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OP-ED: Empowering women to empower Bangladesh

  • Published at 03:24 am April 20th, 2021
women empowerment
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Certain systemic limitations continue to hold back Bangladeshi women

It may be right to say that women are not only the backbone of a family but a whole nation because for long, we have witnessed the women of this country selflessly contribute their blood and sweat for the development, freedom, and virtue of Bangladesh. 

However, because we fail to empower these very women, today, nearly 85% of Bangladeshi women are involved in unpaid household chores or in the informal sector. 

Amidst this ensuing domesticity, some “womenpreneurs” of Bangladesh, however, proved themselves, making their mark with stellar achievements and laudable contributions to the economic sector. The consequent rise in numbers of women entrepreneurs in Bangladesh is therefore indicating a much needed and welcome development. 

But we cannot afford to forget that there still remain some structural challenges in the field of women entrepreneurship and limitations to the kind of empowerment women receive from our society. These sometimes happen to be the larger barrier that prevents the adequate representation of women in Bangladesh and imposes an invisible ceiling that they must break.

Such limitations exist in the economic, social, psychological and/or educational limbs of women empowerment, hence, adequate implementation of policies that will enhance women entrepreneurship in Bangladesh is vital. 

Economic limitations

By far, the most obvious challenge for budding and existing women entrepreneurs is obtaining finance. A vicious cycle exists wherein women are judged by the rate of the performance and are not given sufficient loans or venture capital funds for their start-ups because of the absence of a credit history. 

On the contrary, men who are judged by their potential can demand or are voluntarily given a much higher amount for similar start-ups whereas women-owned enterprises are often discouraged and many start-ups remain as ideas in a scrap book. 

Thus, policies should be made to encourage banks to lend sufficient funds to women entrepreneurs, preferably at a lesser interest rate. The implementation of this policy could be ensured by higher officials at banks or even by NGOs. Crowdfunding programs and niche loan programs could also be promoted to increase women entrepreneurship. 

Social, cultural, and psychological limitations

Stereotypically, society often ends up being the worst enemies of women -- teaching us to be cruel to a young girl with big dreams rather than empowering her to flourish and fulfil her aspirations. This adversely affects the psychology of a female and is likely to crush her self-confidence. 

This culture can be changed by enacting policies that will enable males and females to see each other as equals eg through therapy, consultations, group meetings, etc. However, to be brutally honest, women are doing men a favour by asking for mere equality and not more because, as the court correctly pointed out in the case of Shamima Sultana vs Bangladesh: “To eradicate the difficulties and the consequent evils of inequality faced continuously by a woman at home and in her daily life, a further leeway of leverage, in her favour, in order to balance these hindrances, is required” indicating the need for positive actions. 

In some societies of Bangladesh, women are also tortured for which they could file cases under the Paribarik Shohingshota (Protirodh O Shurokkha) Ain of 2010. However, this does not impose a fine or a term of imprisonment. It merely provides some orders. 

Contrarily, the Nari O Shishu Nirjatan Daman Ain 2000 provides stricter punishments for domestic violence such as death sentence or life imprisonment, but these punishments are exclusive to domestic violence resulting from unfulfilled dowry demands.

The pragmatic consequences of such incomplete laws are unsatisfactory remedies for women who faced domestic violence not because of dowry but simply because she came home late from work. 

Therefore, this lack of support, both from family and law, will do the opposite of empowering women. To boost women’s confidence and have a positive psychological impact on them, change in these laws and proper implementation of new supportive laws is imperative. 

Another social problem negatively affecting the psychology of women is workplace harassment/abuse. Consequences of these inhumane attitudes towards women at workplaces can be envisaged as disempowerment of women. Therefore, office management should impose and implement policies that ensure the safety of women. 

Educational limitation

Most girls in rural areas are deprived of proper education due to a lack of proper schools, transport/roads, and finance, in addition to household chores or natural disasters. Currently, a lack of phones or communication services also prevents students from doing online classes.

Therefore, many of these girls lack the minimum education required to attain higher education for high-paid jobs. Therefore, provision and ensuring continuity of education of girls is of utmost importance. 

Mobilization of rural women by NGOs has also played a crucial role in spreading awareness about programs that facilitate the participation of women as entrepreneurs at grass-root levels. 

What remains a matter of concern though, is the lack of implementation of these awareness campaigns as Covid-19 has halted the lives and the livelihoods of millions. 

Conclusively, it is crucial for us to comprehend that while women entrepreneurs of Bangladesh have, in some cases, broken barriers with their innovative spirits and proved themselves as fearless tigresses, we as a country must eradicate all the aforementioned limitations to ensure women empowerment. l

Anusha Islam Raha is an LLM Graduate and a writer of the International and Comparative Law Journal.

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