Sun, 26 Mar 2000

Empowerment program of women in Bangladesh

Since its inception as a sovereign state in 1971, under the leadership of Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, the Father of the Nation, Bangladesh has shown its determination in establishing equal rights for women. This was also enshrined in the country's constitution. The issue of women's empowerment was initially emphasized by the Father of the Nation. He included programs for the rehabilitation of war victims and distressed women in the First Five Year Plan of 1973 to 1978.

Bangladesh is an active participant at global conferences on women and was a signatory to the Platform for Action at the Fourth World Conference on Women. This conference provided a rallying point both internationally and at a local level, which enabled the government of Bangladesh to review the situation in regard to women's advancement and elaborate its strategies to promote women's socio-economic participation.

The Platform for Action emphasizes the strategy of mainstreaming women development into government policies and programs. The national policy for the advancement of women declared by the Prime Minister on March 8, 1997, and the guidelines provided in the Fifth Five Year Plan embody a strong and comprehensive policy directive for the promotion of women's issues across the socio-economic spectrum.

National Action Plan

A National Action Plan has been prepared by the Ministry of Women and Children Affairs and approved by the Prime Minister. The plan seeks to make women's development an integral part of the national development program, and to remove legal, economic, political and cultural impediments to women's rights. It will do this by undertaking policy reform and promoting effective affirmative action to create public awareness about women's needs, interests and priorities, and strengthening the government's commitment to the improvement of women's positions in social, economic and political spheres.

Bangladesh has ratified the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women, with some reservations. Various initiatives have been undertaken to facilitate the advancement of women within the state, and to institutionalize mechanisms for gender mainstreaming throughout the country. There is a heightened awareness and sensitivity to existing levels of gender-based discrimination, and a widespread commitment to eliminate these inequalities.

The Ministry of Women and Children Affairs has been designated as the nodal ministry to follow up and implement the Platform for Action. This ministry and its sister agencies and organizations are implementing a variety of projects and policies with a focus on gender mainstreaming. The projects are broadly divided into the categories of poverty reduction, education and training, capacity building, legal assistance, support services, awareness building and advocacy.

To implement the constitutional provisions for women regarding education, the government is executing programs in which primary education has been made compulsory for boys and girls between 6 and 10 years of age, and a special scholarship scheme for female students has been introduced to reduce the dropout rate. Various innovative programs have been undertaken to increase the rate of female education and reduce gender disparities in the classroom.

Among them, Food for Education, stipends for girls up to the 10th grade and free education at the primary and secondary levels are noteworthy. Among the social sectors, education is allocated the highest fraction of the national budget. The government has also established one separate secondary school for girls in each Thana (the lowest administrative unit) and one primary school in each village.

Women in Politics

Bangladesh has made great strides in promoting women within the decision-making process. Women now enjoy equal voting rights in Parliamentary and local elections. There is no bar to women participating in elections for positions in government bodies, including the office of the president. Out of 330 members of Parliament, 37 are women.

The political participation of women received a great boost with the passing of the Local Government Bill, which includes the direct election of women to one-third of the seats reserved for them in all local bodies.

The Union Council Elections of 1997 set a landmark in the history of the political empowerment of women in Bangladesh. In 1977, through an act, the government reserved two seats for women in the Union Council. From then to 1997, the process of selection of the women representatives was on the basis of nominations.

There are 4,479 Union Parishads in Bangladesh and around 12,828 women were elected as members in the 1997 local level elections. A total of 20 and 110 women have been elected as chairpersons and members, respectively, for general seats. Women have been appointed as diplomats, secretaries, joint secretaries, ambassadors, police superintendents and army brigadiers. Ten percent of officers and 15 percent of support staff positions are reserved for women.

Due to the multisectoral nature of the women's development program, an apex body, the National Council for Women's Development (NCWD), has been formed under the leadership of the Prime Minister. There is a significant number of women in different committees, such as the women's development, implementation and evaluation committee, at different levels within the Council. All nationalized banks include women in their boards of directors. The government has introduced lateral entry for women into the state structure to increase the number of women in senior decision-making positions.

Economic empowerment

The government has also undertaken numerous measures to provide productive resources to women for their self-reliance. Credit, technology, training and other support services are provided to this effect. The various credit programs undertaken by NGOs also significantly contribute to the economic empowerment of women. The government has recognized the contribution of NGOs and there is significant collaboration between NGOs and the government. Micro-credit programs, for the first time, have given women the option to earn income independently and make decisions on how to use it. Millions of women all over Bangladesh have benefited from these programs, in terms of higher standards of living for them and their families.

The Fifth Five Year Plan (1996 to 2000) of Bangladesh focuses on issues contained in the National Policy for the Advancement of Women and the National Plan of Action, and spells out specific projects and programs designed to accelerate the progress of women's empowerment.