Women are subjected to inequalities in the family, in the community and in the workplace. Discrimination against girls starts at birth and continue throughout the lifecycle. In Bangladesh, they are dominated by a patrilineal and patriarchal system, which enforces the social and economic dependence of women on men and prescribes the relative lower status of women. Bringing women into the mainstream economic activities and ensuring equal opportunity is one of the major targets of Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) as pursued by the Government of Bangladesh. Although, in Bangladesh there has been steady progress in reducing gender inequality in different sectors (education, health, employment etc.) but there still exists a huge inequality in these sectors and participation of women is low compared to men.
The fundamental challenges of gender equality are religious fundamentalism - mostly in south Asia, east Asia and Africa; traditional perceptions of women as per their reproductive role; traditional perceptions about the role of women as home-makers; ineffective laws and policies to ensure women’s security at home, educational institutions, road and organisations; increasing violence against women is now a grave concern. Under these circumstances, parents are more likely to keep their girls inside their home; early marriage is one of the vital barriers to women’s and girls’ education, health and employment. Early marriage has historically limited young women’s access to education and thereby to employment opportunities as well as creating a vulnerable situation to their health.Perceptions that men are better off than women are as far as the ability to work is concerned and only men can look after their parents, eve teasing, cultural shock, practicing conservative issues, physical weakness ( maternity leave), abuse and injustice degrade perception of women in society. Apart from that, a culture of acceptance, lack of effective community structures, harmful practices, inappropriate and ineffective allocation and utilisation of resources in the context are also work to perpetuate the prevailing situation.
In Third World countries women are half of the population and they are the poorest of the poor - not merely in wealth but in every other index of development. Social inclusion is impossible without economic development. On the other hand, economic development would not be sustainable without women’s participation and empowerment. In this context, without ensuring gender equality, the desired development may be unachievable.
Over the past few decades, much has been achieved to reduce the impediments to women’s development. The government has demonstrated strong commitment to achieve gender equality through policy reform and program development. Apart from that, some efforts are taken by non-governments organisations to increase women’s participation in socio-economic activities and enhance their economic ability. Truly, there is some progress, challenges still remain critical to achieve substantive equality between women and men.
In order to achieve the equal target, the government needs to be creative in renewing and revising strategies and approaches. Otherwise, the aims of achieving gender equality might remain an elusive distant dream.
Shishir Reza, The Writer is an Environmental Analyst & Member of Bangladesh Economic Association