Social, economic and political context in Bangladesh

Key facts

Capital: Dhaka
Abdul Hamid (March 2013)
140 – 150 million
Population density
: 1000 persons per sq. km
147,570 sq. km
Major religions:
Islam (90 per cent) - rest adhering to Hinduism, Buddhism and Christianity
Economic sectors (2010-2011)
: industry (30 per cent of GDP), agriculture (20 per cent of GDP), manufacturing (10 per cent of GDP), construction (6 per cent of GDP)
Per capita income:

Political context

The Moghuls ruled the country from the 13th century until the 18th century, when the British took over and administered the subcontinent until 1947. During British rule, Bangladesh was part of India. In 1947, the independent states of Pakistan and India were created. The present territory of Bangladesh was a part of Pakistan and was known as East Pakistan. It was separated from West Pakistan by 1600 kilometres of Indian territory. Bangladesh emerged on the world map as a sovereign state on March 26, 1971, after fighting a nine-month war of liberation. This was followed by many years of political turmoil and military coups. The December 1990 mass movement for democracy was successful in forcing elections, which replaced the corrupt government. Democracy was restored in 1991 and since then Bangladesh has experienced a period of economic progress and relative calm.

Social and economic context

Bangladesh is an E9 country and a ‘least developed country’ with deep-ridden and inherited extreme poverty and hunger, growing social and economic disparities, frequent cases of political and civil unrest and the daunting challenge of natural hazards, likely to be further compounded by climate change in the years to come.

According to the Human Development Report (HDI) 2010, Bangladesh is one of the countries that made the greatest progress in recent decades, as measured by the Human Development Index (HDI). Bangladesh’s HDI has increased by 81 per cent in the past 30 years. Even with such impressive relative gains, Bangladesh remains a country in need of continued and coherent development assistance.

40 per cent of the population of Bangladesh is estimated to continue to live below the national poverty line, while child malnutrition rate is at 41per cent of children under the age of 5. The sex ratio between male and female populations was 19:20 in 2007. More than a third of the total population is under 15 years and more than half between the ages 15 and 59. The demographic dependency ratio is about 76.6 per cent. This young age structure creates sustained momentum for population growth, which will continue well into the future – some estimates go as far as until 2060 – even in the case of rapid declines in fertility rates.

The Monitoring of Employment Survey of Bangladesh 2009 estimated that 53.7 million from the working-age population (15 years and above) are in the workforce. 40.2 million workers are male and 13.5 million are female. The female labour force increased by nearly 12 per cent between 2006 and 2009, while the male labour force increased by nearly 8 per cent. This indicates increased presence of women in the job market, bolstered by the readymade garments sector and opportunities created by microcredit operations in both rural and urban areas for various income-generating activities.

The Labour Force Survey (LFS) 2010 estimates that about 89 per cent of jobs in the labour market fall within the category of informal employment. This is more prevalent in rural areas than in urban areas and women are more likely to employed under informal arrangements.

Civil society

Bangladesh is home to one of the highest concentrations of NGO activity in the world and has a rich history of what can be described as civil society activity and organisation. Civil society has its origins in the country’s struggle for independence. Many NGOs were formed in the aftermath of the struggle against Pakistan. Over the last two decades, NGOs have increasingly shifted in favour of service delivery programmes, abandoning many earlier efforts at social mobilisation and community activism. This is seen by many to represent the depoliticisation of NGOs, resulting in an erosion of democracy.

Relations between the state and civil society have been strongly influenced by the country’s turbulent political history. Historically, government repression has played a major role in shaping the policy choices available to Bangladeshi NGOs. Today many contend that Bangladeshi civil society lacks the autonomous oppositional character needed to engage with state institutions and the political elite. The two major political parties unofficially control workers unions, business associations, student groups and many newspapers and consequently, civil society is unable to exert the oppositional strength necessary to influence public policy. Very few organizations beyond development NGOs are actively engaged in working with the poorest.


A wide range of bilateral and multilateral donors provide development aid to Bangladesh with the UK’s Department for International Development (DfID), United States Agency for International Development (USAID), the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA), Government of Japan, the World Bank, Asian Development Bank (ADB), United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and the World Food Programme (WFP) acting as key players.

With economic growth, the inflow of aid as a proportion of GDP has declined over time. Following independence, external resources financed more than 70 per cent of the Bangladesh’s investment. This figure fell to less than 10 per cent in 2005. While the significance of international aid as a source of investment has reduced over the years, the influence of donors on policy-related matters has increased significantly. In line with global trends in international development, policy lending has become more important than project lending.

Review of Literature on Unpaid Care Work Bangladesh

This review carried out by the Centre for Gender and Social Transformation (CGST) in Bangladesh examines selected policies and plans of the Government of Bangladesh and available research in Bangladesh in response to the need to address ‘unpaid care work’ at the policy level. Its purpose is to look at whether, and the extent to which, ‘unpaid care work’ is addressed in existing national laws, government policies and research in Bangladesh. The findings reveal that ‘unpaid care work’ has primarily featured in a limited way and mostly as background noise both at the research and policy level in Bangladesh. Although barely addressed directly in policies or in research, some very recent changes indicate the creation of space in policies for the emergence and recognition of ‘unpaid care work’.

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Gender equality

Women’s opportunities and participation in public space have seen improvements in recent decades. Progress has been made in closing the gender gap in school enrolments at the primary and secondary levels. The rapid growth of the readymade garment industry has created employment opportunities for women and many women are members of the local government councils. The government’s commitment to improving women’s equality is reflected in the National Women Development Policy 2011 as well as the national poverty reduction strategy, National Strategy for Accelerated Poverty Reduction (NSAPR II).

Despite improvements in education for girls, and creation of economic opportunities for women and women’s political participation, Bangladesh continues to score poorly on gender indices. It was ranked 86th in the Global Gender Gap Index 2012 from among 135 countries surveyed, and 111th in the Gender Inequality Index 2012.

Ratification of international instruments
Bangladesh ratified the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) on 6 November, 1984 and subsequently ratified the Optional Protocol on CEDAW in 2000. It is also a signatory to the Beijing Declaration and endorsed its Platform for Action (PFA).

National gender mechanisms
Ministry of Women and Children Affairs (MOWCA, established in 1978)

  • Multi-Sectoral Programme on Violence Against Women (implemented by MOWCA under the aegis of the Government of Bangladesh and the Government of Denmark)
  • National Women Development Policy 2011

Ministry of Health and Family Welfare (MOHFW)

  • Gender Equity Strategy 2001
  • Health, Nutrition and Population Sector Programme – Women Friendly Hospital Initiative (WFHI)

National Women and Child Development Council (a 50 member council with the Prime Minister in the Chair)

Parliamentary Standing Committee on Development of Women

Legal framework

  • Domestic Violence (Prevention and Protection) Act 2010
  • Bangladesh Labour Act 2006
  • Acid Crime Control Act 2002
  • Speedy Trial Tribunal Act 2002
  • Prevention of Repression of Women and Children Act 2000
  • Dowry Prohibition Act 1980
  • Child Marriage Restraint Act 1929


Asian Development Bank (2012) People’s Republic of Bangladesh: Updating and Improving the Social Protection Index   (accessed 28 September 2013)

Asian Development Bank (2010) The Informal Sector and Informal Employment in Bangladesh: Country Report 2010 (accessed 28 September 2013)

Bangladesh Demographic and Health Survey
(2011) (accessed 24 September 2013)

Davis, P.R. and McGregor J.A. (2000) ‘Civil Society, International Donors and Poverty in Bangladesh’, Commonwealth and Comparative Politics 38.1: 47-64

Government of Bangladesh (2011) National Women Development Policy 2011, Ministry of Women and Children Affairs (accessed 26 September 2013)

Government of Bangladesh (2009) Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women: 6th and 7th Combined Report (2001-2009), Ministry of Women and Children Affairs (accessed 26 September 2013)

Government of Bangladesh (2009) Flow of External Resources into Bangladesh Economic Relations Departments, Ministry of Finance (accessed 27 September 2013)

Parnani, S.N. (2006) ‘Civil Society and Good Governance in Bangladesh’, Asian Journal of Political Science 14.2: 189-211

Quibria, M.G. (2010) Aid Effectiveness in Bangladesh: Is the Glass Half Full or Half Empty? Unpublished paper (accessed 27 September 2013)

Rahman, S. (2006) ‘Development, Democracy and the NGO Sector: Theory and Evidence from Bangladesh’, Journal of Developing Societies 22.4: 451-473

UNESCO (2012) UNESCO Country Programming Document for Bangladesh 2012-2016, Dhaka: UNESCO (accessed 20 September 2013)

World Economic Forum (2012) Insight Report: The Global Gender Gap Report 2012 (accessed 26 September 2013)