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Dhaka Tribune

Bangladesh is better off than India

It is no longer the poor, backward neighbour. This is the concluding part of a two-part op-ed

Update : 18 Oct 2018, 01:56 AM

Experts say that Bangladesh owes much of this progress to efforts made by non-government organizations like Grameen Bank and BRAC.

Grameen Bank, for one, is a globally renowned microfinance initiative that earned its founder Muhammad Yunus a Nobel Peace Prize and inspired replicas in more than 100 countries.

The initiative aims at poverty alleviation by giving loans to small-scale entrepreneurs who do not qualify to receive traditional bank loans. According to the bank’s website, it has “grown to provide collateral-free loans to 7.5 million clients … 97% of whom are women.”

This has helped boost financial inclusion in the country. According to World Bank data, 34.1% of Bangladeshi adults with bank accounts made digital transactions in 2017, against the average of 28.8% for South Asia.

Although Bangladesh’s health expenditure as a share of GDP is still lower than India’s, several initiatives taken by the government have helped boost education and women empowerment.


Also Read- Bangladesh is better off than India (first part)


The government has made primary education free and compulsory, giving girl students stipends and scholarships for their entire school education. The government has a strong social safety net for women, with initiatives such as four to six months of paid maternity leave, and allowances for divorced and destitute women.

Women now make up nearly 70% of Bangladesh’s garment industry and over 60% of fish farmers.

Bangladesh has set an example for developing economies with its women empowerment initiatives, with the World Economic Forum (WEF) ranking the country number one in gender equality among south Asian nations in 2017 as well as 2016.

It has also registered an impressive performance on reducing poverty.

Bangladesh was ranked 7th, a good eight slots ahead of India, in the political representation of women on the WEF gender gap index.

This is because 50 of the 350 seats in the Bangladesh parliament, roughly 14%, are reserved for women. Meanwhile, in India, 62 of 543 MPs elected in 2014, or 11%, are women, with a law on reservation yet to see the light of day.

Don’t forget the NGOs

“Bangladesh’s high economic growth can be attributed to the sustained investments that Bangladesh has made in enhancing people’s productive capacities, especially by way of promoting basic health and education,” said development economist Dr AK Shivakumar.

“That life expectancy at birth is higher and child mortality lower in Bangladesh today than in India, when it was not so during the early 1990s, is testimony to the better access that Bangladeshis have to basic social services,” he said.

“To an extent,” he added, “the high growth has also been fuelled by the social transformation brought about by the greater freedoms young girls and women enjoy in Bangladesh today.”

“The growing employment opportunities for young women in the garment industry, as well as the collectivization and empowerment of women brought about by the spread of the microfinance movement, has contributed to it as well,” he said.

Experts are also unanimous in crediting NGOs for the turnaround in Bangladesh’s fortunes.

“NGOs have played a critical and complementary role to the state in reducing poverty and in expanding social and economic opportunities for a vast majority of Bangladeshis,” said Shivakumar.

ORF’s Sengupta agreed, even as she expressed skepticism about the government’s role.

“It is not a very nice picture in Bangladesh,” she said. “They have a very authoritarian government which has completely suppressed dissent. Women are working without wages.”

By 2017, Bangladesh was being lauded for becoming almost open-defecation free, a journey India is striving to complete. Between 2003 and 2015, Bangladesh’s open-defecation rates have fallen from 42% to 1%.

Meanwhile, the Indian government’s sustained fight to make the country open-defecation free with Narendra Modi’s “Swachh Bharat mission” began only in 2014.

Under this mission, 76% of India’s villages have been declared open-defecation free as of October 2018. India has taken a leaf out of Bangladesh’s Community-Led Total Sanitation (CLTS) model, introduced in 1999, which focuses more on generating demand for basic indoor toilets than releasing subsidies.

Priyamvada Grover works as a journalist at ThePrint. She is a former Young India Fellow and a graduate in Economics from Jesus & Mary College, Delhi University. This article was first published in the print.in.

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