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10 September, 2018 00:00 00 AM / LAST MODIFIED: 10 September, 2018 12:04:20 AM

Scale of women empowerment in Bangladesh

Women are in prominent positions in many of the administrative cadres as well as businesses, teachings and politics
Prof. Sarwar Md. Saifullah Khaled
Scale of women empowerment in Bangladesh

Bangladesh took stock of its progress to-date and worked to ensure the next set of goals reflecting the core requirements of sustainability and equity with the deadline that approached to end the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) in 2015. Inclusive and equitable growth cannot take place without recognising the role of women – more or less half of the country’s population. Therefore, it is crucial that the post-MDGs, beyond 2015 are the Sustainable Development Goals or SDGs. Those include the core components of women’s empowerment and gender equality.

Bangladesh is an interesting country-case where major milestones have been achieved in women’s empowerment and gender equality. This is particularly in achieving parity in primary education. Looking at the country specifics, there arise critical questions as to why Bangladesh has done well on gender-specific targets? The country with an oversized population has achieved remarkable success in advancing women. Therefore, it is now regarded as a model for women empowerment in the contemporary world. The fact that the future of the nation depends largely on the empowerment of women was recognised long before. Women’s overall development by ensuring their equal and active participation in the mainstream socio-economic and political activities is one of the prime aims of the country. For the development of women folk the government has initiated necessary policy directives, many programs and projects.

As per the Centre for Research and Information (CRI), Bangladesh has improved gender parity. Among the South-Asian nations for the second consecutive year the World Economic Forum recently has ranked Bangladesh the first in gender equality. The country has had a steady climb in the ‘Gender Gap Index of 2017, rising to No. 47 in the world. From 2009 to 2018 the country has gained commendable success in girl’s education. During this period the coverage of stipend program for girls has been extended manifold. This strategy resulted in almost 100 percent enrollment rate and gender parity. Up to degree level girls’ education in public schools is also free. In primary and secondary education level gender parity is being achieved.

As per the official records, the girls’ enrollment rate at the primary schools is 99.4 percent. About 2.7 million girls are receiving stipend at the secondary and higher secondary level. In primary and secondary schools 51 and 53 percent of students respectively are female. The country is on the verge of achieving gender parity in tertiary education also. Females are being encouraged to take teaching as profession. Currently 60 percent of primary school teachers are women. The most important sector now is Bangladesh’s garment sector where women are engaged to earn their own bread, besides all other key fields of income earning activities. The CRI report said that the country’s export boom garment sector with 85 percent of the workers being women now accounts for 80 percent of Bangladesh’s total foreign earnings.  

The CRI report also said that the NARI program facilitates the entry of skilled women into the garment sector. Here girls learn how to adjust to life outside their homes and villages. There they also learn to open and manage bank accounts, and learn about their rights and responsibilities as workers. They also negotiate contracts and rent, understand what sexual harassment is, and learn how and where to report it. They build networks that allow ideas to form on the basis of newly discovered confidence and self-esteem. Some graduate and join the earmarked jobs. Often in positions several steps ahead of what they would have been offered without the training.

The government took some effective steps to strengthen the health service delivery for women. Bangladesh has also markedly improved the maternal health care system. Significant progress has been made in reducing maternal mortality ratio from 319 (per 100,000 live births) in 2005 to 176 in 2015. The government has introduced the Maternal Health Voucher Scheme. Currently 15 million women are receiving support under it.

The government by extending the social safety net has also brought about a change at the grassroots level, bringing the disadvantaged women under the health coverage. Due to some effective legislative measures enforced by the government, women have now been getting six months of paid maternity leave. Marginal and vulnerable women now get primary healthcare services at the 16,000 Community clinics. Moreover, another 13000 maternity centers are now providing maternal services in the country. The World Health Organization (WHO) listed Bangladesh as one of the ten “fast-track” countries having made significant progress in maternal and child health.

Women’s economic participation is essential has been encouraging female participation in the workforce. This is being done by bringing millions of women into the labour force. This is increasing women’s participation in workforce leading to increased productivity and economic growth of the country. Women’s participation in agricultural production is promoted through access to agricultural technologies. These are loans given for agro-processing, homestead gardening, nurseries, bee-keeping and other activities. About 43 percent of rural women now contribute to fisheries-related activities. And women now make up more than 60 percent of the fish farmers in Bangladesh.

Women are on lead in many of the administrative cadres, businesses, teachings and politics, among other areas. In 2011, the government raised the number of women reserve seats in the parliament to 50 from 45. The current Bangladesh parliament has 70 women members, representing 20 percent of the total 350 seats. Bangladesh is the only country in South Asia which has a woman prime minister and leader of the House, woman leader of the opposition, woman speaker and deputy leader of the House. Bangladesh won Women in Parliament (WIP) Award for regional leadership in the South and Southeast Asia category for closing gap in politics. What needs more to be done now in these fronts is to improve the quality of women’s leadership in every sphere of national socio-economic and political life of the country.  

The writer is a retired Professor

of Economics, BCS

General Education Cadre




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Editor : M. Shamsur Rahman
Published by the Editor on behalf of Independent Publications Limited at Media Printers, 446/H, Tejgaon I/A, Dhaka-1215.
Editorial, News & Commercial Offices : Beximco Media Complex, 149-150 Tejgaon I/A, Dhaka-1208, Bangladesh. GPO Box No. 934, Dhaka-1000.

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