9.1 Women in Development

9.1.1 The goal of economic development of a country is to increase the well-being and quality of life of the population through growth with social justice. This includes women as well as men. Women are nearly half of the population. They represent a half of the country's human resources and thus a half of its potential. Continuing disparities between women and men in life expectancy, health status, employment and income opportunities, education, control over assets, personal security and participation in the political process demonstrate that development investments and programmes do not benefit women equitably. Inequitable distribution hinders the process of women’s development. It also limits the country's ability to achieve its full potential.

9.2 Constitutional Provisions

9.2.1 Women's rights to equality and affirmative action in respect to equality are guaranteed in the Constitution. According to the Constitution of Bangladesh, all citizens are equal before the law and are entitled to equal protection of the law (Article 27); the State shall not discriminate against any citizen on the grounds of religion, race, caste, sex or place of birth [Article 28(1)]; women have equal rights with men in all spheres of the State and public life [Article 28(2)]; nothing shall prevent the State from making special provision in favour of women or for the advancement of any backward section of the population [Article 28(4)].

9.2.2 The Constitution further advances and incorporates the principle of special representation of women in local self-governing bodies (Article 9). Three women members are elected to the Union Parishads and Municipal Councils. Provision has also been made to reserve thirty seats for women in the Parliament (Article 65).

9.2.3 The pursuit of equal opportunities for women and men is an important goal in its own right. It is also increasingly recognised that development objectives such as accelerated economic growth, poverty alleviation, family well-being and employment creation cannot be achieved without the contribution and participation of women. The benefits of action on issues of women's equality and development are generally accepted in principle. However, in practice, initiatives have been limited and progress has been slow. The Fifth Plan aims at realising the constitutional goal of equality between all citizens - women and men. Thus a major thrust of the Fifth Plan will be integration of WID concerns and gender issues in the mainstream of development.

9.3 Situation of Women

9.3.1 Women constitute about 49 per cent of the population. Various indicators reveal that the status of women is much lower than that of men. Traditional socio-cultural practices limit their opportunities in education, skill development, employment and participation in the overall development process. Their literacy rate is only 38.1 per cent, much lower than that of men (which is 55.6 per cent); life expectancy is 58.1 years for men and 57.6 years for women. Excessive mortality among women due to discrimination has resulted in a sex ratio in the population whereby there are 105 men for every 100 women. Nutritional status of women and girls is marked by sharp differences with that of men and boys. Health care for women is often restricted to their reproductive health. General health of women at all ages is often neglected. Women are married at a much lower age than men; mean age at marriage of women is 20.0 while that of men is 27.6. Early marriage, repeated pregnancy, and long child bearing spans have serious implications for women's low nutritional status and high maternal mortality rate (4.4 per 1000 live births).Violence against women is alarmingly on the increase. The Bangladesh Bureau of Statistics, in a special report in 1993, revealed that death due to unnatural causes (suicide, murder, burn, snake bite, poisoning, accident and drowning) is almost three times higher for women than pregnancy related causes.

9.3.2 Despite the Constitutional mandate that women cannot be discriminated in respect of any employment or office of the State (Article 29), women's visibility in the public service has been negligible. Their participation in institutional development and decision making is also minimal. Wage differentials between men and women are very high in case of wage employment. The incidence of divorce, desertion and widowhood has been growing; 15 per cent of all rural households are female-headed and 25 per cent of all landless households are headed by women showing strong links between gender disadvantage and poverty. Female-headed households earn 40 per cent less income than male-headed households.

9.3.3 As per LFS 1995/96, of the total 56 million labour force, 34.7 million are males and 21.3 million are females. However, women are generally pushed into the unskilled labour force, primarily because of the obstacles women and girls face in acquiring marketable skills. The climate is still adverse for accelerated entry into the formal labour force by women with vocational and management skills.

9.4 Women in Development Plans

9.4.1 Women have been considered as a distinct target group in the development plans of the country. The First Plan (1973-1978) emphasised a welfare oriented approach and focused on rehabilitation of war-affected women and children. The Two Year Plan (1978-1980) was characterised by a shift from welfare to development efforts. The Second Plan (1980-1985) emphasised creating a congenial atmosphere for women's increased participation in development through expanding opportunities for skill development, credit and entrepreneurship development programmes. The Third Plan (1985-1990) had specific objectives to reduce disparity between development of men and women. The Fourth Plan (1990-1995) placed women within the context of a macro framework with multi-sectoral thrust and focused more on the development of poor and disadvantaged women. However, women's development issues were not made an integral part of the process of formulating, implementing and evaluating development programmes across all sectors. Some sectoral projects incorporated an understanding of differences between women and men in situations and opportunities as a means of seeking a fair distribution of project benefits and a reduction of gender disparities, while some projects included specific targets or objectives for women's development.

9.4.2 During this long period, no significant shift has been visible in terms of addressing women's needs and interests. No tangible progress was made due to lack of a comprehensive integration of WID aspects in development planning and inadequate co-ordination and monitoring in various sectors. The need for coherence in the government's thrust on WID among different sectoral agencies, as well as between government and NGOs was not clearly perceived.

9.5 International Perspective and National Framework

9.5.1 Bangladesh ratified the UN Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) in November 1984. Within the overall framework of the CEDAW and as a follow-up to the United Nations Fourth World Conference on Women held in 1995, Bangladesh Government has adopted a National Policy for Women's Advancement (NPWA). It sets the goal of eliminating all forms of discrimination against women by empowering them with the ability of being equal partners of development. The national policy aims at promoting and protecting women's human rights; ensuring equal rights to have access to politics, administration, sports, culture and socio-economic activities; reflecting positive image of women in the media; eradicating persistent burden of poverty on women; ensuring equal access to health and nutrition care; prioritising education and skill training for women; emphasising protection from environmental hazards; supporting measures for the security of abandoned, deserted women in need of special protection measures including elimination of trafficking of and violence against women, and rehabilitation of women affected during natural calamities; and, facilitating participation of women in all the national and international bodies and fora. Based on the findings of the institutional review and sectoral needs assessment studies of 12 ministries conducted during 1996, a National Action Plan (NAP) for Implementation of the Beijing Platform for Action has been formulated. The NAP emphasises the incorporation of gender dimension and concerns such as gender equality, gender desegregated information, gender specific allocation of programmes and projects to the sectoral ministries, special resource allocation for gender responsive programmes towards achieving gender equity in key social and economic indicators. The NAP, therefore, aims at translating the policy statements made in the NPWA into concrete programme packages and project components to be implemented and certain policy adjustments to be made within a specific time-frame.


9.5.2 The shared responsibility for women's equality and development is strongly emphasised in the Beijing Platform for Action which was endorsed by the Government of Bangladesh in September,1995. Various studies in the institutional review of the government’s ‘WID Capability’ carried out during 1995-97, considered the formulation of long-term and annual plans and the process by which these plans were translated into projects by sectoral ministries. The institutional review identified many gaps in institutional mechanisms, professional skills and information resources in various agencies of the government. The review has found that initiatives for women's development are ad hoc and uncoordinated. Attention to women's development issues is largely compartmentalised in the women's development sector. There have been inherent constraints in addressing gender concerns through development intervention, primarily because of not reaching the socially and economically vulnerable women. Overall, there is a limited understanding of the requirement of a mainstreaming approach. All ministries and agencies of the government have responsibility for women's development. Accordingly, all agencies have responsibilities for ensuring that their policies and programmes respond to the needs and interests of women as well as men and distribute benefits equitably between women and men. These are the basic elements of the mainstreaming approach of the government. It seeks to move beyond isolated and marginal programmes for women to consistent and systematic efforts in all sectoral plans, programmes and projects. Thus, gender issues are to be addressed cross-sectorally and horizontally.