Women's empowerment is measured in four areas: women's involvement and opportunities in the economy, achievements in the education sector, health care and position in politics. Although we are at the top in South Asia, we slipped seventh notches from last year. Bangladesh's progress in other social indicators is not consistent. In most cases, it advances one step forward then two steps back.
In 2021, the progress we made in education and political engagement has fallen back, although we advanced slightly in achieving economy and healthcare. Last year we were ranked 147th and 134th respectively in these two while 141 and 129 this time. We certainly made progress.
Education and political empowerment is one of the foundations of gender equality in Bangladesh. The country has had a woman as chief executive for more than three decades (with the exception of two years of caretaker government in between). The speaker of the national parliament and the leader of the opposition party are also women. In that case, the equality of men and women in politics should move forward.
But the previous governments were not able to achieve the desired success as they continued in the conventional way. At the local level we are electing women representatives through direct voting. But the 50 seats reserved for women in the national parliament are being elected through indirect voting. Their power has been greatly reduced by this.
Another foundation of women's empowerment in Bangladesh was education. The ratio of students at primary and secondary level was almost equal. Female students are also ahead in exam results. It is certainly positive. But their presence in the work place is not that visible.
During the Covid period, girls have also fallen behind in education. Many girls dropped out of from education especially due to child marriage. Education and health are interrelated. It is not possible to move forward in one after moving backward in other. In order to establish equality between men and women, empowerment of women must be ensured at all levels of society. Child marriage should be brought to zero.
Bangladesh is at the top of South Asia in gender equality. It's like getting a consolation prize. We must not stop here. There is a long way to go. We have to compete with the top countries. If we really want the equality of men and women, we must put an end to the patriarchal character of the state. Socio-economic barriers should be removed.