BRIDGE Report 26: Background Report on Gender Issues in Bangladesh

Author: S. Baden, A. M. Goetz, C. Green
Publisher: Institute of Development Studies UK
Publication Date: Aug 1994
What is it like to be a woman in Bangladesh during times of socio-economic transformation' What forms of discrimination must women deal with on a daily basis' This report discusses the social, economic, political and legal status of women in Bangladesh and identifies the needs of women in employment, health, education, access to and control over natural resources, and physical security. Women are largely discriminated against in all of these sectors, and lack access to education, health, economic and natural resources and legal rights. Gender relations are undergoing change with increasing women's labour force participation (sometimes in traditionally male areas), erosion of their entitlements (e.g. through marriage breakdown), increasing female rural-urban migration, and rising numbers of female-headed households. Yet this conflicts with traditional cultural practices which subject women to men's control, often reinforced through violence. Government policies and donor programmes must recognise widespread gender discrimination and introduce gender analysis into programmes, so as to develop responsive strategies to overcome this inequality.

Cultural practices such as 'purdah' (or 'curtain', prohibits women from travelling outside the home and upholds traditional gender roles) continue to reinforce negative gender stereotypes and suppress women. These underlying traditions, combined with socio-economic change, contribute to widespread gender inequality, highlighted in the following: . Women are increasingly visible in the labour force (including agriculture), but face discrimination in wages and job security. Women in rural areas are often underemployed (not working to full capacity). . Poverty is more common among women than men. Alleviation efforts have been weakened because of the ineffectiveness of local governments. . Women lack access to the market and are concentrated in traditionally female occupations such as small-scale industry and unregulated informal sector, where their wages and job security are at risk. . Educational enrolment, attainment, and drop-out rates are quite different for males and females, with women lagging far behind men. . Current health provision is inadequate, especially in rural areas, with very high maternal mortality and too much emphasis on family planning. . Grassroots women's groups and women field workers have increased, but they risk physical violence and intimidation (recently by Islamic forces). . Women have unequal rights before the law. Male domination, illiteracy and unfamiliarity with the law prevent them from claiming the legal rights they have. . Violence against women is widespread and rising in the form of wife battering, murder, rape and abduction, yet under-reported. International organisations and governments must respond to these concerns, with the following: . Address labour market discrimination against women in all sectors, improve women's employment schemes and monitor work conditions. Provide better access to markets for women, as this will improve their economic opportunities. . Specific measures are needed to increase women's job security and underemployment such as skill development for new sectors, extension of employment schemes, building up of women's asset base (e.g. through credit), and promoting employment of women among managers. . Provide childcare facilities in workplaces, to reduce the risk that girl children will be expected to drop-out of school in order to care for younger siblings at home, while their mothers are at work. . Promote women's access to and control over natural resources (e.g. land and water), as part of rural poverty alleviation strategies. Concerns of urban poor women should be a high priority within policies to address urban poverty. . Build capacity for gender awareness within local governments through training to ensure that poverty alleviation work takes account of gender inequalities. . Encourage female participation in education through hiring of more female teachers, lowering costs to girls, extension of scholarships, flexible time schedules, and increased non-formal education provision. . Improve provision of health services (particularly in rural areas) and expand the focus on women's health beyond reproductive concerns. . NGOs and donors must support grassroots women's movements and help ensure the safety of members. . Publicly recognise and enforce laws relating to violence against women. Extend accessibility of legal services for women, to restore their confidence in the legal process.