Gender equality in Bangladesh: A long way to go

EditorialProthom Alo illustration

Bangladesh leading in every index of gender equality among all the South Asian countries is certainly good news. Much of that joy fades away though, when we see that gender disparity is most prominent in this very region. This report measures if men and women around the globe are provided with equal opportunities or not.

When it comes to gender equality in South Asia, Bangladesh is followed by Bhutan with the score of 68.2. The scores obtained by Sri Lanka, Nepal, Maldives and India are 66.3, 65.9, 64.9 and 64.3 respectively. Pakistan with the score of 57.5 and Afganistan with 40.5 are in the worst positions.

Meanwhile, Bangladesh’s achievement is 72.2 in World Economic Forum (WEF)’s latest Global Gender Gap Report 2023 with the global position of 59th. Leaving Sri Lanka behind, Bangladesh has been on the top of this list in South Asia since 2014.

This achievement in gender equality isn’t so small, when we are lagging behind in other statutory and social indexes. Last year in 2022, Bangladesh ranked 71st and the score was 71.4 per cent. Participation and opportunity in economy, access to education, health protection and political empowerment are the agendas taken into account in question of gender equality.

It must be acknowledged that educational opportunities for women in Bangladesh have increased a lot. And, there are more female children than male children in many educational institutes. Sometimes, girls do better than boys in public examinations and in higher education too, but fall behind in the job sector.

Even now, women’s participation in the work front is noticed more in the field of education and healthcare. Though participation of women in many other fields has been increasing, the rise should be even higher. While women were once quite ahead of men in terms of average life expectancy, that gap has somewhat shortened due to the corona pandemic.

Women have been serving as the chief executive of the state here for three decades now, which is a unique example to be found nowhere else. At the same time, there are women in the posts of the opposition leader and the speaker of the national parliament too. However, women’s representation in the cabinet as well as in the national parliament is low--only one-tenth-- in comparison.

Prior to the election of 2008, almost all the parties had pledged to ensure one-third women representation at all the levels of the party within 2021. None of the parties could fulfill that condition. Though there are one-third female members in the local government agencies, they have limited scope of work.

Women empowerment cannot be judged by figures alone, and we can see the proof of that both inside and outside of the parliament. Election manifesto of the political parties included the promise of one-third female representation in the parliament, elected through direct votes, which has still remained unfulfilled.

If we wish to establish gender equality, we cannot remain the number one among trailing countries. We have to compete with leading countries like Iceland, Finland, Norway, Sweden etc. Iceland is at the peak with a score of 90 whereas we scored 72.2. So in that regard, we are not trailing that far either.

The equality between men and women in the educational sector has to be spread to all other sectors as well. Still now, many educated women are still kept away from economic activities on various excuses.

While there have been women in the chief executive office of the state for three decades, the characteristics of the state and the society still remains male-centric.

Gender equality can only be established through equal partnership of men and women in every sphere of the domestic, social and statutory life. Bangladesh too can dream of becoming Iceland in this aspect.