‘Women shall have equal rights with men in all spheres of the State and of public life.’ Bangladesh Constitution, Article 28 (2)
Girls have surpassed boys in the percentage of successfully passing the Higher Secondary School (HSC) exams this year. A total of 71.67 percent of the boys passed the exams, while 76.44 percent of the girls passed. Boys did a bit better in higher scores, 24,576 getting GPA 5, while 22,710 girls obtained GPA 5. There were 703,000 boy examinees, with 503,828 passing the exam. And the number of girl examinees stood at 633,629 with 484,344passing.
In this year’s Secondary School Certificate (SSC) exams, girls had a higher passing percentage and more girls scored GPA 5 than boys. The percentage of girls passing this SSC exam was 83.28, while for boys it was 81.13. A total of 105,594 students obtained the GPA 5 core, of which 53,484 were girls and 52,110 were boys.
UNDP’s Millennium Development Goals (MDG) report stated that 75.4 per cent of those between 15 and 24 years of age in Bangladesh were educated. Among this, the educated percentage among females was 76.6 and for males 74 percent. That means the rate of education among women is 2.6 percent higher than that of men.
According to the report, the rate of children’s enrollment in primary school was 97.7 percent at present. But for girls this percentage was 98.8. Boys’ enrollment was static at 96.6 percent. And Nobel Laureate Amartya Sen had openly stated that Bangladesh is faring better than India and its other neighbours when it comes to women’s education.
Girls have been performing well for quite a few years now in the SSC and HSC exams. But what happens to them eventually? Can they continue with their education and careers? No,
according to the facts and figures, they cannot.
In the 31st BCS (Bangladesh Civil Service) exam, there were 1475 male candidates, but only 621 females. In the 34th BCS exams, male candidates stood at 1400 and women, 775. The gap is even wider in the case of other government and non-government jobs. Women may be ahead in their education performance, but fall behind when it comes to jobs. Many just remain back at home or are obliged to do so.
While girls outnumber boys at the primary and SSC level, their numbers fall after that. They make up 47 percent of the students at the HSC level and 40 percent or less in university.
Not all students who do well in the SSC or HSC exams get the chance to study at university. In the case of boys, financial constraints often prevent them from pursuing a university education. For girls it is often the family, social and religious obstacles that halt them from entering university. In a country where some religious leaders issue fatwas that girls should study only up till class four, or should study separately from boys, girls will certain come u against such obstacles.
The boys who cannot continue studies after HSC, generally take up some job or the other. But this is not always possible for girls. As for the girls who do get admitted to university, many of them have to eventually drop out. Many of them have to marry once their parents find a suitable boy. It is as if the reason of their studies was to ultimately marry well.
In recent times there have also been many incidents of female students being harassed in educational institutions. That too is a deterrent to female education. Sonagazi’s Nusrat Jahan was studying at the madrasa there to add religious studies to her mainstream education. But the madrasa principal Siraj Uddowla sexually harassed her. But when she protested and tried to file charges against him, he had her set on fire and burned to death. The HSC exams were going on at the time and Nusrat had taken two of the tests. When the results were published recently, it was seen she scored GPA 4 in both of these papers.
Girls face obstacles at every step in our society. That is why though their education rate is going up, they lag behind in their careers. There was a time when a large number of women worked in NGOs, but NGOs have limited their activities now.
According to a manpower survey by the Bangladesh Bureau of Statistics (BBS), there are 18.2 million women in the job market in Bangladesh. For men this number is 42.5 million. Unemployment among men is 3 per cent and among women is 7 per cent.
Government officials declare with much fanfare that women are entering pubic administration, the judiciary, business, the police force, the army and para military in increasing numbers, but compared to other developing countries, we haven’t advanced that significantly.
Bangladesh is a conduit between South Asian and South East Asia. To the west, women’s lack of development and backwardness is more noticeable. There is India, Pakistan and Afghanistan where women fall behind. But to the east, women are faring much better. In Myanmar, Thailand, Vietnam, South Korea and China, 100 percent of the women are working. Women are present in equal numbers in offices, marketplaces and public transport. But in Dhaka, women do not exceed 10 percent in any government office or private company. The percentage of women in senior posts is even less.
Many people point to the Grameen Bank or BRAC model or the readymade garment industry to indicate the large number of employed women. But most of the women involved in these institutions are uneducated and caught in the poverty trap.
Just as the advancement of girls at the SSC and HSC level is heartwarming, it is painful to see them falling back when it comes to their careers. Where are these bright and meritorious girls lost?
Women’s employment is n the lower tiers of society in our country, in the agricultural field and in the factories. In the middle class families, the male guardians want the girls to work as long as the family needs the supplementary income. Once the family does not need this extra income, the doors are closed on women’s work outside the house. In the upper rungs of society they feel that they do not need the money, so why should their women work?
They do not perceive that a man or women may work for more reasons than just financial. Financial income is certainly a factor. A persons is paid for his or her services and will become self reliant. But there is even a bigger picture where the experience and wisdom earned is applied to the advancement of society and the state as a whole. This is not a wish or a whim, but a responsibility.
But male dominated social systems are unwilling to allow these rights to women. And it is this mindset that holds women back in their careers despite brilliant performance in their studies.
* Sohrab Hassan is joint editor of Prothom Alo and a poet. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org. This piece appeared in the print version of Prothom Alo and has been rewritten in English by Ayesha Kabir