Human Rights Advocacy
Message from NHRC on Women's Day
Let us take this occasion of International Women's Day 2012 as an opportunity to celebrate the progress made in Bangladesh in improving the status of women, and to reflect on what we have yet to strive towards.
Let us first acknowledge that this involves all of us. Discussions of women's rights and gender issues are too often seen as only the domain of women. This thinking must change, as women are vital and productive members of our society. As women advance, we all reap the benefits.
Let us also acknowledge that gender equality and women's empowerment are not just human rights, but crucial to the sustainable development of the entire country, as inequality has detrimental implications at individual, family, community and national level. When all people have equitable access to opportunities and resources, they have equal power to shape their own lives and contribute to their families and communities. In short, they are empowered and Bangladesh is better for it.
To further women's empowerment and improve gender equality, the rights to education and a standard of living adequate for their own wellbeing and that of their family, as well as the right to work and receive equal pay for equal work, should be promoted and upheld.
Significant risk factors to women's empowerment and enjoyment of rights include the prevalence of gender-based violence and discrimination, whereby deeply entrenched injustices and inequalities persist as a result of discriminatory norms and practices. Further perpetuating gender inequality is the challenge for women's needs and rights to be considered in politics, as women are largely under-represented in key decision-making forums.
The National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) wishes to commend the Government on steps they have taken to improve the status of women. Significant actions include introducing both the Domestic Violence (Protection and Prevention) Act (2010) and the National Women's Development Policy (2011). Further, the National Education Policy (2009) emphasizes the role of the education system in supporting equal rights for women and enabling their full participation in society.
In recent years, the gender gap in school enrolment has largely been closed, with enrolment of girls in primary education now outstripping boys. Stipend programs provided by the Government have encouraged this. This leap forward is worth celebrating. However, it must be tempered by noting how this attendance drops off, with less and less girls progressing through each year of secondary school and significant under-representation of women in tertiary education.
The impact of sexual harassment, or eve-teasing, cannot be underestimated in its implications for enrolment, retention, and performance of girls. We should all work as a community to eliminate this malpractice and encourage boys and men not to accept such behaviour from their peers.
Surveys and research have consistently found a very high proportion of women in Bangladesh experience violence at the hands of their husband or another family member, while very few report it or stop the perpetrator. High levels of public acceptance of the practice are consistently reported in studies, and this is backed up by responses to a baseline survey conducted by the NHRC.
We must not accept this. Violence against women impacts upon the whole community, both financially and in regards to social cohesion, and thus works against development. Most initiatives to deal with violence against women, understandably, focus upon supporting women victims and protecting them from future incidences of violence. However, to combat the practice itself, men and boys must be engaged in the process.
In regards to a good standard of living, the Asian Development Bank found that, aside from maternal and reproductive health services, men and boys are the predominant users of other health services in Bangladesh. Great progress has been made in targeting and improving maternal health, but we need to see women beyond their role as mothers and provide for their personal health needs too.
The financial contribution of women can make significant development gains towards economic growth, poverty eradication and the wellbeing of families and communities. Unfortunately, lack of access to decent work is a major cause of poverty among women and outside of the garment sector there are limited formal opportunities for women to work. Compounding this, women often experience discrimination in hiring and receive lower wages than men.
The boom in the garment industry has seen numerous opportunities created for women to enter the formal employment sector, albeit mainly in urban centres. While this industry must be monitored to ensure women's rights as workers are upheld, the increase in women in the formal labour industry is a positive sign of moves towards breaking down entrenched views about appropriate roles for women in the private and public sectors.
A society that respects the rights and dignity of others, especially of the women is a society that can move forward. Let us be that society.
Source: National Human Rights Commission Bangladesh.