On occasion of celebrating International Day of Rural Women, Tevita G Boseiwaqa Taginavulau, the director general of the Centre on Integrated Rural Development for Asia and the Pacific (CIRDAP), shared his take on the progress of rural women in Bangladesh over decades to Dhaka Tribune's Kamrul Hasan
How would you evaluate the current situation of rural women in Bangladesh's labour force?
Rural women have gradually taken an active role in the labour force. According to the Asian Development Bank, they were about 8% around mid-1980s. But in 2017, they account for nearly 36% of the national labour.
According to the latest data, overall migration (internal and overseas) by men is at 11%, so the economic work in the village farm is likely to be taken over by women. So their role has increased and they are contributing The role of women in rural economic has increased and they are contributing more in rural labour.
What are the existing obstacles hindering rural women from being more involved in economic activities?
A number of factors may discourage women from being actively involved. One is lack of accessibility to resources. Traditionally, men have been facilitated in this role.
Accessibilities to resources, to land and finance is something hindered by the culture. There has also been a lack of proper freedom to freely participate.
Climate challenge will be an emerging challenge. It is going to affect women as well.
There is no anti-discriminatory law that might benefit the woman. Besides, migration increases workload of women and they will be expected to take care of all household chores.
How can Bangladesh eradicate discrimination and underdevelopment of rural women?
First, take a look at the laws and policies in place with affirmative action with proper revision. If it is clear, then see that it is enforced and closely monitored. If it is not clear, consider affirmative action.
Women need to be included in mainstream development processes. If that happens, they will feel that they are empowered and will contribute more. Empower them with finance, infrastructure, education and skills to make it balanced and sustainable.
While the theme for International Rural Women Day talks about sustainable accessibilities to infrastructure, services and social protection with empowerment, do you think this is being practiced in Bangladesh?
Look past the offices. They are accessible. The laws are there. But the thing is, are the practitioners giving them proper opportunities? The practitioner and implementers of the laws need to be act properly to improve accessibility.
How can an increase in gender-based violence and sexual harassment impact the national economic progress?
The impact would be devastating. Bangladesh has made good economic progress, and women have largely contributed. They are now more engaged in rural production than ever. But this can be affected if they do not feel comfortable to go out. If their movement is restricted, their outdoor activities will be restricted.
Imagine what would happen if millions of women were confined in their house out of discomfort.
How can we promote agricultural cooperatives and entrepreneurship involving rural women?
My general statement is - make the rural area more attractive than what garments factories could offer. When you want to make it attractive you have to empower them, give them access to resources, finance, capacity building. Make them feel secure. Give them all-in-one packages including incentives for entrepreneurs.
You must provide a support system where they know they are happy living in rural areas.
How could Bangladesh ensure food security for rural women?
Agriculture is a source of income. Besides, non-farming activities can strengthen can secure their livelihood. Secure means settled. If they have settled their livelihood, it means they have food security. Home gardening could be a contributing factor.
Food loss has been a concern for Bangladesh. How can rural women help reduce food loss through involvement in agro-processing and other relevant areas?
Food loss is major threat. It affects Bangladesh just like the rest of the developing world. Processing foods at home would be great solution. In Sri Lanka, they have small, affordable machines which are easily accessible. Women there use work with their families to process food. There is an obligation for the supply chain to buy from them. It works well there.
We are working with Daffodil International university and Philmac, one of our partners, to replicate the Sri Lanka model here.
What would you say is the best quality of Bangladeshi rural women that is helping them succeed economically?
Rural women in Bangladesh are very hard-working. The existing limitations could not prevent them from working. Their love and concern for their family drive them.
What is CIRDAP doing to enable rural women of Bangladesh?
I have already mentioned one.We are planning to do a research next year on women aged between 18-27 who are out of work and educations. We want to facilitate their involvement in economic activities.
In addition, we are trying to promote good practices in Bangladesh and promoting and mobilizing the women participating in economic activities.
Do you think current initiatives is enough for the development of rural people? If not, what can the government and stakeholders do to help?
There are some good practices in Bangladesh already. Brac, RDA, and BARD are doing good work. We have found that “One House One Cow/One Farm” program really improved the situation. But we need to do better.
To do better, we need to find the gap, and more importantly, implement properly. A number of projects were implemented without knowing the lives and micro-politics of the rural area, and so they failed, might have even damaged things somewhat.
You can have the resources to help, but unless you find the person who needs the help, it is a waste.
You need to find who actually needs the benefits and work accordingly.