With the deadline that approached fast to end the Millennium Development Goals (MDG’s) in 2015, Bangladesh took stock of its progress to-date and worked hard to ensure the next set of goals reflecting the core requirements of sustainability and equity.
Experts say inclusive and equitable growth cannot take place without recognizing 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 SDG’s, which 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, particularly in achieving parity in primary education. By looking at the country specifics, there may arise a critical question as to why be it that Bangladesh has done well on gender-specific targets?
The country with an oversized population has achieved remarkable success in advancing women under the leadership of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, regarded as a model for women empowerment in the world.
She recognized long ago that the future of her nation depends largely on the empowerment of women. One of her prime aims is women’s overall development by ensuring their equal and active participation in the mainstream socio-economic and political activities. Her government has initiated necessary policy directives, numerous programs and projects for the development of women.
According to the Centre for Research and Information (CRI), Bangladesh has improved gender parity and the World Economic Forum recently has ranked Bangladesh the first in gender equality among the South-Asian nations for the second consecutive year.
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 under Sheikh Hasina’s
leadership, Bangladesh gained unprecedented success in girl’s education.
In this period, coverage of stipend program for girls has been extended manifold and this strategy resulted in almost 100 percent enrollment rate and gender parity. Girls’ education up to degree level in public schools is also free. Gender parity is being achieved in primary and secondary education.
According to the official records, the girls enrollment rate at the primary schools is 99.4 percent, 2.7 million girls are receiving stipend at
the secondary and higher secondary level, 51 and 53 percent of students are female in primary and secondary schools, Bangladesh is on the verge of achieving gender parity in tertiary education, females are encouraged to take teaching as profession and currently 60 percent primary school teachers are women.
Besides all other key fields, the most important sector is Bangladesh’s garment industry, where women are being encouraged to earn their own bread.
The garment sector, the country’s export boom, now accounts for 80% of Bangladesh’s total foreign earnings with 85% of the workers being women, the CRI report said.
It also said that the NARI program facilitates the entry of skilled women into this sector, where girls learn how to adjust to life outside their homes and villages, 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, 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.
Sheikh Hasina’s government took some effective steps to strengthen the health service delivery for women. Bangladesh has also markedly improved the
maternal health with significant progress in reducing maternal mortality ratio from 319 (per 100,000 live births) in 2005 to 176 in 2015.
During her first tenure at the office, she introduced the Maternal Health Voucher Scheme with currently 15 million women receiving support under it.
Her government has also brought about a tremendous change at the grassroots level by extending the social safety net, bringing the disadvantaged women under the health coverage.
Due to some effective legislative measures enforced by the Sheikh Hasina’s 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, the brain child of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina.
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 regarded by Sheikh Hasina as the fundamental to strengthening their rights and enabling them to have control over their lives. She has been encouraging female participation in the workforce, bringing millions of women into the labour force and increasing women’s participation leading to increased productivity and economic growth.
Women’s participation in agricultural production is promoted through access to agricultural technologies and loans given for agro-processing,
homestead gardening, nurseries, bee-keeping and other activities.
Forty-three 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 all the administrative cadres, businesses, teachings and politics, among other areas. In 2011, Sheikh Hasina’s government raised the number of women reserve seats to 50 from 45.
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.