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    Volume 9 Issue 17| April 23, 2010|

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Human Rights

For a Pro-women Budget

Shudeepto Ariquzzaman

Bangladesh Mohila Parishad holds a seminar preceding the budget every year to advance their concerns and propositions to stakeholders. Right's activists will inform you the significance of the national budget in advancing the agenda for gender equality. Budget allocates funds crucial for women's empowerment and in a world dominated by capitalism, finance takes precedence for addressing most issues; gender equality is no exception. So it was no surprise that the Mohila Parishad braved the scorching April heat to organise a seminar at the National Press Club amidst the all too familiar electricity crisis which hindered the proceedings of the otherwise well organised programme.

Dr. Fahmida Khatun, Senior Research Fellow at Centre for Policy Dialogue presented the main document of the conference. Dr. Khatun enlightened us on some key aspects that hinder gender equality, points that we often tend to overlook. The measurement of the Gross Domestic Product takes into account only the market value of products and services produced within a country and these facts belittle the contributions of women. While more men in our country are formally employed, many women spend almost eighteen hours doing household work. Household work is almost impossible to measure in terms of economic output. But we all know that without women's contribution to household work, family and society cannot function and economic activity would come to a standstill. When we view events in this light, women's contribution to the economy equals that of men. The statistics on the other hand, tell a different story. Women's under representation in economic activities is one of the root causes of their inability to achieve equal status in our society.

Dr. Khatun also emphasised on last year's budget where specific funds were allocated for four ministries- the ministry for education, health and family welfare, social welfare and food and disaster management. Previously, gender responsive budget policies were more or less non-existent. However in spite of such subsidies, women lag behind in higher education and tend to be the worst sufferers of natural disasters to name a few. Monitoring the funds allocated to the ministries is not properly implemented largely due to corruption among officials. These are barriers that have to be overcome for properly implementing gender responsive policies that shall ensure women's equality.

Ayesha Khanom, Chairperson of Bangladesh Mahila Parishad elaborated on an issue that might be the underlying factor in ensuring women's rights. We can work on gender responsive budgets, we can allocate as many funds required for women's empowerment but one fundamental change has to occur before gender equality can be achieved- the philosophy has to change. Otherwise there can be numerous seminars, and campaigns but if we do not think differently and learn to respect women, the desired objectives cannot be achieved.

In a bid to involve the male population in the movement for gender equality Mohila Parishad invited men as both the special and the chief guest - renowned academics Dr. Mostafa Kamal Mujeri and Mohammeed Forashuddin. Dr. Mujeri called for proper implementation of women friendly policies that are outlined in the national budget. Md. Forashuddin complained about the sorry state of female garments workers who contribute more than any other segment of the population in the exports sector of the economy but receive little in return. He also said that whenever he spoke about the low salaries of garments workers, some industrialists rebuke him and often asks why he has to care for them so much.

Bangladesh Mahila Parishad took a novel and I might add noble initiative by inviting an ordinary garments worker to take part in the conference. She sat besides the other speakers of the conference. Most members of Mahila Parishad come from middle or upper-middle-class backgrounds. However, if the organisation is serious about striving for women's rights, they must be more serious about involving more unprivileged women who bear the brunt of social inequality. This particular woman earns TK 600- 1000 per month for working from 6am- 10pm. Begum was understandably nervous as she never been in front of a camera before. This was met by jeers from some sections of the crowd. It is very sad that even in a conference for the rights of women, there are a few people who are not cultured enough to treat deprived women with respect.

The other speakers at the conference were Farah Kabir, Country Director of Actionaid Bangladesh, Farida Parvin, Member of Parliament, and Sanjida Khanom, Member of Parliament.

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