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Gender and inequality: Bangladesh perspective of MDGs achievement

Background MDGs are a set of actions and targets that was adopted by 193 nations in 2002 under the Millennium Declaration; Bangladesh is one of the countries that adopted it. After years of studies, debates and negotiations, world leaders gathered at UN Headquarters in September 2000 to ratify the Millennium Declaration which center on halving poverty and improving the welfare of the world‟s poorest by 2015. In line with the Millennium Declaration, the UN systems agreed for a set of time bound and measurable goals and targets to assess progress over the period from 1990 to 2015 to monitor progress. The MDGs include eight goals which are:


Eradicate extreme hunger and poverty


Achieve universal primary education


Promote gender equality and empower women


Reduce child mortality


Improve maternal health


Combat HIV/Aids, malaria and other diseases


Ensure environmental sustainability


Develop a global partnership for development

MDGs implementation progress in Bangladesh It is widely recognized that Bangladesh has made good progress in achieving MDGs in the areas of poverty reduction, increasing net enrolment in primary education, reducing child mortality and maternal mortality. Millennium Development Goals Bangladesh Progress Report 2011 recognizes Bangladesh‟s achievement in poverty and hunger eradication (HIES 2010 estimated poverty rate is 31.5%) along with growth rate in excess of 6 percent in recent years. Bangladesh also received the UN award for its remarkable achievements in attaining the Millennium Development Goals, particularly in reducing child mortality. Since 1990, there has been a remarkable reduction in maternal and child mortality, with an estimated 57% reduction in child mortality and 66% in maternal mortality. Notwithstanding the commendable progress in different areas, MDGs progress report 2011 acknowledges the concerns in hunger poverty reduction, employment generation, creation of more decent wage employment for women. Attaining food security, reducing income inequality and low economic participation of women also remains a major challenge.

We can touch upon a few points to see how much the country faired to touch the goals of MDG with a particular focus on gender equality.

Policy changes: Through a gendered lens

The Government adopted the 2011 National Women‟s Advancement Policy (NWAP) expressly referring to Beijing Platform for Action and CEDAW, though CEDAW article 2 and 16.1.C are not ratified yet. The National Women‟s Advancement Policy 2011 provides clear goals and objectives for women‟s empowerment, though it has not ensured women‟s right to have equal share in inheritance. A National Action Plan is in progress to implement the policy. The Sixth Five Year Plan (2011-15) provides special attention on strengthening female participation in economic decision making. The Government adopted the National Education Policy 2010, as well as policies to ban private coaching and corporal punishment in educational institutions. The National Child Labour Elimination Policy (NCLEP) 2010 proposes eliminating hazardous child labour by 2016. All these have considered gender dimensions. Bangladesh has not yet ratified ILO Convention 138 (Minimum Age). Different laws and policies have different stands on the minimum age of child. The Child Policy 2011 puts an impetus on stopping discriminations and violence and ensuring their safety. It puts special attention on taking initiatives for girl children including children with disability. National Health Policy 2011 has emphasized on eliminating discriminations in accessing health services by women and men alike. Maternal and child mortality rates have been considerably reduced, although the former remains high. Reviving of community health centers is another positive development. However, general health services remains largely inaccessible. Health related laws, regulations and policy are not uniformly enforced. Misuse, mismanagement and corruption pervade the health system. Staff-patient ratio remains high. Health facilities, and public awareness of them, are limited, especially in rural areas. Reproductive health services are inadequately addressed. Malnutrition among children is still high. Lack of occupational health and safety in workplaces is widespread.

The draft National Broadcasting Policy proposes 44 pre-conditions for broadcast programs and 63 pre- conditions for broadcast advertisements. The National Labor Policy (2010) still is in a draft form. Food security and food safety remain unrealized due to lack of application of relevant laws and adequate monitoring. There is inadequate implementation of the National Food Policy 2006.

Bangladesh Government has taken various bold steps on making the planning and budgeting process gender responsive. Medium Term Budget Framework (MTBF), development of RCGP (Recurrent, Capital, Gender and Poverty) Model or data base, gender budget statement of different ministries etc. are results of government‟s initiative to make the budget more pro-people as well as women-friendly. As part of the move to make budgets more gender-responsive, for last four years, the government has been producing a document along with the budget which explains how different activities of various ministries/divisions have implications for women‟s advancement and rights. The number of such analysis (gender budget reports) has steadily increased from 4 in 2009 to 10 in 2010 to 20 in 2011. This year in FY2012-13, Government has published gender budget reports of 25 ministries. These reports project how much of the allocations made for different ministries will benefit women and girls.


The Education Policy does not consider primary education as a right. Need to enact law on right to education to ensure universal access including incentives for poorer families to send children to

school. For implementing the policy, there is a need to develop adequate educational infrastructure and human resources including well-trained teachers.

The National Women‟s Advancement Policy 2011 needs to be amended to ensure women‟s equal rights to housing, land and property.

All polices that are in draft form or upcoming should be made gender-sensitive. Policy drafting committees need to have gender experts in the process.

Gender perspective of legal initiatives

Among the new laws enacted are Domestic Violence (Protection and Prevention) Act 2010, Human Trafficking Deterrence and Suppression Act 2012, Pornography Control Act 2012, and Hindu Marriage and Divorce Registration Act 2012. The Citizenship Act of 1951 was amended in 2009 allowing a Bangladeshi woman married to a foreigner to pass on her citizenship to their child, but a woman‟s right to pass on her citizenship to a foreign husband is subject to unequal conditions. On the other hand, discriminatory personal laws, women‟s limited rights within the family including inheritance are still prevailing. According to present Citizenship Act, a foreigner man married to a Bangladeshi woman must reside for five years, on the other hand in the case for a foreigner wife, the residence requirement is just 2 years.

High Court directives since 2009 addressed gender discrimination, declaring unconstitutional extra-judicial punishments in the name of „fatwa‟ (2010), prohibiting forced veiling in educational institutions and workplaces (2010), framing High Court directives against sexual harassment in public places (2010), directing verification of birth certificates and/or NIDs for marriage registration to prevent early marriages. Government issued „Guidelines to Prohibit Corporal and Psychological Punishment in All Educational Institutions 2011‟. But these are not always complied with. For example, child marriages continue to take place by bribing marriage registrars and faking birth certificates. The Domestic Violence (Protection and Prevention) Law 2010 has been enacted to address married women‟s human rights in the family. But so far only several cases have been filed under this law. Moreover, rules and regulations that are necessary to implement the new DV law are under process.

The Parliamentary Caucus on Indigenous Peoples proposed to enact a „Bangladesh Indigenous Peoples‟ Rights Act‟ and to set up a „National Commission on Indigenous Peoples‟ under the Act to ensure the rights of indigenous communities on their ancestral lands. The Vested Property (Return) 2011 Act marks an important milestone providing for minorities to reclaim lands which have been expropriated over four decades. However, the process of returning the property to the rightful owner is yet to start. Land occupation remains a widespread concern with land conflicts remaining unresolved in the Chittagong Hill Tracts (see below). Agricultural land is being taken away from people for commercial purposes including tobacco, shrimp and housing schemes. Land registration remains complicated. Bangladesh has no general witness protection law, though a 2011 amendment to the Rules of Procedure of the International Crimes Tribunal provides for witness protection. There are several laws undermine freedom of expression and movement. The 1974 Special Powers Act, Anti-Terrorism Act 2009, and Section 54 of the Code of Criminal Procedure are used to detain trade union activists. Enactment of the Public Interest Related Information (Protection) Act of 2011 through engaging civil society was another positive move.

RTI 2011 Law is a landmark law for ensuring people‟s access to information. It will ensure accountability of public officials as will create better chances to enhance awareness and sensitivity on different issues. Bangladesh Legal system is dualistic where religious laws prevail in matters of inheritance, marriage and divorce and maintenance over civil laws, notwithstanding constitutional; guarantees of equality. Women are sometimes handed over to a safe custody without asking her, though there are provisions to ask women where she wants to go. Above of all, as the law enforcing agencies are highly corrupted that is a major obstacle to eliminate all forms of women suppressions.


The Citizenship Act needs to be amended to ensure equal rights of women and men to pass on their citizenship to the foreign spouse.

There is a need to enact a separate law to fight sexual harassment, as it is becoming a widespread of form of violence against women.

VAW Action Plan and DV rules regulations should be accelarated

The Hindu Marriage and Divorce Registration Act 2012 needs to be amended to ensure compulsory registration of marriages, it should not be kept optional.

Women’s political participation: Uphill yet challenging

Before the year 2008, women‟s average participation in the parliament as directly elected members never crossed more than 2 percent. In the current 9th parliament, a total of 19 women have become MPs in the open seats, which is 6.33 percent of the total seats. In order to make women visible, a system of reserve seats has been in place as an affirmative action for many years, despite there are arguments on how far the reserve seat system is effective. With the 15th amendment of the Constitution, 50 reserve seats have been earmarked for women. Yet women‟s share against the total number of seats in the parliament stands at 23 percent.

Election Commission of Bangladesh advised the political parties to have at least one-third of their members to be women. Even though the leading two parties have women in their top positions, nevertheless, they don‟t have one-third women in their member list. The Election Commission does not have any woman commissioner.

Selection of Chairperson for different Parliamentary Standing committees is not gender balanced. A patriarchal mindset of political party in power works here in selection of chairperson of the committee. Unfortunately no woman MP was selected as chairperson of any Parliamentary Standing Committee in the eighth Parliament. Women MPs were included in 17 out of 48 Parliamentary Standing Committees in ninth parliament. One female MP has been made the Chairperson of a Standing Committee, which was considered as a good feature of the ninth parliament. It reveals that 98% of the standing committee chairpersons are men and 2% are women. In proportion of 48 parliamentary standing committees for 345

parliament members, male members are to be allowed to chair 81% committees and remaining at least 19% committees could be chaired by women members on the basis of gender equality. A study on fifth and sixth parliament recommended that women MPs should be allowed to chair at least 25% of the parliamentary committees. If more women are allowed in the chairpersonship of the committees, then that brings more dynamism and transparency in the functioning of the committees.

Table 2: Women’s Chairmanship in Parliamentary Standing Committees in Ninth Parliament


No Member


in the



Selected Chairperson

Chairperson on the basis of gender equality


Chaired by


% of Chair


% of Chair





Male Members






Women Members












Women have unequal participation in the cabinet except the Prime Minister, Home Affairs and Foreign Ministry. It reveals that number of women representation in cabinet have never been more than 5% to 8% and women with full ministerial status in the cabinet have never been increased more than 2 during 1901 to 2001. Women‟s representation in the cabinet of Bangladesh as compared to men was 8% in 1996 and 5% in 2001. The representation of women with status of minister in cabinet has risen to 12% in 2008, which is a remarkable achievement towards gender equality at the highest level.

At grass roots level of local government bodies, at least three members are to be women. There are an increased number of elected women members but they are struggling for respectable and effective roles and responsibilities with budget to fulfill their electoral pledges. The situation is not much different in urban and rural areas.


Political will along with consensus of the parties is required to ensure direct election in 1/3 reserved seats for women in the parliament.

Political parties need to be held accountable for implementing the EC circular to include at least 33 percent women in their different committees.

Clearly defined roles and responsibilities with budget for elected women representatives of local government should be ensured to make their effective participation as public representatives.

Economic participation of women

Women‟s economic participation is one of the major prerequisites to achieve the main goal of MDGs, which is halving poverty and hunger. Bangladesh has seen a steady progress in women‟s economic sector owing to the booming manufacturing sector and micro-credit based small business sector. Women employment has increased; they are active agents of growth through their huge participation (almost 80%) in the manufacturing sector, which earns the lion‟s share of the country‟s income. One interesting recent development has been the sharp increase in women‟s formal labour force participation. Analysis of the 2005 Household Income and Expenditure Survey (HIES) concluded that women‟s wage employment increased considerably over the five year period, growing at 4.3 per cent each year between 2000 and 2005 (World Bank 2008).

Trend of women’s participation in the labor force

















Bangladesh Bureau of Statistics, Labor Force Surveys

In Bangladesh some 78 percent of the labor force is engaged in informal sector activities (agriculture and informal services). Agriculture alone employs some 44 percent of labor force, even though its GDP share is only 19 percent. Let‟s take a look into the latest data available of men and women‟s trend to participation on labor force, in 2006 according to the Bangladesh Bureau of Statistics, Labor Force Surveys national force was 58.5, male 86.8 and women 29.2, on the contrary to 43.8, 80.4 and 4.1 in 1974. Around 65-70 percent women directly or indirectly take part in agricultural works (though they are still not recognized as farmers), which is contributing to ensuring the country‟s food security. Besides taking part in mainstreaming agricultural activities, women also contributes in livestock and poultry, kitchen gardening, collecting and preparing cow manure and organic manure, selecting and storing seeds etc. A micro-level study conducted in 2008, reveals that 88% women are engaged in agricultural related works (BARCIK 2008). A FAO study reported that 60-70% of women from landless and near landless households work as agricultural wage labor.

Women’s contribution in GDP (Agriculture) is as follows:


US$ in billion











Source: Bangladesh Bank, data released on November, 2010

Women‟s work in the informal sector is not regulated by the law, so that the large number of women in agriculture, domestic work, tea plantations and day labours are unable to negotiate for benefits offered to the formal sector. The RMG and shrimp sectors, both leading foreign exchange earners with high concentration of female labor have flexible labor regimes characterized by low wages, sub-standard working conditions and high job insecurity. The Bangladesh Labour Law 2006 does not include agricultural and domestic workers. The Government drafted the Domestic Worker Protection and Welfare Policy 2010. But it has not acted on High Court directions to include domestic workers under the Labour Act 2006, or to provide child domestic workers with primary education. Women migrant workers can be part of the engine of growth. Currently, only 5% of all migrant workers are women. If enough protection and encouragement can be ensured, then more women can find employment abroad. One study has revealed that compared to men, women migrant workers send home most of the money they earn. In recent years, there has been a sharp increase in women‟s formal labor force participation. Women‟s wage employment increased considerably growing at 4.3 per cent each year between 2000 and 2005 (WB


Women‟s total contribution of SME in GDP is 10%. If favorable environment can be ensured for women entrepreneurs, then it can be much higher. The Bangladesh Labour Law 2006 does not include agricultural and domestic workers. It also limits union participation in factories. In the EPZ Workers Welfare Association and Industrial Relations Act of 2010, the term “workers welfare society” is used instead of “trade unions”.

Sectoral distribution of women’s employment by year 100% 90% 80% 70% 60% 50% 40% 30%
Sectoral distribution of women’s employment by year

One interesting recent development has been the sharp increase in women‟s formal labour force participation. Analysis of the 2005 Household Income and Expenditure Survey (HIES) concluded that women‟s wage employment increased considerably over the five year period, growing at 4.3 per cent each year between 2000 and 2005 (World Bank 2008). In Bangladesh some 78 percent of the labor force is engaged in informal sector activities (agriculture and informal services). Agriculture alone employs some 44 percent of labor force, even though its GDP share is only 19 percent.


Women entrepreneurs should be given special facilities in terms of accessing credit and different services like bank loan, capital, ICT/training and other essentials for new women entrepreneurs.

Women should be recognized as farmers to ensure their access to agricultural and and services.

There is increasing demand to take into account women‟s unpaid domestic work into national accounts in order to make their contributions visible to national development.

Discriminations in formal & informal sectors (e.g. wages, maternity leave etc.) should be addressed effectively. Minimum wages of garments workers should be re-fixed considering present context.

Changing socio-cultural outlook: A long-standing challenge

The education system along with media is the main vehicle to shape or change people‟s attitude, belief and practice. The Government has introduced undertaken various programs from gender perspective. Stipend programs have been introduced in every upazilla for 40 percent of all school children (30% beneficiaries are girls, and 10% boys), which has made a positive impact on girl's retention in school. Secondary school

graduation rate (grade 6 entrants passing grade 10 exams) has increased from 30 to 39 percent, and the ratio of girls in secondary education has increased by 3 percentage points in the last three years (from 0.82 in 2008 to 0.85 in 2011 (Source: CEDAW Status Report 2012). Although the Government pledged to achieve 100% literacy by 2014, around 9.68 million children in the 6-10 age group remain out of school and 37.35 million people in the 11-45 age-group remain illiterate. The majority of children who live in isolated rural communities, or homeless or from marginalized communities lack proper access to education. Budget allocations discriminate between rural and urban children. Primary education is not recognized as a right in the draft education law. Due to high dropout due to early marriage, sexual harassment, lack of transport and infrastructural facilities, gender disparity continues in higher education.

Change of media has come to a certain degree, but gender sensitive media policy is yet to be formulated. Media still portrays women as secondary to men, in the family, society and state. Men are depicted as primary breadwinners and women as optional role-players whose primary role is to take care of the family. Some school textbooks are gender sensitive, but most are not and these are a primary source to look upon women in their traditional derogatory roles. Most of the school teachers are not trained to teach in a gender sensitive way. There is a discrepancy in numbers of women teachers and women students. There are no women in the public or private university as vice-chancellor or registrar.

Gender and cultural diversity: Inclusion or exclusion?

Government representatives reportedly stated the existence of sexual minorities were “out of context”. In July 2011 the Government voted against UN resolution 17/19 proposing a study on discrimination against sexual minorities. In contrast to these denials, the Government has taken practical steps recognizing such minorities by receiving and disbursing funds for MSMs, and by including Hijras in the voter list, providing NIDs and including an „other‟ option for „sex‟ in the passport form. In general however, gender and sexual minorities lack legal recognition and protection and face social marginalization. They are harassed using section 377 of the Penal Code and section 54 and 55 of CrPC.

The 15th amendment to the Constitution (2011) contravenes the equality guarantee by providing that “all residents of Bangladesh are Bangalees,” which undermines the basic right of the indigenous people (IPs) to self-identification and marginalizes them. It was adopted rejecting IP demands for constitutional recognition. The Government has also repeatedly denied the existence of IPs, despite its election manifesto commitments. IPs were not consulted regarding the terminology of the 2010 Small Ethnic Groups Cultural Institutes Act 2010 which recognizes only 27 "small ethnic groups", although indigenous activists claim there are about 50 IP communities nationally.

Other issues

There is no constitutional or legal prohibition against disability-based discrimination. The Disability Welfare Act 2001 and the National Policy on Disability 1995 remain far from implemented. The national

budget allocation is inadequate for PWDs. Widespread discrimination of PWDs includes sexual violence against women with disabilities. Present PM of Bangladesh is very active for the autistic children. Unfortunately, there is quota for the disables in the government offices.

Institutional mechanisms are yet to become gender balanced. Even after forty years of independence, there is only a handful of women government cadre in judiciary, administration and ministries. In the ministries, only three out of 61 secretaries is woman. the highest percentage of women is located in MOWCA (61%). 22% in law, justice and parliamentary affairs and 14% in Education. there are only 4 women ambassadors. out of 89 judges there are only 6 judges in high court. in the lower court in Dhaka, there are only 24 women judges out83 judges. recently police has raised women recruited to


Overall challenges to attain the MDGs

Population control should prioritized in the national agenda considering women‟s human rights

Women‟s economic activities need to be expanded through all out measures including reducing discrimination, violence and sexual harassment in the workplaces and families.

Women‟s lesser mobility and access to resources creates barrier to their education, economic participation and entrepreneurship.

Society perceives men as the primary breadwinners and women are secondary or supplementary earners, meaning that women‟s work is less recognized and valued.