Gender equality and women’s empowerment are recognized as fundamental elements of effective international development programs. As the private sector plays an increasing role in development activities, however, why should private companies go out of their way to consider gender in the way they do business? Around the world, there is ample evidence that businesses that make the effort to integrate gender equality into their business operations have higher productivity and earn higher profits.
In Bangladesh, where the shrimp industry is the second largest export industry and provides a livelihood for 200,000 smallholder farmers, women have traditionally been excluded from employment at shrimp hatcheries. Cultural barriers that prevent women from leaving the home to commute to work and that frown on women working alongside men have prevented women from finding employment in this important industry. However, one hatchery has broken the mold, becoming the first hatchery in Bangladesh to employ women.
Ahbib Talib, one of MKA Hatchery's feed production technicians, says of her job at MKA, "I like the work very much. It is difficult to find work for women in Cox’s Bazar. I am very grateful for the opportunity." Hear more from Ahbib here.
MKA Hatchery is working with Hawaii-based Moana Technologies and Feed the Future Partnering for Innovation to introduce disease-free shrimp in Bangladesh. As part of this partnership, Moana identified a shrimp hatchery in Costa Rica that could provide needed technical assistance to MKA Hatchery. The Costa Rican hatchery sent two technicians to Bangladesh, one of them a woman, to teach MKA an improved method of shrimp feed production. In Costa Rica and other countries, unlike Bangladesh, women play an important role in the shrimp hatchery industry, particularly in managing the precise and critical process of producing shrimp feed. On the advice of these technicians, MKA’s management decided to actively recruit women to join their team and manage feed production. Now, of MKA’s 12 employees, four are women. Because the women employees can commute from the nearby city together, it is more acceptable for them to travel from home to work than if they were traveling alone. The feed managers are also breaking down cultural barriers by working alongside a male technician—who is their junior. MKA is benefiting from the women’s skills in managing feed production, and the women are accessing a new source of income and social empowerment.
Businesses benefit from incorporating women into every step of their operations, from supply chains to consumption. Women produce raw materials, distribute goods, and contribute employee talent, market research, and innovation. Although significant challenges continue to exist, such as cultural barriers and unequal access to education, if companies recognize the benefits of integrating more women into their businesses, they will find a way to overcome these challenges. By providing childcare, ensuring safe transportation to and from work, and offering women-specific training programs companies can engage more women as employees, distributors, and brand ambassadors.
This International Women’s Day, let’s recognize the contributions women have made to enterprise and innovation, and work together to ensure that more women are given the opportunity to contribute their skills to developing a profitable, creative, and socially-conscious private sector on every continent.