Women empowerment and SDGs in Bangladesh — Part I & II

The United Nations General Assembly at its 70th session held on September 25, 2015 adopted the outcome document of the UN summit for the adoption of the post-2015 development agenda entitled ‘Transforming Our World: the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development’ and decided on new global  Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). At the core of the 2030 Agenda is a list of 17 Goals (SDGs) and 169 targets to end poverty, hunger and inequality, take action on climate change and environment, improve access to health and education, care for people and the planet, and build strong institutions and partnerships.

The Agenda 2030 thus becomes quite comprehensive. The SDGs are unprecedented in terms of scope and significance and go much beyond the MDGs (Millennium Development Goals/2001-15) by including economic growth, sustainable production and consumption, sustainable urbanisation, big data generation for tracking progress and importance of peace and justice for all. The Agenda 2030 calls for action by all countries — poor, rich and middle income.

Bangladesh has been widely acclaimed as one of the forerunners of MDGs implementation and attainments. It achieved many targets ahead of time and others within the 2015 deadline. It made outstanding progress in the areas of poverty alleviation, ensuring food security, primary school enrolment, and gender parity in primary and secondary level education, lowering infant and under-five mortality rate and maternal mortality ratio, improving immunisation coverage, and reducing the incidence of communicable diseases. Buoyed by its success Bangladesh became an active participant of the global process underlying the preparation of post-MDG agenda with its domestic and global actions.

The General Economics Division (GED) of the Bangladesh Planning Commission, steered the preparation of a draft of the post-2015 Development Agenda suggesting Goals and Targets and several indicators. Several rounds of consultations with multiple stakeholders including government officials, public representatives, civil society organisations (CSOs), and media representatives took place in 2013 at both national and sub-national levels. The document also benefited from inputs provided by relevant government ministries, experts from UN organisations, and development partners.

POST-2015 DEVELOPMENT AGENDA: Bangladesh’s Proposal to the UN came up with 11 goals, 58 targets and 241 indicators. The goals concerned pressing development issues embracing human potential, reducing poverty and inequality, attaining food security and nutrition, health and family planning, gender equality, quality education and skills, employment and worker rights, good governance, sustainable production and consumption, environmental sustainability and disaster management, and forging international cooperation and partnership. Notably the Bangladesh proposals were consistent with the global aspirations as 9 out of 11 proposals were common to those proposed by Open Working Group (OWG) of the United Nations responsible for drafting of post-MDGs Development Agenda.

The other goal proposed by Bangladesh was reflected as target in SDGs. The SDGs are not though legally binding, governments are expected to take ownership and establish national frameworks for achievement of the goals.

PHILOSOPHY BEHIND IMPLEMENTATION OF SDGs: It is ‘Whole of Society’ approach, and for leaving no one behind and participation of women. Bangladesh has made a remarkable progress in terms of institutionalising the SDGs implementation mechanism. For achieving Vision 2041 and emerging as a high income country by 2041, the country has adopted the Perspective Plan 2021-2041 and is on course to finalising the 8th Five-Year Plan (2021-2025) that aim to ‘leave no one behind’ (LNOB) and promote equitable and inclusive growth and development. The government of Bangladesh has consistently applied ‘whole of society’ approach to preparation of national development plans and policy documents of national importance. The government believes that success in attaining SDGs relies on mainstreaming all the deprived and disadvantaged group of people. With this vision, GED undertook a study to identify the most vulnerable groups who need special attention and these include old women, poor female-headed households and rural poor women, among others.

WOMEN DEVELOPMENT IN 7TH FIVE-YEAR PLAN: The consecutive Five-Year Plans (FYP) incorporated provisions for women’s development and gender equality in line with international commitments. The 7th Five-Year Plan (7Th FYP) 2016-2020, incorporated strategy for gender equality and women’s advancement and subsequent plans (FYPs) will aim at achieving the SDG targets. The government has set national targets and indicators as well as an action plan to implement the SDGs.

The 7th FYP adopted a comprehensive framework for promoting gender equality with four strategic objectives. These were: (a) improving women’s human capabilities, (b) increasing women’s economic benefits, (c) enhancing women’s voice and agency, and (d) creating an enabling environment for women’s advancement. These were backed by policy and legal framework and being implemented by using gender responsive budgeting (GRB). Actions for women’s development were directed towards eight key areas in 7th FYP and these are:

* Increase access to human development opportunities;

* Enhance access to and control over productive resources;

* Increase participation in decision-making;

* Establish conducive legal and regulatory environment;

* Improve institutional capacity, accountability and oversight;

* Increase protection and resilience from crisis and shocks;

* Promote positive social norms;

* Encourage women participations in cottage, micro, small and medium enterprises

The government is preparing its 8th Five-Year Plan (8th FYP) for 2021-2025 and emphasising the unfinished agenda to achieve the SDGs. Gender equality and women’s empowerment is one of 10 priority action areas declared by the Prime Minister of Bangladesh. Therefore, promotion of gender equality and women’s empowerment will continue as priorities in the 8th FYP. (To be continued)

Part II

As we are well-aware of, Bangladesh is set to graduate from least developed country (LDC) status by 2024 and become an upper middle income country by 2031. Bangladesh aims at becoming a ‘High Income Country’ by 2041; only economic freedom will not be enough for its citizens. Empowering women and maintaining gender equity along with other socio-development factors also need to be embraced as Bangladesh progresses along its development path.

Addressing the needs of women and girls and promoting gender equality have been in the central agenda of Bangladesh’s development pursuit. Consistent with this policy, laws, strategies and measures have been formulated and implemented in a progressive manner. Gender is mainstreamed in all areas and gender-discriminatory norms and practices are being eliminated by promoting women’s participation in all areas of life.

Bangladesh has signed the conventions and agreements on women’s and girls’ rights and development including the Human Rights Convention, the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW), the Beijing Platform for Action (BPfA), The Child Rights Convention (CRC), the Vienna Convention and several ILO (International Labour Organisation) conventions. The government is implementing the CEDAW, BPfA and the SDGs and has regularly prepared reports for relevant United Nations (UN) bodies. Bangladesh formulated its first national Women’s Development Policy (NWDP) in 1997, in the light of the BPfA and the CEDAW and the latest update of NWDP was done in 2011. To implement the NWDP of 2011, a National Action Plan was developed in 2013, which is now being updated for its alignment with the SDGs.

Access to human development opportunities for women has been extended during the present government’s tenure. In this connection, gender parity in access to education in both primary and secondary levels was achieved well ahead of the Millennium Development Goals (MDG) target. Girls outnumber boys both in primary and secondary enrolments. The gender parity index in primary and secondary education are1.10 and 1.20 respectively in 2018 which were 1.07 and 1.17 in 2017. It is a clear progress for girls over boys. The gender parity index tertiary education sector stands at 0.70 in 2018 which were only 0.52 in 2005. The government is trying its level best to reduce attrition rate of girls at the secondary level so that participation at tertiary level could be increased. [SDG-4]

Life expectancy at birth has increased from 71.6 years in 2016 to 72.3 in 2018 with 73.8 years for females and 70.8 years for males. Maternal mortality ratio also decreased from 216 in 2010 to 169 in 2018. This indicates that maternal, neonatal and children’s health (MNCH) and family planning (FP) services have been improved over the years. Primary healthcare, immunisation, family planning, health education, and first aids and institutional delivery services are being provided at the grassroots level through more than 13,000 community clinics. Births attended by skilled health personnel was 26.5 per cent in 2010 but it has been increased to 59 per cent in 2019. [SDG-3]

To implement the Disable Persons’ Rights and Protection Act 2013, an Action Plan was formulated in 2018. In 2018-19, a total of 41,904 female Person with Disabilities (PWDs) students received stipend (46.56 per cent). The Technical and Vocational Education and Training (TVET) sector helps to develop skills of women PWDs. Girls with disability have received ICT-training since 2015 by the ICT Division. Under the Social Security programme, around 432,800 women (42.38 per cent), who were financially insolvent PWDs, received allowance in FY 2018-19. Support is extended to women and girls of various marginalised communities including orphans, ethnic minority groups, transgender, tea workers and Dalits etc. Under 41 Children Homes, destitute girls are getting shelter, food, general education, sports and recreation, health care, vocational training, reintegration and rehabilitation services.  Shelter and support for victims of human trafficking, the sex workers, elderly and women in safe custody are also provided. Women in prison are being supported for child care, meditation and training. [SDG-5, 10]

Women’s access to economic opportunities and their financial inclusion have also increased with the initiatives of the government. Female unemployment rate also decreased to 6.7 per cent in 2017 from 7.3 per cent in 2013. Despite this increase, female unemployment rate is still higher than the male counterpart. For this reason, the government is creating opportunities for women to reduce gender inequality and strengthen women empowerment. It is widely noticeable that women have been enrolled in diversified jobs and in previously considered male-dominated areas such as business (hospitality, construction, agribusiness, defence, law enforcement, marine cadets, migrate workers etc.). Women are about 80 per cent of the 4.0 million workers in the readymade garment sector. The government has refixed the minimum wage for 43 industrial sectors. As a result, the gender wage gap has been reduced and in the public sector there is no wage discrimination. [SDG-8]

More than 49 million persons are supported for savings services and finance for self-employment through more than 700 microfinance organisations. Above 80 per cent of the micro finance beneficiaries are women. Transfer of most of the social allowances and stipends is delivered through mobile or agent banking. Internet-based online payments, e-commerce transaction has been expanded where many women are involved and benefitted. Mobile banking, agent banking and ATM booths have made financial transactions easy and inclusive. In addition, NGOs in collaboration with banks and the Western Union provide safe and fast remittance services at the doorsteps of the rural women. But of cottage, micro, small and medium enterprises financial supports programmes, only 4.0 per cent of women entrepreneurs get support. [SDG-8, 17]

The National Industry Policy, 2016 categorised and redefined the type of industries to facilitate women’s access to institutional finance. Bangladesh Bank has fixed interest rate for financing women entrepreneurs at 9.0 per cent. Under cottage, micro, small and medium enterprise (CMSME) window, a total of 67,309 women-led enterprises received finance in FY18 from banks and non-bank financial institutions (NBFI) showing a 165 per cent growth from FY17. The government allocated Tk 1.0 billion for Women Entrepreneurship Fund and Tk 250 million for Women Development Special Fund in FY19. Around 1.58 million women received agricultural and rural credit amounting to Tk 63.09 million from different banks. Jatiyo Mohila Sangstha (JMS), trained 71,200 women in business management since 2015 and targeted to train 22,500 women entrepreneurs. MOWCA has planned to develop 20 million rural women as entrepreneurs.

Besides, the government has established Joyeeta Foundation, which is working to commercially engage grassroots women in the supply chain from production to distribution. About 18,000 women entrepreneurs under 180 registered women associations are directly engaged with the foundation. [SDG-5, 8]

Women gained skills in livestock poultry, fisheries technology, tourism business management, ICT, hotel management, professional Chef, and Food and Beverage Production, etc. Participation of women in tourism sector is increasing gradually. ICT Division offers several training programmes to develop women in freelancing business in collaboration with private sector and NGOs. The training provides employable skills and ensures their access to ICT market for freelance work. Rural women have been benefitted through solar energy. Besides providing clean energy, women were trained by IDCOL on setting up solar panels, and biogas plants. This is saving women’s time and also reducing their health hazards. Women are also involved in production of compost and organic fertilizer; technicians are trained on artificial insemination and Livestock Technology Management and on Animal Nutrition and Technology Transfer. [SDG-5, 8]

Women participation in politics is also admirable. The 17th Amendment to the Constitution reserved 50 parliamentary seats exclusively for women for another 25 years. For the first time, the incumbent government has appointed a woman Election Commissioner in the Election Commission. Apart from the reserved seat, 23 elected members of parliament (MPs) are female. Women’s participation in parliament stood at 20.88 per cent in 2019 compared to 12.73 per cent in 1991. It is heartening to report that Bangladesh has ranked 50th in global ranking of countries indicating significantly better performance in promoting women empowerment compared to her South Asian neighbours (Source: Global Gender Gap Index 2020, WEF). All the South Asian countries except Bangladesh are ranked outside of top 100. [SDG-5]

In response to the High Court’s order in 2010, several ministries, departments and universities have already formed sexual harassment prevention committees. The legal and regulatory environments have also improved than before to protect the rights of women and to maintain gender parity. Many laws have been enacted and policies formulated to uphold women’s rights and increasing women’s access to resources and opportunities. Some of the key Acts are Child Marriage Restraint Act 2017, and the Dowry Prohibition Act 2018.  Several policies, plans and strategies were developed that promote women’s participation, benefits and decision-making. The Child Marriage Restraint Rules were formulated in 2018. The Domestic Violence (Prevention and Protection) Act 2010 and its Rules 2013 are aimed to prevent and protect women and children from domestic violence. The Child Marriage Restraint Act 2017, the National Action Plan to Prevent Violence against Women and Children (2018-2030) and the National Action Plan to Prevent Child Marriage are being implemented by the government and civil society organisations. The government is working to curtail sexual harassment in public places, educational institutions and in social media. The problem of child marriage is still rampant and needs to be drastically reduced.[SDG-16]

GENDER-RESPONSIVE BUDGETING: The government has taken steps to incorporate gender dimensions in the formal budgeting process. In 2005, the government of Bangladesh introduced Gender Responsive Budgeting (GRB) in an effort to mainstream gender issues in all policies and decision-making. A set of guidelines has also been issued to ensure that development projects are prepared and reviewed in a gender-sensitive manner. The number of Ministries undergoing GRB has increased to 43 in FY 2019 from 04 in FY 2010. The share of expenditure on women development as proportion of total budget increased to 29.65 per cent in FY 2019 which were 24.65 per cent in FY 2010.

FUTURE AGENDAS FOR WOMEN: This is no surprise that Bangladesh has progressed a lot in reducing challenges of women empowerment and ensuring gender equality or equity. Continuous improvement is being made in this area so that Bangladesh can be a role model in the global arena, particularly in South Asia. To achieve a developed Bangladesh, more initiatives are coming in the following areas in the next development plan:

  • Life cycle-based disease prevention and curative healthcare for women;
  • Access to modern reproductive health and family planning services;
  • Quality formal education at all levels;
  • Science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) and ICT education for girls;
  • Advancement of physically and mentally challenged women/girls;
  • Advancement of marginalised women;
  • Creating short- and long-term opportunities for decent employment for women;
  • Business development services for women entrepreneurs;
  • Improving work environment;
  • Banning violence and sexual harassment in public spheres;
  • Access to, and decision-making over use and protection of community resources;
  • Participation in national politics and local government;
  • Remove all discriminatory provisions in laws and policies in consistency with CEDAW;
  • All out efforts, both by public and private sectors, have to be pursued to increase labour force participation by eligible women folk as the women participation is yet very low in Bangladesh which is 36.3 per cent (world average is 48 per cent)

BANGLADESH’S RECOGNITION IN ACHIEVING WOMEN EMPOWERMENT: Bangladesh has achieved most of its targets of MDGs and is currently making a good stride in attaining the SDGs by 2030. Bangladesh received ‘Women in Parliaments Global Forum Award’, as the country has ranked 10th out of 142 nations in the political sphere. Moreover, the Prime Minister was awarded ‘UNESCO Peace Tree Award’ for her commitment to women’s empowerment and girls’ education, ‘Agent of Change Award’ by the Global Partnership Forum for her outstanding contributions to women empowerment, ‘Planet 50-50 Champion’ by UN-Women and ‘Champions of the Earth’ by UNEP for Policy Leadership.

CHALLENGES FOR MAINSTREAMING WOMEN IN ACHIEVING SDGS:

  • Quality human resources development;
  • Universal quality education;
  • Invigorating health and family planning;
  • Nutrition Security;
  • Job creation;
  • Skill enhancement for addressing the challenges of 4th IR and access to technology;
  • Work environment;
  • Care services;
  • Inclusiveness, equal opportunities and stopping discrimination;
  • Access to public resources;
  • Ensuring social security and reducing income inequality;
  • Financial inclusion;
  • Participation in politics and local government and decision making process;
  • Attaining zero early marriage and gender based violence;
  • Need for coordination among state and non-state bodies and among line ministries (Concluded)

 Dr Shamsul Alam is Member (Senior Secretary) at General Economics Division, Bangladesh Planning Commission. sambau23@gmail.com

Source: The Financial Express, 08-09 March 2020, Bangladesh

Link: https://bit.ly/3cJZbWR