Bangladesh ranks 7th in the world in the political empowerment of women
Bangladesh has emerged as a shining global model of women leadership when women take leading positions at every sphere of its political and social arena with them performing duties as prime minister, parliament speaker, and cabinet ministers simultaneously.
According to the World Economic Forum, Bangladesh now ranks seventh in the world in the political empowerment of women where women hold 50 seats in the country’s parliament and 12,000 local political offices, reports BSS.
Apart from political leadership, Bangladesh is vying to break many glass ceilings by inducting more qualified women in other top positions of judiciary, administration, defense, and diplomacy, while the present Awami League government introduced a gender budget, which is unique in the world.
The number of working women in Bangladesh increased to 18.6 million in 2016-17 from 16.2 million in 2010 due to the efforts of the government.
Around 57% of the country’s women are engaged in the workforce, while they account for 80% of the ready-made garments sector, the backbone of the country’s highest foreign currency earner. Female peacekeepers who are holding the national flag high in many UN peacekeeping missions are also making the country proud.
Even in a regional context, Bangladesh secured the 47th position among 144 countries in 2017 based on women empowerment, as per The Global Gender Gap Report. Other South Asian countries such as India, Sri Lanka, Nepal, Bhutan, and Pakistan ranked 108, 109, 111, 124, and 143 respectively.
Champions of women empowerment
Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman had started the process of uplifting the status of women by establishing equal rights in all spheres of the state and of public life as constitutional obligation under Article 28 while his daughter, Bangladesh’s incumbent Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, has undertaken various steps to ensure the development of women and children.
“A society cannot raise its head high if its women remain underdeveloped,” said Hasina who has been ranked 29th among the world’s 100 most powerful women by the US-based Forbes magazine, which coincided with celebrating International Women’s Day on March 8 this year.
Her government’s aim is to create opportunities for women by protecting their rights, she added.
“Our goal is to ensure their presence in every sphere of life and we progressed much in this regard. Bangladesh’s girls demonstrated their success in many fields which many developed countries couldn’t,” she remarked.
Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina has already been conferred with numbers of global awards as recognition for her outstanding contributions to women empowerment.
In March 2019, the prime minister was honoured with the “Lifetime Contribution for Women Empowerment Award” by the Institute of South Asian Women in Berlin while in April 2018, she was given the Global Women’s Leadership Award by the The US-based Global Summit of Women.
In 2016, The UN Women recognized Sheikh Hasina as “Planet 50-50 Champion” while the Global Partnership Forum honoured her with the “Agent of Change” award.
Moreover, Women in Parliament (WIP) and UNESCO awarded the premier the “WIP Global Forum Award” for her leading role in reducing gender gap in political sphere in South and Southeast Asia in March of 2019, and “Tree of Peace” Award for promotion of girls’ and women’s education in September, 2014.
“Bangladeshi women have demonstrated their talents, labour and competence in different occupations,” said Bangladesh parliament speaker Shirin Sharmin Chowdhury who had also been elected as Chairperson of the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association (CPA).
Current education minister Dr Dipu Moni, who earlier served as the foreign minister of Bangladesh, said Bangabandhu made great sacrifice to establish a society free from discrimination – where men and women would enjoy equal right.
Government’s actions for the emancipation of women
Driven by the constitutional obligations, the current government under the leadership of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, has put special emphasis on the programs to promote women’s development in the 7th Five-year Plan, Sustainable Development Goals and National Women’s Policy, 2011.
The 7th Five Year Plan (2016-2020) is pursuing strategies and actions to establish “a country where men and women will have equal opportunities and rights and women will be recognized as equal contributors in economic, social and political development”.
The National Women Development Policy 2011 provides distinct guidelines in prevention of child marriage, removal of discrimination against disabled girls and their protection, ensuring secured and standard recreational, cultural and sports facility for the female child, and elimination of mental and physical abuse of women, rape, dowry, family abuse and acid throwing.
‘National Plan of Action’ has also been formulated to implement National Women Development Policy and prevention of violence against women and children while 529 clubs were introduced across the country for empowerment of children and adolescents.
Furthermore, Women and Children Affairs Ministry has formulated Domestic Violence (Protection and Preservation) Rules, 2013 under Domestic Violence (Protection and Preservation) Act 2010 to ensure equal rights and to prevent all forms of discrimination in all spheres of public life and the state.
In addition to that, the government has also adopted National Children Policy, 2011; Early Childhood Care and Development Policy, 2013; Deoxyribonucleic Acid (DNA) Act, 2014 and Early Marriage Protection Act, 2017 and rules 2018, in order to ensure overall development of women and children.
Apart from framing various women friendly laws and policies, the Bangladesh government introduced a gender budget to transform women into a capable human capital through their political, social, administrative and economic empowerment.
Each ministry has set a gender sensitive budget and focal point on women’s development while the presence of women officers in government service will be 25% by this year.
Secretary of the Ministry of Women and Children Affairs Kazi Raushan Akhter said that maternity leave has been extended to six months and maternity allowance and lactating mother allowance have been introduced.
One-Stop Crisis Centers (OCCs) have been set up at Dhaka, Rajshahi, Chittagong, Sylhet, Khulna, Barisal, Rangpur, and Faridpur Medical College Hospitals under the Multisectoral Project to Prevent Violence Against Women.
With provisioning legal safeguard, the government has also offered a number of financial incentives to encourage women leadership in business.
Between 2010 and 2013, banks and non-bank financial institutions have disbursed Tk67,000 crore to 57,722 women entrepreneurs from their own sources.
Women are getting credit at a concessional rate of 10% interest while 15% refinance fund is reserved for women entrepreneurs. Women are also entitled to SME loan up to Tk25 lakh free of collateral, only against personal guarantee.
Moreover, all banks and NBFIs have opened women entrepreneur dedicated desks to provide information and service to women entrepreneurs.
Obstacles in the way
However, right experts observed the targets for women development often hit a roadblock as their opinion does not get importance in the decision making process of the family due to prejudice and misinterpretation of religious conservatism of the male dominated society.
They suggested establishing a National Centre of Excellence for coordinating, monitoring and supervising the activities of violence against women and children, empowerment of women and protection of children under the Women and Children Affairs Ministry.