BANGLADESH: MDG 3: PROMOTING GENDER EQUALITY AND EMPOWERING WOMEN
In the last ten years, Bangladesh has reduced its poverty by half, rapidly decreased family size by two-thirds, ensured that roughly 90 percent of its girl children are enrolled in schools.
The story of Shyamola Begum, 43, is one example of Bangladesh’s success in MILLENIUM DEVELOPMENT GOAL 3.
Shyamola and her husband came to this city looking for a better life but her husband Jamal had to struggle to find work. He finally ended up as a cycle-rickshaw puller. When she got pregnant and gave birth to a daughter, he was not happy.
Less than a year later, Shyamola got pregnant again, with another girl. Soon after, Jamal left for work one day and never came back. He left her, under the pressures of poverty, with too many members to feed.
For several weeks a pregnant Shyamola, searched for Jamal in hospitals and morgues but the people from the slum knew that her husband had deserted her. Several women share the same situation, whose husbands, fed up by poverty and lack of employment opportunities, abandon their partners every year.
The United Nations Development Programme has forged a partnership the United Kingdom’s Urban Partnerships for Poverty Reduction.Three years ago, through this project, Shyamola was awarded an entrepreneur grant of Tk 2,500 (roughly US $30) decided for the extremely poor. She matched this money with the $30 she had managed to save working as household help and set up a small tea stall in the slum where she lives. In just two months, Shyamola’s profits doubled her own investment. She said that until she experienced the situation that she was in, she did not realise that she could be independent and successful.
Over 55,000 families like Shyamola’s have received such grants over the past five years, with encouraging results. In many places, these men and women have started making monthly contributions to local savings groups, so that there is a source of a larger loan in cases of emergency.
MUSSAMAT BABY PARVEEN
Baby Parveen’s is another story of women’s empowerment from Bangladesh.
Mussamat Baby Parveen was eighteen when she wed the man her parents had chosen for her . By her 19th birthday she was pregnant and ran away from her husband’s home. He was a drug addict who would beat her, so she feared that soon he would kill her as well as the child. Parveen moved back in with her father, who died soon after her child was born. She had to beg and borrow from close relatives and friends to feed her child. With increasing debts, she had to lie about her skills in desperation to join a textile factory.
But the day before she was to join the factory, Parveen’s name came up in a lottery for participation in a United Nation Development Programme cash-for-work programme for destitute rural women. She was one of 24,000 women selected to repair roads in villages across Bangladesh in exchange for daily wages and job training.
With the money she earned, Parveen made some smart investments.
She saved money every week and in two years gathered enough and bought some land which she leased out to sharecroppers. She also bought a cow and goat, reared them and sold them for a profit. In two years’ time, Parveen had enough money to set up a grocery store in her village, earning her a steady income of more than US$10 a day.
Ninety six percent of women who participated in the UNDP project invested in small businesses, with two third making capital gains and 81 percent able to feed their families on a daily basis. The UNDP programme has resulted in 17.9 million work days in total, leading to road repairs for 25,000 kilometres of road that connect local communities to important facilities such as schools, markets and hospitals.
The latest Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) Progress Report indicates that less than a third of people in Bangladesh now live below the national poverty line, this was achieved in just 10 years. New research has shown that women have been at the core of this impressive human development turnaround. The women, who were empowered, prioritized their children’s education and nutrition over other spending.
•Women, whether the four million working in the thriving textiles export industry or those with micro businesses such as backyard poultries and vegetable patches, are at the heart of this success.
•Thanks to a UNDP cash-for-work programme for poor rural women, 91 percent of the children of participating women now attend school, compared to a previous 57 percent.
By Mahtab Haider, Communications Analyst at UNDP Bangladesh, and Nader Rahman, Communications Associate at UNDP Bangladesh.