Dhaka, October 15, 2011 – Gender equality matters in its own right but is also smart economics, according to the World Bank’s World Development Report 2012: Gender Equality and Development. Countries that create better opportunities and conditions for women and girls can raise productivity, improve outcomes for children, make institutions more representative, and advance development prospects for all, according to Sudhir Shetty, co-Director of the Report at a Think Equal Launch in Dhaka today.
Worldwide, a lack of gender equality results in nearly 4 million “missing” women per year due to a preference for sons at birth, lack of clean water and sanitation in early childhood and lack of quality maternal care and the incidence of HIV/AIDS in reproductive years. This is an area where Bangladesh has done better than many of its South Asian neighbors. Progress in reducing fertility (from an average of over 7 children per woman to less than 3) has helped, as well as impressive declines in infant and child mortality due in part to improved access to clean water and sanitation. Today the survival chances of infant girls in Bangladesh are even higher than that of boys.
Progress in the past few decades in Bangladesh is also evident in terms of reducing female barriers to education and health services and in expanding economic opportunities and mobility for women.
“The most striking change that I have witnessed in Bangladesh in the past two decades has been a remarkable social transformation fueled to a great extent by female empowerment,” said Ellen Goldstein, World Bank Bangladesh Country Director. “Girls have been streaming into the school system and women into the labor market, accelerating Bangladesh’s growth and increasing women’s voice in the household and in society at large”.
Despite progress, the job is far from done in Bangladesh. Discrimination against women persists in inheritance laws and access to productive resources like land and capital. The wage gap between men and women for equal work remains high. Women’s presence in industry, business and the civil service remains low. And no issue is more disturbing than widespread violence against women, much of it through spousal abuse, requiring difficult shifts in attitudes and behavior.
Bangladesh is not alone in facing persistent barriers to gender equality even while making good progress on many fronts. To address this, the World Development Report 2012 calls for global action in four areas: 1) addressing human capital issues, such as excess deaths of girls and women and gender gaps in education where these persist; 2) closing earning and productivity gaps between women and men; 3) giving women greater voice within households and societies; and 4) limiting the perpetuation of gender inequality across generations. Countries need not face these challenges alone. Development partners like the World Bank can do more to put gender equality at the center of their support.
“Development partners can support domestic policies in many ways -- more funding, greater innovation and better partnerships,” said Sudhir Shetty, Co-Director of the World Development Report. “In particular, more experimentation, systematic evaluation and better gender-disaggregated data can point to ways of improving women’s access to markets and to justice. And, partnerships can fruitfully be expanded to include the private sector, civil society groups and academic institutions.”
Reflecting the high priority that Government places on women’s empowerment in Bangladesh, the Honorable Finance Minister Mr. Abul Maal Abdul Muhith was present at the Think Equal Launch as Chief Guest. The Honorable Minister of Foreign Affairs, Dr. Dipu Moni, and the Honorable State Minister for Women and Children’s Welfare, Dr. Shirin Sharin Chaudhury, were present as Special Guests. Women from different walks of life including Union Parishad councils, community-based organizations and student groups reflected on what it means to them to “Think Equal” in Bangladesh.