Last February, I met Chaya Rani Das, a very talented woman with extraordinary leadership skills.
As an elected official in the Union Parishad (local government), she is an influential decision-maker. As a key member of the school committee in Dacope Upazila, she ensures that the children in the village get an education. As a female entrepreneur, she leads women’s groups in the community, organizing them to grow food, engage in livestock farming and take care of tree plantations along the river embankment to earn wages.
Her determination to improve the lives of women and to invest in a better future for children through education is exemplary.
Chaya’s accomplishments reflect those of millions of Bangladeshi women leaders who are rising and charting their paths towards prosperity, and finding their voices at the family, community, or national levels.
Chaya’s accomplishments reflect those of millions of Bangladeshi women leaders who are rising and charting their paths towards prosperity
Creating opportunities for Bangladesh's women
The Government, non-governmental organizations, and other key stakeholders, deliberately developed innovative programs such as conditional cash transfers and financial inclusion, stipend programs for girl students, family planning, and micro-finance created opportunities for millions of girls and women from all walks of life.
These programs contributed to the decline in fertility rates from 6.1 births per woman in 1971, to 2.05 births in 2019 – almost at the population replacement level.
The Government’s successive Five Year Plans emphasized gender equality and sought to promote women’s entrepreneurship and participation in regional and international trade.
Between 2003 to 2016, Bangladesh increased the female labor participation rate by 10 percent to 36 percent, thanks to the readymade garments and livestock sectors.
For example, Mim, a technical diploma graduate from Dhaka Mohila Polytechnic, is one of these young women leaders.
After completing her degree, she used her technical skills to start her own IT-service-based company. She now has bigger dreams.
"In the future, I would like to pursue further studies," she shares. "I want to develop high-quality skills. I want to help women find jobs and advance themselves. This is my target.”
Women still facing challenges
Despite these impressive outcomes, women continue to face challenges. Notwithstanding the increase of female employment over the years, women are still less than half as likely as men to be in the labor force.
The 2017 Global Gender Gap Report notes that
Women in Bangladesh have less access to finance.
Social and economic barriers often prevent women from accessing and deciding on the use of assets, including land and cattle. Women also lack financial literacy thus impacting their ability to gain access to finance, land assets, and supply chain logistics to run businesses.
Early marriage continues to be an impediment to women’s economic empowerment. Currently, almost 60 percent of adolescent girls are married before the legal age of 18.
Furthermore, the long-term socioeconomic consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic threaten to reverse decades of gains in human capital, especially for women and girls.
Studies have shown that women have suffered disproportionately from the increases in joblessness, domestic care burden, and gender-based violence.
Although the female entrepreneurship rate has been growing - women make up only 7 percent of the over 7 million entrepreneurs in the country and, women-led businesses continue to be small.
The road ahead
Many projects are aimed at accelerating the path towards gender equality and greater economic empowerment of women.
Educating girls and keeping them in school longer, will save them from child marriage.
The World Bank-funded Health and Gender Support Project is providing GBV clinical services and integrating these in all the tiers of the health system. The project is also strengthening system capacity for GBV services provision including 35 Women Friendly Spaces (providing counseling for sexual and gender-based violence).
Concerted efforts will be needed to create equal opportunities for women to compete and get jobs in male-dominated sectors
Creating an enabling environment for women to get gainful employment will help Bangladesh achieve its growth aspirations. To this end, the World Bank is enthusiastically supporting the Child Daycare Act recently approved by the Cabinet, which will allow more women to enter the labor force.
Safetipin, implemented with technical assistance from the World Bank, will help in providing accurate data on the condition of safety and mobility around urban cities.Technology platforms like
International Women’s Day reminds us that women have come a long way in Bangladesh, but the destination of gender equality and economic empowerment is still far. With a committed and visionary leadership, I am confident that