According to the recently published Global Gender Gap Report 2023 by the World Economic Forum (WEF), Bangladesh has achieved the highest rank in gender equality in South Asia.
Bangladesh ranks 1st in South Asia with a score of 72.2% for nine consecutive years, demonstrating significant progress in multiple sectors. The position Bangladesh on the global index of gender equality has risen by 12 positions. The World Economic Forum (WEF) published an annual report titled ‘Global Gender Gap’ on Wednesday and the results announced that Bangladesh is ranked 59th out of 146 countries in the 2023 report. This year, Bangladesh’s score is 0.722 and the score last year was 0.714. When determining the score, zero is the minimum and one is the maximum.
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To determine the status of gender equality, the WEF assigns distinct scores to four sub-indicators: political empowerment, participation in education, economic participation and opportunity, and health and well-being. These scores are added together to determine the total score. Each sub-index is comprised of several criteria. Bangladesh leads in three categories.
A remarkable progress by Bangladesh in political empowerment, participation in education, and health and well-being
Bangladesh’s achievements in various sub-indices of gender parity are noteworthy. The country ranks first in the political empowerment sub-index, with women serving as head of state or government for a significant duration in the past 50 years. In terms of education, Bangladesh also ranks first in secondary education admission criteria for women. Additionally, the country holds the top position in the health sub-index for birth rates.
Bangladesh’s score in gender parity is the highest in South Asia and surpasses many developed countries. Bhutan follows in second place in South Asia, ranking 103rd globally, while Sri Lanka is 115th, Nepal is 116th, Maldives is 124th, India is 127th, Pakistan is 142nd, and Afghanistan is 146th.
In the political empowerment sub-index, Bangladesh ranks seventh globally, achieving 55.2% gender parity. The country has had a woman head of state for 29.3 years out of the last 50 years, the longest duration worldwide. However, the representation of women in ministerial and parliamentary positions remains relatively low at 10% and 20.9%, respectively.
Regarding health and survival, Bangladesh maintains gender parity in sex ratios at birth with a score of 96.2%. However, there has been a decline in gender parity in healthy life expectancy, as men’s life expectancy has been increasing faster than that of women since the previous edition of the report.
In the educational attainment sub-index, Bangladesh has achieved a parity score of 93.6%. The country has made significant progress in literacy rates and secondary and tertiary education enrollment. While there is full parity in secondary education enrollment, gaps still persist in literacy rates and tertiary education enrollment.
Bangladesh’s performance in the economic participation and opportunity sub-index is comparatively lower, ranking 139th globally with a parity score of 43.8%. However, there has been a recovery from the previous year’s parity level. The improvement in estimated earned income since the last edition has contributed to this recovery, although gaps in other indicators show less change.
South Asia’s overall performance
Among the eight regions, South Asia currently ranks second-lowest, achieving a gender parity score of 63.4%. Despite a 1.1 percentage-point improvement since the last edition, the region is projected to achieve full parity in 149 years at the current rate of progress. South Asia faces the widest gender gap in the Economic Participation and Opportunity sub-index, with only 37.2% of the gap closed, although it has shown a 1.4 percentage-point improvement.
Educational attainment in South Asia is relatively better, with 96% of the gender gap closed, ranking fifth among the regions. In terms of Health and Survival, South Asia has a regional parity score of 95.3%, the second-lowest among regions.
The Political Empowerment sub-index poses the widest gender gap across all regions, with South Asia ranking fourth with a parity score of 25.1%. Unfortunately, the region experienced a setback in this sub-index, with a 1% reduction in parity since the last edition. While some countries like Bangladesh, Maldives, and Nepal have improved their scores, others like Iran, Sri Lanka, and Afghanistan have witnessed a decline in parity.
Why has Bangladesh topped the region for nine consecutive years?
Bangladesh has emerged as a leader in South Asia in terms of gender equality, particularly in terms of political empowerment. Even though there is room for development in terms of economic participation and opportunity, the nation’s progress serves as an example for the region.
Under Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina’s leadership, Bangladesh has become a global model for women’s empowerment. The government has worked tirelessly over the past decade to increase women’s participation in all sectors, resulting in remarkable progress toward closing the gender disparity. Maternal mortality rates have decreased by more than two-thirds, and gender parity in school enrollment has increased, which has significantly improved the lives of girls and women in Bangladesh.
The economic landscape of Bangladesh has witnessed remarkable growth for women, as their economic participation has increased dramatically. The government has consistently allocated funds for women’s development, including a massive initiative worth Tk 4,030.96 billion that aims to empower women through job creation, higher education, and leadership capacity building.
Women in Bangladesh have made substantial strides in numerous fields, including commerce, engineering, media, aviation, sports, and handicrafts. They are at the forefront of the nation’s sustainable development, with enrollment in lower secondary schools increasing from 17% in 1970 to over 50% today. Specifically, the garments industry has provided employment opportunities for hundreds of thousands of rural women, propelling Bangladesh to become the world’s leading exporter of garments.
In terms of gender equality, Bangladesh has consistently outperformed other South Asian nations, notably in terms of political empowerment. The country boasts a strong history of female heads of government and reserves 50 seats for women in the national parliament.
The government provides over $90 million in scholarships to female students, while community clinics serve the health and family planning needs of about 32 million women. Moreover, the Education Assistance Trust Fund provides scholarships to women from primary to post-graduation, while ensuring a mandatory 60% representation of women teachers in primary schools. The government has enacted strict laws to combat child marriage and women abuse, and efforts have been made to recognize the rights and self-respect of mothers in society.
Prioritizing gender equality and empowerment, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina aims to increase women’s participation in Information and Communication Technology (ICT) by 50 percent by 2041. Notably, 80 percent of women entrepreneurs engage in e-commerce, more than 10 million rural women have been empowered by ICT, and 50,000 women have received computer training.
The government has introduced gender-sensitive budgets for forty ministries and implemented affirmative actions to increase women’s participation in political and business leadership. Over 300 female leaders received training in 2022, 172 assumed leadership positions within unions, and 21 were elected to leadership positions within worker community associations.
Bangladesh is witnessing significant progress in women’s empowerment due to the creation of opportunities and government initiatives. The government budget for FY24 allocates Tk3,242.7 billion for women’s development, which is Tk205.4 billion more than the previous fiscal year. Efforts in health and education have yielded positive results, including an increase in the inclusion of females and an expansion of prenatal care coverage.
However, challenges remain in ensuring women’s safety both at home and in public spaces. To achieve the Sustainable Development Goals by 2030, further progress is needed in achieving goals 5 and 10, which focus on gender equality and reduced inequalities. The spirit of the liberation war and the constitution of Bangladesh emphasize building a society without discrimination. The government continues to work tirelessly towards the overall development and empowerment of women in the country.
Overall, Bangladesh has emerged as a leader in gender equality in South Asia, demonstrating remarkable progress in various sectors. The government’s efforts in political empowerment, education, and health have contributed to its top position in the region. Challenges remain, but Bangladesh serves as an inspiration for achieving gender parity and building a society without discrimination.