-sensitive indicators and sex-disaggregated data in policy, programme design and monitoring frameworks that will help governments in preparing and implementing informed policies and plans for the sustainable development of their societies.
Interestingly, gradually, a dynamics is also emerging in most developing countries, particularly in Africa, that there is need to implement effective laws that will criminalise violence against women and girls and will also make available comprehensive, multidisciplinary gender sensitive, protective and prosecutorial services to prevent all forms of violence against women and girls (steps in this regard have already been taken in Bangladesh). One presumes that such an inter-active facility will be especially useful in countries where multiple marriages by one man continue to exist as a common factor.
Economists and sociologists agree that there is need to engage with women empowerment through another significant measure. Ways have to be found to explore ways and means to fund self-sustaining community-based pilot studies and projects to support women entreprenuers through private-public partnership.
It is clear that success in this dynamics will require capacity-building and training of policy-makers for formulation of gender-sensitive policies and programmes. This will then ensure greater involvement of women in the socio-economic-cultural and political areas of governance and promote sustainable progress at all levels.
This area has been a subject of discussion in Afghanistan, Kuwait, UAE, Egypt, Tunisia, Sudan, Morocco, Algeria, Ethiopia, Nigeria, Iran, Turkey and Syria. These discussions have led to a significant least common denominator and a common opinion has emerged. It has been generally agreed that women empowerment can be taken forward faster if any society can engage religious leaders and scholars in public advocacy and consensus building to challenge social taboos and mobilise support for women-related issues.
It is worth mentioning here a report published a few days ago by McKinsey Global Institute. The report has estimated that proper economic inter-active engagement by women and improvement of gender equality in the Asia-Pacific region could boost their collective GDP by $4.5 trillion by 2025. McKinsey has also pointed out that Asia-Pacific is “arguably the most dynamic region in the world” but women in many countries there face vastly unequal treatment at work and in society compared with men.
In this regard they have pointed out that some of the biggest gender gaps are in South Asia, where concerns have been raised previously about the economic damage from the lack of sufficient women in the workforce. Even well developed economies such as Japan and South Korea have been judged as having “extremely high” levels of gender inequality in job opportunities. China, the region’s biggest economy, has apparently made strides by getting more women into its workforce but still suffers from not having enough in leadership positions. The report, on the other hand, praises Philippines, New Zealand and Singapore for achieving greater gender equality at work. The study has also noted that the biggest boost to economic growth would come from countries which increase the number of women in the workforce. The rest would come from boosting the number of hours women currently work and giving them more productive roles. The report urges policymakers in the region to take steps to change attitudes on the role of women in society and improving access to childcare.
Bangladesh needs to learn a lesson from these observations. All of us need to remember that from an economic perspective, trying to grow without enabling the full potential of women is like fighting with one hand tied behind one’s back.
This was understood by Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina and she took measures to overcome challenges existing in this area. Her efforts towards women’s empowerment have led to her being honoured by the US-based NGO Global Summit of Women with the Global Women’s Leadership Award in April, 2018 for her distinguished contribution.
Muhammad Zamir, a former Ambassador, is an analyst specialised in foreign affairs, right
to information and good governance.
Financial Articles Collection from Various News Paper
Financial Articles Collection from Various News Paper
Next budget: Tight revenue situation
Shamsul Huq Zahid | April 30, 2018 00:00:00
The process of making the national budget for the next financial year is already on. People at the Ministry of Finance (MoF) would soon burn midnight oil to locate sources of revenue essential for bankrolling the budget, particularly for an election year.
But, as far as revenues are concerned, the situation appears to be tight for the government. When Finance Minister AMA Muhith had set a tax revenue target at Tk 2.4 trillion for the current fiscal, most people described the target ambitious. And they have proved right. The head of the National Revenue Board the other day said that there could be a tax revenue shortfall of around Tk 300 billion during the current fiscal.
However, the shortfall has not troubled the government since both recurring and development expenditures have been well below their projected levels.
But the government can afford lowering its spending on neither of these areas as there would be more than usual demand on resources in an election year.
Moreover, for the sake of maintaining the pace of economic growth required for attaining the middle-income country status by 2024, the government has to be particularly focused on development priorities. It would be, thus, interesting to watch how the Finance Minister fulfils all the demands without stoking up inflation.
What is, however, important for the government is the mobilisation of enough revenue. There has to be matching revenue growth to bankroll an ever-increasing size of the budget. But that is the area where authorities concerned do face enough troubles.
The government does need to beef up its revenue earning now more than any time before side by side taking policy measures to bring back investment confidence among the private sector entrepreneurs. Equally important will be the restoration of discipline in the banking sector and greater improvement of physical infrastructure.
If investment from both domestic and foreign sources flows in regularly, naturally, there would be scopes for mobilising increased volume of revenue.
The government does need to have more domestic revenue, at least, for a couple of reasons –lacklustre growth of export and remittance earnings and possible cut in the inflow of soft loans from the major development partners. The global economic outlook remains sluggish, meaning, poor chances of export revenue and remittance growth in the near terms. In the event of the country attaining the much sought-after middle-income country status, the development partners are unlikely to offer soft loans to bankroll its development projects.
The main reason for slow growth of government revenue has been the greater dependence on a limited number of sectors, namely, telecom, cigarette, real estate and gas. There is no indication that there would be any change in the revenue collection scenario in the near future unless something drastic is initiated.
But for the greater interest of the country’s economy, the government’s revenue basket needs to be expanded. As far as existing rates of different types of taxes are concerned, there is little scope to push the same further up barring certain tobacco products such as bidi, gul and zarda. The government could also achieve the twin objective of earning additional revenue and reducing cigarette consumption through the enhancement of minimum price of cigarettes and bidis and application of the same principles while levying tax on both the products.
It has, however, become imperative for the government to reduce tax rates in some areas. The corporate tax is one such area. Businesses have been making demand for long to this effect. The reduction in corporate tax rates is essential to boost investment, both local and foreign. The extent of tax benefit given to listed companies needs to be increased and made equal for all. Listed companies belonging to any particular sector/s should not be discriminated against as far as tax rates are concerned.
The corporate tax reduction, if put into effect, will certainly affect the size of the government revenue, to some extent. But the loss could well be compensated for by expanding tax revenue basket and ensuring greater tax compliance.
Policymakers and others concerned, from time to time, have also underscored the need for enlarging the sources of tax and ensuring greater tax compliance. But nothing substantive has been achieved in both the cases.
Tax revenues from major sectors such as tobacco, telecom, gas and real estate have almost reached the point of saturation. If squeezed further, not much would come out of those. It is time to concentrate on some other emerging sectors such as cement, consumer goods and service organisations of varying sizes. Moreover, the culture of extending tax exemption beyond any logical and justified ground needs to be done away with for the sake of revenue mobilisation.
Moreover, corruption, inefficiency and lack of seriousness are among the major reasons behind the low rate of tax compliance in the country. The annual tax revenue collection could go up several times more than what is earned now if potential areas of taxation are tapped and full payments of taxes by existing sources ensured. However, meeting that objective would require a painful reform of the tax administration. Relevant people in the past talked about necessary reforms. But they did little to carry those forward.