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বাংলা
Dhaka Tribune

Promoting women’s rights through access to information

Women's access to information in Bangladesh is crucial for profound change

Update : 21 May 2024, 10:54 AM

Since women comprise 50% of the total population of Bangladesh it is essential to ensure the reflection of their hopes and aspirations in the decision-making process at all levels. Despite tremendous progress being attained by women in different sectors, several obstacles persist that impede their development. Among different obstacles, one prominent is the lack of information regarding their rights and entitlements that directly influence the process of women’s empowerment and social development.

The right to information is not only a legal right which delivers power directly to the hands of the people but also a key element of empowerment. An effective control system not only informs citizens about how problems are managed, but also educates them, encourages their participation in public affairs, and monitors the actions of leaders. This right is especially vital for women in Bangladesh. Information may be an important device used in a setting where traditional norms and patriarchy mentioned above usually dictate the role of women in shaping and realizing their dreams. 

The Awami League government passed the Right to Information Act (RTI) in 2009 intending to promote transparency in the operations of the government. This act requires government agencies and public bodies to provide information, guaranteeing that individuals may obtain necessary data and hold institutions responsible. The proper implementation of this act can help women to overcome obstacles. 

However, the execution of the RTI Act is inconsistent in the country, particularly when it comes to women. A major obstacle is the absence of knowledge or understanding. There is an overwhelming majority of women especially, those women living in rural areas, who do not know what information is and how they can use it to test their knowledge. This inequality reaches its peak in unequal social relations, difficulties in reading and writing; and a lack of access to the world of technology. Urban women are experiencing more advantages from digital platforms and social media, whereas rural women are often being left behind, which worsens the gap between urban and rural areas.

Alongside the lack of knowledge, cultural and societal settings and patriarchal views provide significant challenges. Women who are in search of knowledge, particularly about sensitive matters like reproductive health or legal rights, may encounter social disapproval and opposition from their families and communities. The cultural barrier is firmly established and thus requires collaborative efforts to overcome this. 

In recent years, the country has been acclaimed for its efforts to protect women's rights. The country is proud to have had a female prime minister last 30 years and true progress in the fields of education about women. Nevertheless, for the Right to Information Act to have a significant impact on women, it is crucial to enhance its implementation.

Although there are difficulties, the capacity of knowledge to stimulate change is enormous. Access to information is quite transformative and can make this a reality for women in many aspects of their lives, including in matters of health, enhancing economic prospects, or getting more involved in politics.

There is an overwhelming majority of women especially, those women living in rural areas, who do not know what information is and how they can use it to test their knowledge

In the sphere of health, women with knowledge and know-how can make them capable of making choices about their health as well as that of their family, better. They can obtain crucial data on maternal health, childcare, nutrition, and illness prevention. Mobile health services and community health professionals are essential in closing the knowledge gap, but further efforts are necessary to guarantee universal access. 

From an economic perspective, information empowers women to pursue new opportunities and improve their living standards. It helps female entrepreneurs in microfinance, market trends, and company development services. Organizations providing training and resources are crucial. 

Information also influences political involvement. Women who possess knowledge and awareness are more inclined to participate in civic endeavours, use their right to vote, and even pursue political positions. Local citizens not only can cast the votes to make accountable leaders and their policies but also have a chance to guarantee the welfare of the community. In the "garden" movement, NGOs provide women with information about their political rights and work on women being actively engaged in political life. 

For information to be used for empowerment of the women in Bangladesh, we must put in place a multidimensional and inclusive plan. Education serves as the fundamental basis. It is imperative to increase efforts to guarantee that girls and women are provided with high-quality education that encompasses digital literacy and critical thinking abilities. Schools and community centres should function as central locations for spreading information and promoting a culture of curiosity and empowerment.

Technological interventions are essential as well. Increasing internet connectivity and promoting digital literacy can effectively narrow the information disparity. Mobile technology, specifically, provides a favourable opportunity for accessing women in isolated regions. Customized information, conveyed in regional languages, has the potential to tackle particular requirements and obstacles encountered by women.

It is necessary to enhance legal and regulatory frameworks to guarantee that the right to information is not only acknowledged but also effectively available to all women. This includes streamlining the procedure of acquiring information, safeguarding those who pursue it, and enhancing knowledge regarding the RTI Act. Government agencies should take the initiative in distributing information and enabling access, particularly for vulnerable women. The mentality of the government officials also needs to be changed to consider women as active citizens who have similar contributions in the national building.  

Active participation from the community is crucial for transforming societal views. Collaborating with local leaders, religious figures, and community groups can facilitate a change in attitudes and diminish the negative associations around women who seek information. It is important to showcase narratives of women who have gained power and autonomy to inspire and encourage others.

Women's access to information in Bangladesh is crucial for profound change, liberating individuals from ignorance and promoting growth, empowerment, and access to new possibilities. If we want to establish a fair, just, and equitable society, all involved actors need to work hard to ensure women's easy access to information that will make them knowledgeable about making the right choices and contributing to the country’s development.  

 

Dr Pranab Kumar Panday is a Professor in the Department of Public Administration at the University of Rajshahi.

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