Monday, April 15, 2024

We need to transform social norms for gender equality

World Population Day

Views

Md Nuruzzaman Khan

File photo: Reuters

World Population Day, which has been observed on July 11 every year since 1989, holds significant importance in addressing critical population-related issues. This year, the focus is on gender equality, symbolised by the theme of “Unleashing the power of gender equality: Uplifting the voices of women and girls to unlock our world’s infinite possibilities.”

The theme strongly resonates with Bangladesh, which ranks 71st out of 146 countries in the 2022 Global Gender Gap analysis. Despite this position, Bangladesh still has the highest level of gender parity in South Asia. However, there is still much progress to be made in several key indicators of gender inequality, including early marriage, violence against women, and women’s empowerment.

It is important to note that these indicators are central to Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 5, which prioritises gender equality and women’s empowerment. Furthermore, they have indirect implications for other SDG indicators, such as universal access to sexual and reproductive healthcare services and the reduction of maternal and under-five mortality. Consequently, unless greater priority is given to reducing gender inequality, Bangladesh faces the risk of not achieving several SDGs by 2030.

Ensuring gender equality in Bangladesh poses significant challenges, particularly when addressing deep-rooted social norms. These norms, shaped by cultural and traditional beliefs, often perpetuate gender disparities and hinder progress towards achieving equality. One major challenge is the prevalence of early marriage, with 51 percent of women being married off before the age of 18, as per Unicef data. This higher occurrence is reported despite the country having strong laws against child marriage, a practice that is influenced by community-level norms endorsing early marriage, such as previous generations also being married at a young age. These norms restrict women’s education, limit job opportunities, and contribute to a cycle of inequality. Additionally, community norms in Bangladesh reinforce male superiority, leading to the acceptance of gender-based violence and discrimination. For instance, one in every four women and girls in Bangladesh experiences physical and sexual violence from her partner. Underreporting of such violence is common due to social norms that discourage discussions on such matters. Furthermore, societal expectations prioritise women’s roles as wives and mothers over their need to pursue education and careers, thus limiting their personal growth and professional development. Traditional gender roles dictating women’s submissiveness and subordination further restrict their decision-making power and autonomy.

Overcoming these deeply ingrained community norms is crucial for achieving gender equality in Bangladesh, and it calls for a multi-faceted approach that raises awareness, challenges traditional beliefs, and empowers women and girls. Improving the quality of education and actively engaging parental generations can play an effective role in achieving these goals. However, it is important to acknowledge that the country still faces challenges in both aspects.

Bangladesh has made significant progress in reducing the gender gap in education. The primary education enrolment rate is around 98 percent, with a higher female-to-male ratio. This achievement is due to the government’s comprehensive efforts for universal education, including initiatives such as stipends, mid-day meals, and free textbooks distribution. However, disparities in educational completion become evident as we move up the degrees of education, with women experiencing a lower completion rate compared to men. Additionally, women’s participation in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) is much lower than that of men, which limits their access to managerial and senior positions. These disparities are primarily influenced by challenges in the education system, cultural norms, and the patriarchal nature of communities.

The education system in Bangladesh can effectively address these challenges by implementing initiatives to ensure education completion. These may include monitoring school attendance, promoting girls’ participation in STEM fields with additional support, and creating a strong foundation among women to discourage early marriage by building awareness. However, these measures are often lacking as the education system tends to prioritise grades and certificates over providing a holistic education that prepares students for life. Furthermore, the current practice of recruiting for employment through exams in subjects unrelated to higher education discourages women from continuing their education and contributes to early marriages. This is because the lengthy preparation period for these exams, which can last three to four years or longer, makes it difficult for women to sustain after completing their education, leading to a lack of hope and motivation to continue their studies instead of getting married.

Bangladesh is currently undergoing a rapid cultural transformation, which also poses challenges to women’s education and empowerment. One significant aspect of this transformation is the increasing interaction between male and female students facilitated by advancements in technology, including the role of social media. However, many parents still hold negative views about these interactions, even if they are not of an intimate nature. Consequently, in such cases, parents may opt to arrange marriages for their daughters instead of allowing them to pursue higher education.

To effectively address these issues, it is crucial to engage parents within the mainstream education system and establish a life-oriented educational approach that prioritises girls’ empowerment and holistic development. As of now, it is evident that the country’s response to these challenges remains insufficient.

Dr Md Nuruzzaman Khan is an assistant professor at the Department of Population Science of Jatiya Kabi Kazi Nazrul Islam University in Mymensingh, Bangladesh.

Article originally appeared on The Daily Star.

Related News

Social media pressure changing news making

Opinion Afsan Chowdhury THE relentless reality of social media has begun to influence news making at several levels. Three social media elements are making these pressures so strong. (a) It reaches consumers almost instantly and in no way can professional media compete with that. (b) Content creators can mix and offer audio-visuals that cost little ... Read more

Securing water for sustainable urban future

Opinion By AKM Mahmudul Haque WATER, the essence of life, is a precious resource that sustains our planet and its inhabitants. Yet, despite the vastness of our oceans, only a small portion of the water is potable. Recent studies have revealed alarming statistics that approximately 80 per cent of the water supplied in cities and ... Read more

Quality education for all, but quality schools for few?

Views Mohammad Ehsanul Islam Khan Education empowers and shapes nations. Increased enrollment and reading levels in Bangladesh have also enhanced education access. But the focus on quantity has overtaken the drive for quality education, leaving only a handful with access to top-notch universities. According to Dr John Dewey, “Education is not preparation for life; education ... Read more

Equal education leads to a better society

Opinion Mehreen Chowdhury EDUCATION is known to be strongest when voices and diverse perspectives are heard and shared around the community. It is vital that young people are given the space and safety to express them without feeling ashamed. The idea of special education is governed by the concept that education is for all. It ... Read more

Alarming increase in child marriage

Opinion Zillur Rahaman CHILD marriage is one of the social ills in Bangladesh. It was once an epidemic in Bangladesh. It, however, came under control because of various measures and the supervision of the government in the past decade or so, but has been increasing at an alarming rate since the Covid pandemic, which increased ... Read more

Time to prioritise social justice

Views We have the chance to reshape the world we live in – economically, socially, and environmentally. Gilbert F Houngbo May 1 is widely known as International Labour Day, a day when we celebrate the contribution of workers worldwide. It is a moment for pride, celebration, and hope. After three years of the Covid-19 crisis, ... Read more

More heatwaves are coming our way. Are we prepared?

Views While Bangladesh has a lot of experience in tackling cyclones and floods, we have not taken heat stress into consideration until now. Saleemul Huq The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) recently completed its sixth assessment report (AR6), with the Synthesis Report coming out in March. The Synthesis Report carries some key messages about ... Read more

Women must be at the forefront of the transition to a low-carbon economy

Opinion Veronica Mendizabal Joffre and Pinky Serafica Can we truly reimagine a path to a low-carbon transition and change the climate narrative? This is hard to envision when we witness the unprecedented damage we are inflicting on the planet. For women, the effects of climate change are already a lived experience. Where environments are damaged ... Read more

Why collaboration is in our collective interest

ViewsRMG NOTESClimate ActionWithout fashion retailers and their suppliers working together, our industry as a whole will continue to see emissions rising. Mostafiz Uddin According to the latest report of the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), the world is likely to fail to reach its most ambitious climate target – limiting global warming to ... Read more

Will our universities survive in 25 years?

Views Syed Saad Andaleeb Quality education is the backbone of a wholesome and prosperous society. But finding the “quality” in quality education continues to be elusive in Bangladesh. The “so called” universities (more like community colleges) are rife with social, economic, political and ideological problems that work against building learning organisations. Teachers, the kingpins, don ... Read more

Can teachers be the pivot of change in education?

Views Manzoor Ahmed “No system of education can be better than its teachers” is an aphorism that remains meaningful. The nostalgic and idealised image of the teacher as a scholar, dispensing knowledge and wisdom to the young selflessly, who lives a simple life with little concern for material rewards and who is looked upon by ... Read more

Climate loss and damage are clearly visible in southwest Bangladesh

Views Ashish Barua, Sawkat Chowdhury The Sixth Assessment Report (AR6) by Working Group I of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) shows that the sea level, over the last 120 years, has increased by 0.20 metres, and continues rising fast, caused by thermal expansion, glacier ice loss, ice sheet loss, etc. The sea level ... Read more

How can Dhaka solve its traffic problem?

Views Debra Efroymson If I had a dollar for every time I’ve heard that “traffic was particularly bad today,” I could have retired already. Over the years, people have hazarded various suggestions as to the cause of the terrible Dhaka traffic and its potential solutions. Causes include: not enough roads for all the cars; poor ... Read more

Celebrating 50 years of global environmental movement

Opinion Saleemul Huq The global environmental movement started in 1972, with the first global environment conference held in Stockholm, Sweden, hosted by then Swedish Prime Minister Olof Palme. Among the heads of governments who also attended was the then Indian Prime Minister Indira Gandhi, who famously declared that environment and poverty were two major global issues ... Read more

Saving earth from disasters

Opinion By Md Zillur Rahaman TODAY is World Earth Day. The day is celebrated worldwide each year to show support for the protection of the environment. It was first observed in 1970 and is now held globally by the Earth Day Network. The UN-sponsored conference in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, from June 3 to June 14, ... Read more

Women for women

Opinion Faria Rashid PATRIARCHAL societies like to deceive women into thinking that women cannot get along, work together and stand in support of one another. Given the patriarchal history of society, it has mostly worked to keep women in their places and apart from each other. This is why we hear so much about women ... Read more

CSR and a new order of business

From being seen as mere philanthropy and ‘doing good’, corporate social responsibility is now at the heart of business sustainability and ethical and accountable corporate behaviour Bitopi Das Chowdhury CSR or corporate social responsibility has been a buzz phrase for quite some time now. Not a day goes by without it being mentioned, albeit in ... Read more

Harmful impacts of cartels on consumers

Munshi Abdul Ahad A cartel is an anti-competitive arrangement between two or more competing businesses. Anticompetitive agreements, particularly cartels, harm consumers in urbanised society, as well as in the emerging countries. In adding together, cartelised industrial sectors lack competition which certainly reduces competitiveness in the long run and may have a negative impact on the ... Read more

How to troubleshoot the economy

Sadiq Ahmed Bangladesh is facing serious macroeconomic challenges and I have written a lot explaining them in a series of articles published in The Daily Star and in The Financial Express. In this new article I am going to write specifically about how Bangladesh could address those challenges while also mobilising substantial external financing in ... Read more

Jute bag prospects in global arena

Md Rashedul Karim Munna Global consumer demand for eco-friendly products has increased in both developed markets (such as Western Europe, the United States and Australasia) as well as new markets with emerging opportunities (such as the Middle East) mainly because of heightened awareness of the ill effects of environmental pollution and global warming. Large chain ... Read more