Nation strives to improve the rights and lives of its women

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 26 March, 2006, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 26 March, 2006, 12:00am

Eliminating gender disparity and providing equal opportunities at every level is a top priority

WOMEN'S rights and the empowerment of women are top-priority issues for the Bangladesh government, said Bangladesh Consul-General A.F.M. Gousal Azam Sarker.

'The government aims to eliminate gender disparity by integrating women into all sectors of mainstream society,' he said.

Bangladesh, unlike some nations with a majority Muslim population, is seeing women playing an increasingly important role in the country's economic and commercial life.

'The government is taking big, bold strides in this direction,' Mr Sarker said. 'We have a National Women's Development Policy, which is the cornerstone of our efforts to protect and empower Bangladeshi women.'

One striking success story is the remarkable growth in self-employment opportunities for women. A total of 95 per cent of the recipients of the country's microcredit schemes - financial help in the form of small sums

of money with no collateral required - are women. The government is also creating opportunities for women to gain education and labour skills, and

is working to eliminate trafficking in women and violence against them.

The National Women's Development Policy lists a number of high-priority objectives, the most pressing being:

Giving women legal rights in accordance with property inheritance law and other laws;

Raising women's status and giving them equal rights in all spheres of development;

Giving women access to education, health, nutrition, water and sanitation and social services;

Increasing women's participation in political and administrative decision-making, at national and local levels;

Reducing poverty;

Increasing women's participation in public service to cover all tiers of local government;

Promoting women's self-reliance through expansion of vocational skills training, especially in non-traditional areas such as managerial training;

Protecting women and children from insecurity in the workplace, economic exploitation and hazardous occupations.

As Bangladesh travels the highway of modernisation, the 'mainstreaming' of women has taken on a special significance. For example, macroeconomic policies are in place to ease the burden of poverty on women in the less prosperous parts of the country, and the Ministry of Education is ensuring that gender equality is reflected in the national curriculum.

'Change is coming about incrementally,' Mr Sarker said. 'But every year we advance further towards a fully just society for both men and women.'

The nation's drive to improve the lot of its womenfolk is part of a generally encouraging picture that has seen one of Asia's most economically vulnerable nations lift itself out of a struggle against seemingly endemic problems.

Major impediments to growth, apart from natural problems such as cyclones and floods, are moribund state-owned enterprises and corruption. Progress in handling such problems has been steady under the Zia administration. Even cyclones cause less devastation these days, thanks to improved preparedness for natural disasters.

One area where Bangladesh could demonstrate more of the pragmatism it is showing elsewhere is on the waterfronts and wharfs of the country's ports, where the nation meets the rest of the world.

According to a recent BBC report, it takes seven days to unload a container ship docked in Bangladesh. Moreover, more than 30 'chops' or stamps are required to satisfy a raft of regulations. By comparison, in nearby Singapore it takes an average of seven hours to unload a container ship, and no more than five chops to complete formalities.

Red tape continues to impede progress in the otherwise vibrant economy of Bangladesh.

But the advances made in gender equality have shown that, with resolve, the most stubborn barriers to development can be overcome.