Abstract: The countries of South Asia have made impressive leaps towards the empowerment of women. Looking at government statistics on the number of women who serve in political positions, one might believe that the Bangladesh and Pakistan have similar levels of female political empowerment as the countries have similar numbers of women in political positions. However, as this paper will demonstrate, the assumption that the number of women serving in political positions equates to female political empowerment is misleading. Upon closer examination, Bangladesh has in fact afforded women greater political empowerment compared to Pakistan. So, what would be a better indicator of political empowerment than number of political positions held by women? We argue that economic opportunity may be a more accurate proxy for gauging political empowerment in Bangladesh and Pakistan. Whereas Bangladesh opened its doors to international companies, especially garment factories that employed an increasing number of women, Pakistan took the opposite approach and shut itself out of these economic opportunities, thereby reducing job opportunities for women. Additionally, the stricter religious norms in Pakistan have further prevented women from achieving empowerment. This paper will analyze the effects that economic opportunity has had on the overall political empowerment of women in each of these countries.
The Subir & Malini Chowdhury Center
Institute for South Asia Studies
10 Stephens Hall, Berkeley, CA 94720-2310