Women’s Empowerment and Gender Equality in Bangladesh


Hiren Pandit: The history of women’s freedom in Bangladesh is long; from women’s direct participation in the war of independence to women’s empowerment, Bangladesh’s progress is commendable. Bangladesh’s women’s movement stands on a solid foundation due to a robust administrative and legal framework and a conscious civil society, which has played an influential role in establishing women’s rights and creating a women-friendly environment. Bangladesh has signed the Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) since its inception. Father of the Nation Bangabandhu has taken various steps to establish the rights of women who are victims of torture, oppressed, exploited, and deprived of family, social, political, and economic rights. Bangabandhu realized that half of the country’s total population is women. The overall development of the government would not have been possible without them. Right after independence in 1972, the constitution confirmed women’s equal rights. Reserve seats for women to speak for women in the highest national legislative body, the Grand National Assembly.
The Women’s Rehabilitation Board was established in 1972 to rehabilitate women victims of the Great War of Liberation. They rehabilitated war children. Victims of torture have held the seat of dignity with the title of Heroic Freedom Fighters. Following the path of the father of the nation, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, the daughter of the father of the country, has taken various steps to develop women, employment, empowerment, and equal rights. Eliminating discrimination against women in all forms of education, significantly increasing participation of women in higher education, including primary and secondary education, and accelerating women’s empowerment was one of the main goals. Gender equality and women’s empowerment have been considered one of the main issues since independence.
The reason was that gender equality and women’s empowerment would play an essential role in poverty alleviation. Bangladesh has reduced the gender gap in primary education and has made significant progress. Many female students have also been admitted at the secondary and higher secondary levels. Information technology literacy is playing an essential role in creating gender equality. Bangladesh has achieved great success in empowering women and building gender equality, but violence against women is still far behind. For example, more than 67 percent of women have been victims of domestic violence at some point in their family life. Bangladesh has succeeded in some areas regarding women’s development and elimination of gender inequality. Still, it is not yet time to say that the overall progress is entirely promising.
It is time to think about ensuring women’s economic, social, cultural, and environmental justice and human rights in development frameworks and plans. The global discussion about the new development model for women mainly focuses on four issues. They were first establishing women’s ownership of land and natural resources. Establishing women’s ownership or control over land ensures food sovereignty for families and communities, eliminating malnutrition and sustainable agricultural systems.
In many countries, women’s rights to land are limited by law, family law, and matrimonial law. We have to remember that land is not only a source of income but also associated with social and cultural rights. In addition to establishing women’s rights and control over land, they must develop and ensure their ownership over water, natural resources, biodiversity, etc. Decent working environment and wages. To think about the new development model, we must first discuss workers’ fair wages, especially women’s. Poverty alleviation is never possible without quality working conditions and fair wages. It is a sad fact that most of our workers are women workers who are working in various service industries, including garments, agriculture, and domestic, and they are working under very deplorable conditions—peace and justice or fairness.

Peace, security, and stability are crucial for a just and sustainable development, especially regarding women’s protection and rights. If the rule of law is not established, the vacuum of good governance hurts ensuring women’s rights. Women also need to provide leadership and participation in decision-making at all levels, starting at home and continuing up to the highest levels of government. Gender equality is a fundamental right. Creating gender equality is a practical and effective step towards developing a country. In addition to making the country a middle-income country, sustainable development is essential in building an inclusive society. Women are advancing in the world; Women of Bangladesh are not left out. In particular, information technology has advanced the country’s women’s society by several steps and increased opportunities for empowerment.

Half of the population of Bangladesh are women. Like the rest of the world, the government of Bangladesh has given particular importance to involving women in the IT sector in the hope of building a digital Bangladesh. According to the Global Gender Gap Index 2020 published by the World Economic Forum, Bangladesh ranks 50th among 153 countries and tops in South Asia. Utilizing the current world’s progress in the digital sector to eliminate gender inequality so that technology to establish women’s equal rights and combat sexual violence is a democratic, humanitarian approach that is supportive and creative. Currently, women’s participation is visible in almost all sectors of society. Girls’ attendance at the primary education level is now 100%. A majority of the achievements in the apparel industry are women. But the question arises. In Bangladesh, where women constitute 50 percent of the population, progress is visible among very few women.

Overall, the country’s development would not have been possible without the empowerment and development of women. To achieve the Sustainable Development Goals by 2030, progress must be made in achieving goals 5 and 10. The leading spirit of the liberation war was to build a society without discrimination. It is also reflected in Bangladesh’s constitution. But in 52 years, have we been able to create a non-discrimination society? Even if the terms of the CEDAW Charter are implemented, there is no alternative to eliminate gender discrimination. It reduces discrimination against women and creates equal opportunities through gender-responsive budgeting. Through the proper implementation of gender budgeting, significant progress has been achieved in women’s political, economic, and social empowerment, gender equality in primary and secondary education, reduction of infant and maternal mortality, health, and immunization. Women’s development and empowerment are visible through the socio-economic progress of women. For this, it is necessary to ensure the government’s sponsorship and financial allocation in women’s employment creation, development as entrepreneurs and social security.

In today’s technological world, the development and use of technology have brought the people of the world closer together. As a result, economic progress has also been achieved, along with increased communication. However, since all classes of people do not have equal access to technology, the benefits of this progress have not reached all people equally. The question of how much the existing technology is women-friendly is coming to the fore. Women lag considerably in accessing and enjoying its benefits. About 55% of women are still out of technology. Technology has helped human society to turn around. Even the section of women in society who had access to technology also got this benefit. They have shown equal skill in using technology. She chose various employment opportunities, including technology-based entrepreneurs, to escape unemployment and poverty. Continued educational programs with the help of technology availed various government facilities, including training programs. Therefore, women’s access to technology should be increased.

In the 20th century, Begum Rokeya called for creating a society based on gender equality; today, Bangladesh is moving forward after 52 years on the path of creating that society. Considering all aspects, it can be said that Bangladesh is a role model for women’s empowerment today. Today, Bangladesh leads the world in all indicators used to evaluate women’s empowerment. The country’s Prime Minister is a woman, the national parliament speaker is a woman, and the leader of the opposition is a woman. What can be a more significant positive condition for developing women’s society? Various national and international policies, including the constitution of Bangladesh, have given particular importance to women’s political-social empowerment and participation.

Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina came to power in 2009 and formulated the National Women Development Policy-2011. They have elected a woman to the post of Speaker of the National Parliament. Sheikh Hasina was the first in her cabinet to appoint women as Home Minister and Foreign Minister. The Deputy Leader of the Parliament is also a woman. Some civil society said that women will be empowered if the country’s prime minister, speaker, and opposition leader are women! It cannot be said, but it is also true that the appointment of women in such influential positions has increased women’s confidence, resulting in long-lasting and far-reaching empowerment of women. The provision of women vice chairpersons in upazila parishads and three women members in union parishads to be elected by participating in the elections has been confirmed.

Women of Bangladesh are now not only judges, district commissioners, and superintendents of police but are performing the responsibilities of policy-making and state management efficiently. Success in all challenging professions, including education, medicine, science and technology, diplomatic skills, sports, mountaineering, and working in NASA. In Bangladesh, women officials now work in important government secretaries or equivalent positions, including many essential ministries, which was not the case earlier. The Sheikh Hasina government appointed the first woman as a High Court judge, the first woman Vice-Chancellor of the University, and the first woman as Major General of the Army.

The position of women officers in the administration is vital. There are ten women in the senior secretary and secretary rank, nine women in DC, and 55 female officers of additional secretary rank. Many serve as chairman and director general of various organizations, whereas 164 women serve as upazila executive officers. One hundred sixty-three women officers are performing government duties in the post of joint secretary. Three hundred seventy women are holding the post of deputy secretary. Besides, 162 women officers work in the post of Additional Deputy Commissioner, and 133 work in the post of Assistant Commissioner (Land). 433 women working as Assistant Secretaries/Commissioners are performing duties at the field level. Many are also serving as executive magistrates. Besides, there are 433 officers of the rank of Assistant Secretary and Assistant Commissioner.

To advance the country, half of the population should not be left behind in using information technology to establish equality between men and women in developing development plans. Equality should be brought about by changing the perspective. Access to information technology should be increased and trained. In this case, there should be an investment plan for women. By expanding information technology today, there is an opportunity to change the perspective of the family, society, and the state. Through this, women’s human rights, human beings, and creativity will be recognized and established.

As women hold the reins of the world with a strong hand, they are also unique in the outside world. Despite being subjected to discrimination at various levels of life, women have set precedents in multiple fields by crossing that barrier. Bangladesh is at the forefront of South Asian countries regarding reducing gender inequality. To continue this trend of success, women must be given priority in policy-making and financial allocation. Deterioration in standard of living due to inflation, loss of employment, reduction in income, etc., is likely to hurt women. Then, progress in the health and nutritional status of women and girls will be hindered.

Vital initiatives are needed to ensure women’s safety at home and outside. Free labor at home, low prices for produce, food in exchange for work, or precarious civilian jobs are also narrowed to bear the burden of poverty for women at the grassroots level. They do not have access to land use and access to capital, nor do they have access to control power through production. Instead of reinforcing systems that currently exploit women’s cheap labor in development, the causes of social and economic exploitation, which give rise to class and gender inequality, should be explored and analyzed.

Women’s families, social empowerment, and a safe and women-friendly work environment are needed to achieve equal status for women. Increase in political empowerment and quality or actual status. Although the women’s society has made considerable progress in the long journey of the women’s movement, the issue of gender equality has not yet been fully established. It is present not only in Bangladesh but all over the world. The development of the country or society depends on the overall contribution and participation of the people. That is, the desired development is impossible without the participation of half of the population (women) in society. In Bangladesh, women’s participation in the state system and social activities has increased, but it remains far below the desired level.

Not only that, violence and deprivation of women have not been significantly reduced. The women’s society of the country is still a victim of various types of family, social, and state torture deprivation. Thirty-three percent participation of women in all fields, including national politics, has not yet been implemented. Empowerment of women at the local government level is not practical. The question remains whether reserved women’s seats and women’s quotas push women further back. In Bangladesh, women’s leadership has run the country for over three decades.

The country’s Prime Minister, Leader of the Opposition, and Speaker of the National Assembly are women. There may not be another example like this in the world. There is no doubt about the political empowerment of women in that country. Bangladesh ranks seventh in the world in women’s political empowerment. Seats reserved for women in the National Parliament have been increased to 50. There are 70 women MPs, including 20 elected and reserved seats in 12 the Parliament. There are more than 12,000 elected women representatives at the local level. One of the indicators of women’s development is women’s participation in the workplace.

Currently, the participation rate of women in the workplace is 38 percent. The backbone of Bangladesh’s economy is the garment sector. More than 70 percent of the workers in this sector are women. Again, the largest service sector in the country is healthcare. More than 70 percent of the workers in this sector are women. Women’s contribution to the domestic product (GDP) is about 20 percent. Article 19(3) of the Constitution of Bangladesh states that the State shall ensure equal opportunities and participation of women at all levels of national life. In addition to establishing the proper status of women, with the aim of economic, social, administrative, and political empowerment, the government is implementing comprehensive programs to prevent all types of violence against women, including spreading women’s education, establishing rights, and empowering them.

As a result of the successful implementation of various government initiatives, women’s development is visible today. The country is gradually progressing toward development through women’s successful participation in all fields, including business, politics, judiciary, administration, diplomacy, armed forces, law enforcement, and peacekeeping missions. Women’s empowerment is considered one of the prerequisites for global development. Still, suppose we observe the development of the developed world in the worldwide context. In that case, it can be seen that today’s developed countries are not in a very satisfactory state in terms of women’s empowerment. Instead, women in different countries are suffering from different discrimination. Here, however, inequality can be seen in many ways. Still, the main inequalities considered significant barriers to development are health and survival, participation in education, economic opportunity, and politics. Considering the overall situation, everyone says that Bangladesh is a role model for women’s development and is moving forward positively in achieving gender equality.

Hiren Pandit is an essayist, researcher, and columnist based in Dhaka, Bangladesh. He can be reached at hiren.bnnrc@gmail.com

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