Challenging Patriarchy: The Changing Definition of Women’s Empowerment


  • Bentul Mawa Associate Professor of Personnel Management and Public Administration at Graduate Training Institute, Bangladesh Agricultural University, Bangladesh



empowerment, patriarchy, gender relations, Readymade Garment (RMG)


Traditionally, prevailing patriarchal norms and social values have confined Bangladeshi women to the private sphere and placed them in a position of disempowerment vis-à-vis men. Since the 1970s the emergence of the readymade garment (RMG) industry has provided women with opportunities for waged work into the public sphere and linked them into the global economy. By using Naila Kabeer’s conceptualisation of empowerment and Walby’s theory of patriarchy as theoretical lenses of analysis, this paper examines what happens when women are empowered in the economic sphere and whether that transfers over into the domestic sphere in terms of changes in patriarchal relations. Evidence from semi-structured interviews with 40 female garment workers, the paper analyses their lives outside the workplace. It argues that experience of paid work can offer female RMG workers a degree of empowerment within home and society, but the level of this varied for women. For “Independent” and “Progressive” women the state of gender relations was changing to an extent as a result of paid employment, whereas “Traditional” women’s entry into the workplace had not brought about any change in the private form of patriarchy. Overall, women’s participation in paid employment such as their role as a wage earner, their increased freedom of movement and autonomy, self-confidence, a greater degree of awareness regarding their life decisions presents a radical challenge to the myth of the male breadwinner model of the family in Bangladesh and the notion of patriarchy.

Social Science Review, Vol. 37(2), Dec 2020 Page 239-265





How to Cite

Mawa, B. . (2021). Challenging Patriarchy: The Changing Definition of Women’s Empowerment. Social Science Review, 37(2), 239–264.