UN Women Bangladesh
Established as a secular people’s republic in 1971, Bangladesh is the most densely populated country in the world with a population of approximately 160 million. Bangladesh acceded to CEDAW in 1984 and continues to maintain reservations to Articles 2 and 16(1c). The Constitution recognizes equal rights for women and men in the public sphere and there is a reasonably strong legal and policy framework guaranteeing women’s rights. The National Women's Development Policy 2011 and its National Action Plan provide a base for government action to promote gender equality, and the 7th 5-year plan integrates gender equality issues across a number of sectors with some new sectoral policies addressing gender issues effectively. Currently, gender responsive budgeting is institutionalized across 43 ministries.
The country is internationally recognized for its good progress on a number of gender indicators. These include gender parity in primary and secondary education and maternal mortality that has declined by 66 per cent over last few decades, estimated at a rate of 5.5 per cent every year1. Bangladesh ranks highest in the Gender Gap Index in South Asia achieving 47th among 144 countries in the world2. However, significant gaps remain. The rates of violence against women remain high. Almost two out of three (72.6 per cent) ever-married women in Bangladesh have experienced some form of partner violence in their lifetime, and more than half (54.7 per cent) have experienced it in the last 12 months3. Women are also discriminated against in family life. In Bangladesh, marriage, divorce, custody of children, maintenance and inheritance are subject to religious law and these ‘personal laws’ often discriminate against women.
In July 2015, Bangladesh crossed the threshold to lower middle-income country (MIC). In March 2018, the country was recommended for LDC graduation, and is working towards officially graduating from LDC status by 2024. Much of this growth has been driven by a rapidly expanding industrial sector, in particular ready-made garments (RMG) which accounts for more than 80 per centof Bangladesh’s exports. Macroeconomic priorities of the government include increasing domestic revenue (Bangladesh has the lowest tax/GDP ratio in the world at about eight per cent), expanding and diversifying trade (FDI/GDP is less than one per cent), strengthening infrastructure and energy provision, and developing a more skilled workforce4. According to Bangladesh Bureau of Statistics, the labour force participation rate in 2015-2016 was 81.9 per cent for males and 35.6 per cent for females. Of these, 95.4 per cent females and 82.3 per cent male are in informal employment as wage labourers, self-employed persons, unpaid family labour, piece-rate workers, and other hired labour.
Bangladesh has a significant history of women organizing movements to claim their rights. Over the years, women’s groups have mobilized themselves and made sure their voices are heard in various issues, starting from violence against women, gender equality in securing economic opportunities and participation, equal representation in politics, reproductive rights, family law reforms and gender mainstreaming in public policies.
Against this backdrop, UN Women in Bangladesh’s is working with its government and civil society partners in the following areas:
- Income security, decent work and economic autonomy for women
- Women live a life free of violence
- Governance, national planning and budgeting for gender equality
- Women and girls contribute to and benefit equally from sustainable peace and resilience, prevention of natural disasters and conflicts, and humanitarian action
News and Updates
Forty-year-old Parveen Akhter is the founder and Managing Director of Glamour Boutique House and Training Centre, the only small factory run by a woman in Jessore, a small town in the southwestern region of Bangladesh. The 4,000 square feet-factory produces textile and clothing and employs 52 women.
Sufia Khatun from Pirganj, Rongpur, found herself without any source of income after her husband passed away. Through a joint UN programme, she was able to learn tailoring and get access to finance to invest in her own business. Today she employs 20 women in her community.
Inspired by the Women’s Empowerment Principles of UN Women and United Nations Global Compact, more companies operating in Bangladesh -- including multinationals Unilever and Standard Charter Bank -- have pledged to improve conditions and opportunities for female employees. On 9 March, International Women’s Day, UN Women and consumer goods giant Unilever in Bangladesh jointly organized a series of events called Balance for Better that brought together private businesses, youths and academics to start talking about gender equality. CEOs of companies pledged to work on gender equality, youth leaders spoke about their journeys and aspirations.
With UN Women’s technical support, Bangladesh has completed a review of its achievements and challenges in implementing the Beijing Platform for Action. The Beijing+25 National Review, drafted by the Ministry of Women and Children Affairs, was submitted on 22 July for inclusion in a regional consultation to be organized in November by United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific.
The Gender in Humanitarian Action Working Group, which UN Women co-chairs, organized the Rohingya Women’s Art Exhibition and Handicrafts Fair in Dhaka on 20 June to celebrate World Refugee Day. The hundreds of visitors admired items the women made, including clothing, patterns, wall hangings, art work, photos and decorations. Some gathered information on how to buy them.
Lawyer and human rights activist Razia Sultana has strived to ease the plight of the Rohingya, advocating for their cause in international forums and helping them cope with trauma in refugee camps in Bangladesh. “We do not live a normal life,” she said in an interview with UN Women late last year. “The camps in Cox’s Bazar are crowded and we cannot leave freely. We are stateless persons. We are not even Bangladeshis. We have no address -- This life is not for anyone.”
The student-led business incubator aims to engage young women in promoting peace through social entrepreneurship or by combining livelihood and social issues to improve the lives of people from their community. During the first year of its launch, the Women Peace Café will help 250 female students to develop 50 social business concepts. As part of the programme “Empowered Women, Peaceful Communities”, UN Women works with the Centre for Peace and Justice of BRAC University to increase the knowledge, skills and abilities of 2,000 female students to engage in leadership at two regional universities: BRUR and Khulna University.
I see issues like violent extremism, repression of women, and radicalism taking place more and more. This is why I work on the topic of women, peace and security with my NGO, SEED. Our activities in the community include a courtyard meeting with women’s groups. We discuss different issues. For example, today I will discuss sexual harassment and rising intolerance of different religions. If the community members come to me with a problem, I link them with law enforcement.
Kohinoor Begum, 47, is a member of Polli Shomaj, a community-based women’s group that discusses how to prevent violent extremism and resolve local disputes together with other members of the community. “My husband left me when I was pregnant with our only daughter, so I had to come back to my parents’ house. Since that day, I went through endless struggles to support my parents and daughter. I worked for long hours in multiple jobs such as tailoring, which my father had taught me to do.
Seventy—two officials representing twenty-four ministries from the Government of Bangladesh met in Dhaka this week to review and discuss the progress and challenges in the implementation of the Beijing Platform for Action (BPfA) after 25 years of its adoption. Considered to be the most visionary agenda for the human rights of women and girls, everywhere, the Beijing Platform for Action set out to remove the systemic barriers that hold women back from equal participation in all areas of life.
The Celebration of Women Innovators event was held on 1 April 2019 at the Institute of Business Administration, Dhaka University to announce this competition. The event aimed to reach students and the public with moving, inspirational stories by three pioneer women of Bangladesh working in various social enterprises and involved in promoting women’s empowerment and eliminating GBV– Sharmin Kabir, Founder of Wreetu, Zaiba Tahyya, Founder of Female Empowerment Movement, and Tasnim Afroze Tora, Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of SafeSpace and Chief Financial Officer (CFO) of Decent Wastepreneurs.
A one-of-a-kind “Gender Fair” was organized by Independent University Bangladesh faculty and students with the support of UN Women. Students creatively designed stalls with gender-friendly themes, such as “bin a stereotype”. One focused on self-defense for women, while another sold cookies and cupcakes decorated with gender-friendly messages, such as “Sushi rolls, not gender roles”.>