Maria Howlader FCA, is the chairperson of Women Leadership Committee of South Asian Federation of Accountants (SAFA) - a forum of accounting professionals in the South Asia region. She is the first Bangladeshi to be nominated to the position, appeared in an exclusive conversation over the gender related issues.
Ms. Maria Howlader is the founder of Howlader Maria & Co., (HmAC) Chartered Accountants (member firm of TGS Global). She became an associate member of ICAB in 2008 and fellow member in 2013.
She is also the vice President and the chairman of the Women Members Empowerment & Leadership Development Committee (WME & LDC) of ICAB.
Following are excerpts of the interview
Question (Q): You have been recently nominated as the chairperson of the SAFA Women Leadership Committee. Would you describe in brief, about the function of this committee?
You know that SAFA is an apex body of South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (Saarc). I am very proud that I have got the opportunity to work with SAFA for further development of its female members. The main functions of the committee are basically aim at working for the women's empowerment and ensuring the equal representation in accounting profession, government and the corporate sector. The forum works both at policy and implementation levels to support the present as well as the future women members and also other women stakeholders.
The committee acts as a bridge between CA profession and women in business and development. We also work to address the specific needs of women within the profession in country or regionally.
Q: The number of women chartered accountants in Bangladesh is very small. What initiatives ICAB would take to increase the number?
It is true that for last several years, the ICAB leadership has felt that we have not been able to sufficiently include women in our journey. The role women are playing in every walk of life in Bangladesh needs to be better reflected in our profession. A number of initiatives have been taken by ICAB to achieve that goal. CA Women's Forum is the latest such initiative. One of the core objectives of this Forum is to attract more women into our profession, and to address their specific needs within the profession.
Further I would like to reflect on the time when ICAB embarked on its journey in 1996 to create gender-friendly environment by forming the "Committee for Professional Development for Women (CPDW)' with CIDA funding for a project titled "Gender equality in CA Profession." The CPDW was formed under the leadership of Mr. A.N.A.H. Siddiqui, FCA, Past President of ICAB. He was very instrumental in promoting awareness through various campaigns at academic institutions and introduced English language course for female students.
Q: How can you evaluate the status of women in Bangladesh?
In my view the gender discrimination is very wide in Bangladesh. It can be found at all levels, including society, politics, economy, etc. I think the main reasons for this are patriarchy, patriarchal state structure and existing values. Recently, the World Bank released a report showing that Bangladesh's overall score in terms of gender inequality is 49.38 per cent, which is very low. The eight indicators show the situation of girls in Bangladesh. Just as there are issues like property rights, getting married, or having children, there are also aspects like getting a job in any organisation. When women take part in formal economic activities apart from giving birth to children and educating them, full potential of females are tapped. At this point of history development reaches its peak level certainly with the full efforts of their male counterparts. In this way women outshine men with three dimensional responsibilities.
Q: What is the most important challenge that women face today?
Today's women are facing multifarious challenges. That's why this year international women's day theme title is # ChoosetoChallenge#. The most important challenge that I feel is, in almost all places worldwide, women are still perceived as secondary citizens. Another challenge is access to education; a fundamental right of human beings. Despite the immense contribution women can make in our economy, the majority is not participating in schools and in the workforce yet. To bring them into frontline education is a big challenge also.
Q: Do you think women's equal participation in economic activities is the ultimate solution for women empowerment, why?
I believe so, it is also vice-versa, just because we know that empowering women helps them to achieve their full potential, which is one of the most powerful ways to fight poverty. Yet in many countries women are still facing tremendous barriers to success. They have limited access to the productive resources like land, finance, and information that they need to grow their businesses, and they are disproportionately affected by poverty, violence, and discrimination.
Investing in opportunities for women could have tremendous economic and social impact. If they have the same access as men to training, information, and resources, their production level will definitely increase. Moreover, women's economic empowerment not only promotes greater economic development but greater equity, opportunity, and social progress.
Q: What needs to change in next five years for ensuring women's equal participation in economy of the country.
Despite the enactment of policies and laws, a significant portion of women in our society continues to be deprived due to lack of implementation and enforcement of such laws. First of all, government should take a pragmatic initiative for proper implementation of the laws, in any case where needed to amend or enact laws to ensure equal opportunities for women. Then what is required to be done is that people should change their perception about women. We like to see our world 50-50. Equal opportunity and participation in all segments of society; dignity and rights, governance, participation in civil society, representation in the legislative assembly, in democracy, etc. are required. Any gender inequality and any types of violence, should be eliminated from the society.
But the ongoing women's movement, campaign for public awareness, some efforts and global impact for the betterment and advancement of women, certainly inspires our hope for an equal world in the future.
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