girls' education in Bangladesh
For many developing countries, gender inequality is a massive issue, with most biases about women’s “roles” starting at birth. These prejudices affect the economy, sustainability and education. Girls’ education in Bangladesh is severely devalued, creating a limited amount of roles for girls later in life. Since the 1990s, Bangladesh has seen a steady improvement in enrollment, but there is still work to be done to ensure girls and boys alike have equal access to education.

The Quality of Education

UNICEF reports that there has been a rise in enrollment for girls within primary and lower-secondary schools since the 1990s. For boys and girls, this included a 20 percent enrollment and completion rate and a 30 percent enrollment rate specifically for girls. In 2003, the enrollment rate elevated significantly to 84 percent. Still, in secondary (teenage) years, dropout rates tended to heavily increase.

A great deal of this statistic can be attributed to the weak quality of education. When education is of low quality, it causes poor participation and attendance, higher dropout rates and lower standards of achievement. On average, about 1.5 million girls drop out of school or never attend.

According to UNICEF, 10 percent of girls never enroll, 34 percent dropout and 28 percent complete school, but they do not pass or they lack the necessary skills to find a job or go onto higher education. However, 28 percent of girls in Bangladesh complete school with acceptable achievement.

Rise in Madrasas’ Schools

One of the most efficient ways to ensure girls’ education in Bangladesh has been through the implementation of madrasas’ schools. In a madrasas school, children have access to civil and religious education, allowing parents to feel safe in sending their daughters to school without feeling like their religious beliefs are being compromised. With the rise of madrasas school catering to the more religious families and communities, more girls have been able to enroll in school.

The TSER Program

In 2017, The World Bank authorized $510 million in funding to help boost the secondary education system and student performance in Bangladesh. This project is called The Transforming Secondary Education for Results (TSER) Program and is set to assist 13 million students in grades six through 12. The TSER Program will further advance teaching quality and learning while improving access to education, paying special attention to girls and poorer households by providing grants and stipends to increase enrollment for minorities.

In addition, the TSER Program will implement an adolescent program to increase motivation to remain in school. It includes financial inducements for female students in grades nine through 12, while helping girls to feel more included by building women’s bathrooms.

Although there is still quite a bit of work to do in improving girls’ education in Bangladesh, the country is on the right track to successful educational standards. By ensuring girls are educated and not being forced to become a minority or be oppressed, Bangladesh’s future is sure to flourish with equality.

– Rebecca Lee
Photo: Flickr

Digital Finance is Empowering Women in Bangladesh

Recent innovation in digital finance is empowering women in Bangladesh by meeting their unique financial needs and capabilities. While 90 percent of Monetary Financial Institutions’ 21 million clients are women and 35 percent of Bangladesh women hold a bank account, women make up only 18 percent of digital finance users in Bangladesh.

Some of the barriers that hinder the inclusion of women in digital finance are low mobility, cultural barriers in male-dominated markets and English illiteracy incompatible with English-language phone menus. Women in Bangladesh also face low financial literacy, so they require guidance and training in order to benefit from increasingly more prevalent mobile-based platforms.

In addition, members of a typical household in low-income countries share one mobile phone. So, it makes sense that more than just having a registered mobile money account in her name is necessary in order for a woman to be financially included in Bangladesh.

Most low-income women in Bangladesh currently turn to insecure and informal saving mechanisms like keeping emergency funds stashed at home, buying excess stock for their business, using clay money boxes  or working with neighborhood savings groups. This puts their savings at risk of loss due to natural disasters or theft. It is no wonder, then, that it is difficult for women to save money for their futures, to pay school fees, to attain loans and to afford healthcare and insurance.

Saving money is particularly important to women. In Bangladesh, since women are dependent on their male spouses to provide for their families, they lack a safety net if their husband dies or abandons them. This makes women more vulnerable to health risks and death than men.

One innovation through which digital finance is empowering women is the human-centered designs financial service providers have been developing that are more intuitive, easy-to-use and affordable. The Bangladesh Rural Advancement Committee, an organization devoted to alleviating poverty by empowering the poor, started a training program for women in remote areas to learn how to handle mobile money.

Some other efforts that address the digital inclusion gap are:

  • Dutch-Bangla Bank Limited’s signing with 245 garment factories to distribute salaries to garment workers (mostly women) with accounts through agents, ATMs and client-initiated mobile transactions.
  • The Asia Foundation’s new program that will assist women entrepreneurs in using digital financial services and in using e-commerce to reach new markets.
  • Swosti’s new “mobile credit card” for depositing money and withdrawing emergency loans.
  • Grameen Bank’s creation of the concept of microcredit to be used by low-income women.

Some potential improvements that have been suggested further demonstrate how digital finance is empowering women. Some of the propositions include promoting government transfers and increasing the access women have to registered accounts by changing identity requirements and allowing for one-to-one interactions with women agents and sales representatives to improve communication and prevent harassment.

Other suggestions include making additional banking services that improve financial security for women available such as loan payments, insurance and long-term savings. Digital savings accounts would enable women to save small amounts of money as frequently as they want. It has also been suggested to make use of various channels of accessing finances to simplify the interface of mobile finance platforms.

There are so many financial possibilities that digital finance can make possible for women in Bangladesh. By considering the barriers to financial inclusion, the country is well on its way to improving the lives of its women and their families.

– Connie Loo

Photo: Flickr

Women's empowerment in BangladeshThe socio-cultural environment of Bangladesh contains extensive gender discrimination, where girls are often treated as a burden on their family’s finances. This results in inferior healthcare and education. From their adolescence, restrictions are placed on their mobility that have a direct impact on their social development and access to employment. Hence, achieving women’s empowerment in Bangladesh is an extraordinary feat.

The obstacles to women’s empowerment in Bangladesh include:

  • Child marriage remains high in rural areas, which together with the dowry tradition reduces women to the status of a bonded laborer.
  • Bangladesh has a very high maternal mortality ratio, where 12,000 women die each year due to pregnancy issues or in childbirth.
  • Malnutrition in women is common, and almost 3o percent of adolescent girls have anemia and 37 percent are iodine deficient.
  • Domestic violence is a serious threat to women. Sexual harassment, acid attacks and suicide are also frequent.
  • Girls’ attendance at school is very low and few women receive tertiary education.
  • Many women remain unemployed and those earning wages have very little independence in spending it.
  • Commercial sexual exploitation is a major problem.

The biggest step taken by the government is in targeting education to achieve women’s empowerment in Bangladesh. The Education Trust Act has enabled stipend schemes for girls at the secondary level and the exemption of tuition fees for girls in rural areas. It has created gender parity in both primary and secondary education at the national level.

Bangladesh has also adopted the National Policy for Women’s Development and other programs. It has shown results by increasing the number of women elected to Parliament to 20 percent of the total seats.

In consultation with UNDP, provisions to promote women’s empowerment in Bangladesh were included in the National Social Protection Strategy that extends the social safety net and builds resilience for all vulnerable groups. The Village Court Act aims to increase the representation of women in village court panels and the Bangladesh Post-2015 Sustainable Development Agenda includes a dedicated goal of gender equality.

The Gender Inequality Index value has shown great improvement and was estimated at 0.520 in 2015, which places Bangladesh 119th out of 159 nations. 42 percent of women today have a secondary education and 43.1 percent are estimated to be participating in the labor market.

USAID programs have helped promote women’s empowerment in Bangladesh by training more than 500,000 women farmers in agricultural technology. It also worked with the Bangladesh government to implement the Domestic Violence Prevention and Protection Act of 2010 as well as training human rights defenders.

Many women migrate from rural to urban areas in search of job opportunities. The World Bank initiated the Northern Areas Reduction-of-Poverty Initiative to bring these women work in the thriving garment industry.

The Asia Foundation has implemented the South Asian Women’s Entrepreneurship Symposium in partnership with the U.S. Department of State to expand economic opportunities. It has helped bring women together to conduct and promote their businesses in Bangladesh.

NGOs like the Friends in Village Development Bangladesh and Nari Uddog Kendra concentrate on variables like participatory decision-making, awareness building, capacity building and increasing economic solvency to contribute to women’s empowerment in Bangladesh.

Overall, the government is working relentlessly to encourage the development of women. In fact, Bangladesh ranks eighth in the global political empowerment of women. Bangladesh is also committed to implementing the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women and has achieved the Millennium Development Goal of securing gender parity in education. The contribution of women in every sphere of life has become significant, ranging from agriculture to politics. Bangladesh has identified the critical importance of addressing inequality and making women’s empowerment in Bangladesh a priority in its new post-2015 development agenda.

– Tripti Sinha

Photo: Flickr