Poverty has been disproportionately affecting women in Bangladesh in the aftermath of natural disasters such as Cyclone Amphan. In commitment to the Generation Equality Compact on Women Peace and Security and Humanitarian Action (WPS-HA), U.N. Women has worked with local partners in Bangladesh to aid in economic recovery and provide support to Bangladeshi women, especially post-natural disasters, by issuing grants and providing vocational training to local women.
Gender and Economic Disparity in Bangladesh
In 2019, 20.5% of Bangladesh’s citizens fell under the national poverty line, according to the Asian Development Bank. Furthermore, the unemployment rate for Bangladeshi females in 2021 stood at almost 8% whereas the unemployment rate for males in Bangladesh stood at 4.1% in 2021, according to International Labour Organization (ILO) estimates. In 2019, the workforce participation rate for Bangladeshi males aged 15-64 stood at 84% but only 38% for females in the same age group. Furthermore, in 2022, the literacy rate among men stood at 76.56% whereas for women it stood at 72.82%.
When comparing the margin of difference between literacy rates and employment rates among Bangladeshi men and women, it is clear that women face inequalities that result in their exclusion and marginalization, pushing them deeper into poverty.
Story of Mahmuda Khatun
When Cyclone Amphan hit Bangladesh in 2020, many people lost their livelihoods and fell deeper into poverty, including Mahmuda Khatun’s household. Khatun wished to start a small business to help support her family but she faced barriers such as “a lack of banking history” and inadequate financial literacy. She reached out to the Prerona Foundation for help, “a local women’s organization supported by U.N. Women.”
The Prerona Foundation works with vulnerable women to improve their economic resilience, especially in crisis-prone areas. The Foundation helped Khatun establish a livelihood by providing training and a loan for her to start a poultry farm to generate income. Khatun now provides for her two daughters and husband by raising poultry. Since its beginnings, her business has flourished and Khatun now earns about 17,000 takas ($200 USD) per month.
Multi-Industry Glass Ceilings
Organizations like the Prerona Foundation and U.N. Women recognize the importance of involving and providing support to Bangladeshi women in the wake of humanitarian crises and natural disasters. Women are a key catalyst in a community’s response and recovery and are often end up out of the equation albeit being valuable agents.
Furthermore, when one woman receives uplifting, the benefits do not stop there. Khatun is now looking to help other women in her community by providing vocational training and championing women’s empowerment in Bangladesh. According to U.N. Women, in 2020, “less than 60% of Bangladeshi women have access to credit,” which stands as a significant barrier to their entrepreneurial potential. Moreover, about a third of the nation’s labor force consists of female employees and less than 5% of them hold formal positions. Bangladeshi women also “earn 21% less than their male counterparts.”
Rising Through Recovery
Given such statistics, it can seem daunting for women in Bangladesh to assume financial independence and see success, especially amid a natural disaster like Cyclone Amphan. However, U.N. Women continues to work with dozens of civil society and local women’s organizations on the ground to help address these systemic issues.
In 2022, U.N. Women has also partnered with the U.N. Development Programme (UNDP) to further “gender equality and women’s empowerment in Bangladesh.” Both institutions have “signed an inter-agency agreement” for 2022-2026 to establish “gender-responsive inclusive governance,” reduce discrimination against women, and advance “women’s economic empowerment and access to justice,” among other aims.
Going forward, the focus will be on starting a normative agenda, establishing gender-inclusive legislation, providing financing to advance gender equality and supporting women-led businesses. This partnership also stresses the importance of addressing gender-based violence in Cox’s Bazar, placing women in leadership roles and providing females with the skills training, services and resources to thrive.
Given the commitment, both at a local and international level, there is hope for more Bangladeshi women to rise out of poverty despite the impacts of Cyclone Amphan.
– Samyudha Rajesh