- Shukla Rani Basak: Senior Research Officer, Bangladesh Forest Research Institute, Chittagong, Bangladesh Email: email@example.com
- Anil Chandra Basak: Professor, College of Agricultural Sciences, IUBAT University, Uttara, Dhaka 1230, Bangladesh Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
- Mohammed Ataur Rahman: Professor and Director, Centre for Global Environmental Culture (CGEC), IUBAT University, Uttara, Dhaka-1230, Bangladesh. Email: email@example.com
Densely populated Bangladesh has shown tremendous advancement in empowering women in the society and bringing changes in traditional and conservative male dominated society. It was hardly believable in fifty years back that the women are working outdoors. Today more than four and a half million females are working in the garments industries alone. Their income is the major support for the family and thus the women are taking leadership in the family as well as in the societies. Many women entrepreneurs both in the cities and rural areas are growing. Women in education, politics, business, social development, agriculture, fisheries and other fields have significantly been increased. Women in administration, transportation, civil aviation, police and armed forces etc. are contributing largely. In the cultural sectors women have already dominated over the men. Moreover, women are the leaders of the houses as well as caring the family with love and affection and performing the ultimate leadership of the changes and development.
Keywords: Women Empowerment, Entrepreneurs, Equal opportunity, Decision-making, Disparities, Sustainable Development Goals and Challenges
Bangladesh is predominantly an alluvial floodplain of the Ganges, Brahmaputra and Meghna (GBM) basin. It is densely populated and more than 1,222 people are living in per square kilometer as against 436 in India and 350 in Tripura (World Bank data). The total male and female ratio is 0.93:1 (Wikipedia). Agriculture and fishery based livelihoods are dominated throughout the country. Traditionally, females are responsible for household works mainly the management and preservation of post harvest crops, and caring and looking after the children and the males for outdoor works especially with the more laborious jobs. Culturally, the Bengalis were classified into four classes and 36 to 41 subclasses of the working class (Shudras), according to their works (Tanmoy 2009). With the continuation, these customs are diminishing but both males and females work according to their efficiency and labor. There are distinct differences in cloths of male and females. However, the gender ratio shows that although the male population is high at birth and early ages up to 14 but the scenario reverses after 14. It indicates that the females are more resistant than the males (Table 1). Table 1: Sex Ratio of Bangladesh Population at different age groups
At birth: 1.04 male(s)/female
0-14 years: 1.03 male(s)/female
15-24 years: 0.88 male(s)/female
25-54 years: 0.9 male(s)/female
55-64 years: 0.95 male(s)/female
65 years and over: 0.96 male(s)/female
Total population: 0.95 male(s)/female (2014 est., CIA World Factbook 2015)
In Indian Sub-Continent, women are always dominated by the men and men always lead the women in almost every field of life (Aslam and Naseem, 2015). In ancient Rome, women were considered as men’s property and they treated them in their own way (Corrick, 2011). Before the independence, the status of women in Bangladesh was in a very disadvantageous position in the male-dominating society. Women, in custom and practice, remained subordinate to male in almost all aspects of their lives. Most women’s lives remained centered on their traditional roles and they had limited access to markets, productive services, education, health care, and in administration and local government. At the household level, the girl often had unequal access to nutrition, health care and education compared to boy. Many discriminatory practices arose out of some deep-rooted socio-cultural factors. Women earned less than men and were mostly engaged in low paid jobs. They often did not have easy access to credit and other income generation opportunities, and still are not represented proportionately at management and policy levels.
However, the status of women changes with the passage of time as with the development in the world, the status of women in Bangladesh also has developed noticeably during recent times. In education and working sectors, Bangladesh has made great progress in girls’ education. The proportion of girls enrolled in primary school increased from 51 per cent in 1991 to 94 per cent in 2007. There are also substantially more female primary school teachers and their role is very encouraging. Girls comprise more than 60 per cent of students enrolled in UNICEF’s basic education programs for working children. These girls now have the necessary life skills to apply to their day-to-day challenges, and are able to read and write basic text and perform simple arithmetic calculations. By November 2009, about 46,000 (out of 166,000) learners had graduated from the 40-month basic education course (UNICEF Bangladesh-2010).
A strong and confident woman can bring change in the society and men are bound to accept the opinions of the women. Still there are problems in some societies where women are deprived of getting their rights. They face tremendous obstacles from different corners and cannot apply their inherent efficiency. Both male and female are the part of society and have equal importance so that the balance between genders proceeds to the achievement of goals for a better society and bright future for generations to come. As women hold a major share of the population and take the primary responsibility of caring the generation, without their participation it is impossible to create a sustainable society and it cannot fulfill the targets of Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) 2030. In this context, this paper analyses some important successes of the women and the challenges to achieve the changes.
This study was conducted using the information from different research articles and in peer reviewed journals or periodicals, grey literatures published in different forms, news media, folklore and local records etc. Information has also been gathered from the workshops, seminars and visiting administrative organizations, social and human affairs centres. More importantly, some information has been collected directly from the stakeholders, rural and urban administrative bodies, civil societies, NGOs, women and youth communities. Electronic media were also important sources for generating information.
Status of women in Bangladesh
Women in Bangladesh have made major strides over the past decades, putting the South Asian country at the forefront among the least-developed countries in addressing gender disparity. Since the World Conference on Women in Mexico in 1975 – which was a milestone in the battle for equality – Bangladesh has been at the forefront among the least-developed countries (LDCs) in addressing gender disparities. Bangladesh has the eighth lowest gender gap in political empowerment in the world. This is partially due to the fact that it has had a female head of state for longer than any other country in the world. In addition, the proportion of seats held by women in the national parliament doubled from 10 per cent in 1990 to 20 per cent in 2011 (ILO Report 2014). Women’s growing presence in the political sphere has had important implications on the family structure. Society is moving forward from the traditional view that women are an economic liability and sons are more desirable than daughters. Studies show that the growing independence of women is one of the major causes of a decline in the “missing women” phenomenon – gender based infanticide – in Bangladesh.
At present, women have joined in the fields of risky and challenging jobs like defense, Boarder Guard of Bangladesh (BGB), police, airlines pilot, drivers of train, bus, taxi, three wheelers; in building construction, brick fields and also in fire service etc. They are also participating as athletes, in games and sports like cricket, football, wresting, shooting and kabadi etc.
In the economic sphere, women have played a vital role as well, as evidenced by the importance of the ready-made garment (RMG) sector (Fig. 1). The RMG industry has been placed as the largest export earner of Bangladesh where more than 5000 garment factories are running, employing over four million people of which more than 80% workers are women. RMG industry is considered as the backbone of the country’s economy, the main strength of RMG sector in Bangladesh is female workers (Farhana et. al. 2015). Moreover, the economic success of Bangladesh during the last two decades is mainly due to the exports of RMG to Europe and North America.
Fig. 1 Working women in Garments Factory
Despite the fact that women do not generally have ownership over land and tools necessary for agriculture, their labor has been a vital part of the success Bangladesh has had in agricultural productivity – the country stands out compared with other countries in Asia in terms of enhancing agricultural productivity (ILO-2014). In addition, Bangladesh has experienced significant improvements in women’s health over the past three decades. Women’s life expectancy, for example, has increased from 54.3 years in 1980 to 69.3 years in 2010, one of the largest increases in the region.
In the social sphere, Bangladesh is a textbook example of what is possible when women are involved in decision-making. Indeed, it is an inspirational story of social innovation and development, in no small part due to the help of microfinance, which has played an integral role in rural and social development in Bangladesh – 92 % of the borrowers are women and 90 per cent live in rural areas. While there is some debate over the efficacy of microfinance in poverty reduction, studies have shown that in Bangladesh, female participation in microfinance activities has led to an increased sense of empowerment, measured by factors such as decision-making, social acceptance and political involvement, which in turn have improved general welfare.
Bangladeshi mothers are participating increasingly on their children’s education by choice. The country has managed to reduce the gender gap at all levels of education, particularly at primary and secondary education, i.e. in youth literacy and secondary school enrolments. With the continuous efforts, the girls are doing better results (Table 2). In these two areas, disparities have been reduced at a faster rate in Bangladesh than the global average (ILO-2014).
Table 2 Secondary School Certificate (SSC) results of Dhaka Board in 2016
|Group||Male/Female||Total Examinees||Appeared Examinees||No. Examinees Securing Minimum Grade Point|
United Nations General Assembly in its Seventieth session on 21 October 2015 adopted the following outcome document of the United Nations summit for the adoption of the post-2015 development agenda: Transforming our world: the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development where the SDG Goal No. 5 explains the agenda for empowering all women and girls (UNGA-2015).
Goal 5 Achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls
5.1 End all forms of discrimination against all women and girls everywhere
5.2 Eliminate all forms of violence against all women and girls in the public and private spheres, including trafficking and sexual and other types of exploitation
5.3 Eliminate all harmful practices, such as child, early and forced marriage and female genital mutilation
5.4 Recognize and value unpaid care and domestic work through the provision of public services, infrastructure and social protection policies and the promotion of shared responsibility within the household and the family as nationally appropriate
5.5 Ensure women’s full and effective participation and equal opportunities for leadership at all levels of decision-making in political, economic and public life
5.6 Ensure universal access to sexual and reproductive health and reproductive rights as agreed in accordance with the Program of Action of the International Conference on Population and Development and the Beijing Platform for Action and the outcome documents of their review conferences
5.a Undertake reforms to give women equal rights to economic resources, as well as access to ownership and control over land and other forms of property, financial services, inheritance and natural resources, in accordance with national laws
- b Enhance the use of enabling technology, in particular information and communications technology, to promote the empowerment of women
- c Adopt and strengthen sound policies and enforce able legislation for the promotion of gender equality and the empowerment of all women and girls at all levels
Challenges in Change
Yet, Bangladeshi women continue to face many challenges. The recent industrial disasters in the RMG sector, where a large majority of workers are women, highlight the serious concerns about occupational safety and health. The Bangladesh government, employers and workers organizations are making important strides in the right direction, with the support of the ILO and many development partners, but still a lot needs to be done. Women also have been getting the short end of the stick in the labor market. The employment rate of women in 2010, at 58 per cent, was close to 30 percentage points lower than the rate for men. Women are also disproportionately affected by unemployment, underemployment and vulnerable employment (Fig. 3).
Fig. 3 Factors affecting women empowerment in Bangladesh (Naz- 2006)
The devaluation of women labor in labor market also hinders women right. The things should consider for the development of women empowerment in Bangladesh are as below:
- To understand the importance about the role of women in the development of the society.
• To know the obstacles and the causes of obstacles.
• To know the obstacles women face in the field of work.
• To know the social attitude towards women’s independence.
The dignity of women, socio-economic and political developments are considered in reflecting their empowerment. Many women in Bangladesh consider in erotic social value, superstition and are dependent on men. Usually girls are not properly taken care of the birth of male child is welcome. The other causes behind the less empowerment of women in Bangladesh are their age, marriage system, relationship and motherhood. Usually, the father turns down mother’s decision in selecting the bridegroom.
UNDP focuses on gender equality and women’s empowerment not only as human rights, but also because they are a pathway to achieving the Millennium Development Goals and sustainable development. The women of Bangladesh are no more only house-wives and inside workers. They have come out from the home and took the challenges to change the economy, politics, and social culture of Bangladesh very rapidly. These activate attention of developed countries towards Bangladesh. Now, Bangladesh is a role model of women empowerment and development in the world map. Bangladesh faces big challenges in religious and cultural aspects but the powerful and dedicated women have taken the challenges and crossed the barriers.
Women empowerment: Empowerment of women is such a process which controls women rights, challenges and gender disparity in parental and social institutions. The socio-economic condition refers to the social dignity, educational qualifications, family marriage system, mother, social value, occupation salary and wealth etc. The Bangladeshi women have made massive gains since the country achieved its independence in 1971. During the last four decades a significant achievement has been recorded in political empowerment, better job prospects, improved education and the adoption of new laws to protect their rights. As of 2013, the Prime Minister of Bangladesh, the Speaker of Parliament, the Leader of the Opposition and the Foreign minister were women. However, issues like domestic violence and rape are still prevailing in some backward societies. The government and other activists are trying to mitigate these problems.
Earlier, many women`s lives remained centered on their traditional roles, and they had limited access to markets, productive services, education, healthcare, and local government. This lack of opportunities contributed to high fertility patterns, which diminished family well-being, contributed to the malnourishment and generally poor health of children, and frustrated educational and other national development goals. In fact, poverty was the main hindrance to get access to health care, education, and training etc. But the government of Bangladesh has taken massive steps to drive forward the women and helping women to establish their rights resulting in a big change in women empowerment.
Empowerment in international development
The UK`s Department for International Development is working to address constraints to the empowerment of adolescent girls in developing countries. Researchers mapped organizations that competitively seek innovative ideas from both the private and non-profit sectors potentially to reach girls, youth or women in developing country contexts and provides support in the forms of finance and technical assistance to bring their ideas to market.
In 2008, Africa began the Initiative for the Economic Empowerment of Women Entrepreneurs Project (IEEWEP) with funding by ExxonMobil. The goal of the project was to increase women’s income and participation in local business in Southern Chad. In a society that relies heavily on agriculture, IEEWEP streamlined the way women farmed and took their goods to market by training them on better agricultural practices and opening two new agro-processing centres. In the past three years, more than 1,000 women have worked through a graduated business development project, which has diversified their income sources and increased their annual income by approximately 70% (Africare-2016).
A Successful Empowerment: The women working in the households are contributing a lot to the family although they are not recognized in terms of economy. They are the leaders of the homes and are not under suppression although some of the so-called organizations claim them as captives. So, women working in homes or are self-employed, need recognition for their great contribution to the society.
According to Ms. Alaka Basu, Senior Fellow, Women and Population, United Nations Foundation, empowerment is defined as an expansion of agency throughout women’s lives, not in individual sectors; expansion of choice according to women’s rules. “Even ‘bad’ behaviors can be an outcome of expanded choice.” Baldwin applauded Basu’s message about expanding the traditional approach to empowerment, urging organizations to “unpack the concepts” behind their goals to determine what they define as successful empowerment (Risingbd.com-2014).
Women and Politics – Women Empowerment in Bangladesh: In comparison to other countries, women’s participation was only 2% (Table 3) in 2001. However, due to increasing involvement and eagerness, the women’s participation has increased dramatically and in the 10th parliament (2014) the women participation is 20.29%.
Table 3 Women in National Parliaments in Selected countries
|Rank||Country||Elections||% of women|
Source: Inter-Parliamentary Union, Women in National Parliaments (February 28, 2005).
The current Commonwealth Plan of Action for Gender Equality 2005–2015 (PoA)1 and post-2015 Commonwealth gender priorities draw on international commitments for the realization of women’s rights enshrined in the Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW), the Beijing Platform for Action, the Sustainable Development Goals 2030, UN Security Resolution 1325 and follow-up resolutions, and other agreements on health and education targets. The millennium development goals and other international instruments have been acting as catalysts to increase the representation of women in leadership roles and decision-making positions by 2015. The United Nations and the Commonwealth Secretariat have committed to assisting their member countries to reach gender equality within the prescribed time frame. International organizations, development institutions and civil society have also contributed to reaching these global commitments. The PoA recommends member countries to achieve a target of no less than 30% of women in decision-making in the political, public and private sectors by 2015; the Commonwealth still faces challenge in reaching this target.
Current situation of women in leadership
Global statistics reveal that women continue to be under-represented in national parliaments, in 2015, 22 percent of all national parliamentarians were female, a slow increase from 11.3 percent in 1995. The share of women among Ministers now averages at 17%. The highest positions are even more elusive; as of August 2015, 11 women served as Head of State and 13 served as Head of Government. Five are currently from Commonwealth countries: Prime Ministers’ Sheikh Hasina of Bangladesh, Portia Simpson-Miller of Jamaica, and Saara Kuugongelwa Amadhila of Namibia, and Presidents’ Marie-Louise Coleiro Preca of Malta and Ameenah Gurib-Fakim of Mauritius (IPU-2014). Furthermore, HM Queen Elizabeth II has been represented by women Governor-Generals in Antigua and Barbuda, Australia, the Bahamas, Barbados, Canada, Grenada, New Zealand and St Lucia. It is noteworthy to share the significance of the first female Chair of the Commonwealth, Prime Minister Persad Bissessar of Trinidad and Tobago in 2010, who handed over to another female leader, the Prime Minister Gillard of Australia in 2011. From 2010–2014, women leaders were re-elected and/or appointed as Deputy/Vice Presidents in Bangladesh, Dominica, Guyana, Kiribati, Malawi, Mauritius, Singapore, Trinidad and Tobago, and recently Zambia.
Many women have held ministerial positions beyond gender portfolios, such as foreign affairs, finance, defense, environment, public service, energy, justice, etc., positions which have been traditionally held by men. The political appointments of women in cabinets as ministers vary across the Commonwealth.
Gender Inequality Index in SAARC Countries: According to the UN Development Programme`s Human Development Report for 2015, Bangladesh ranks 111 out of 188 countries on its Gender Development Index; and 67 out of 75 on the Gender Empowerment Measure, a measure of gender inequality in economic and political terms (Table 4).
Table 4 Gender Inequality Index in SAARC Countries
|Country||Gender Inequality Index 2014||Parliamentary Seats % held by Women 2014||Secondary Education % Female 2013||Labor Work Force % Female 2013|
Results and Discussion
From the study it reveals that the following actions are very important for promoting women empowerment:
- Family support: Family support is the most important for helping women to come out from the barriers and hinders of social and religious bindings. The parents should encourage the girls in getting education, to participate in socio-cultural activities and to develop them both mentally and physically providing equal opportunities for both boys and girls.
- Education: Education is the basic right for development of human being to acquire knowledge for management of natural resources for the wellbeing of all lives on the earth. According to UN Agenda 2030 Sustainable development “Goal No. 4 Ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all” under which by 2030 it should be ensured that all girls and boys complete free, equitable and quality primary and secondary education leading to relevant and effective learning outcomes; all girls and boys have access to quality early childhood development, care and pre-primary education and so on (UN SDG Agenda 2030). Bangladesh has already been implemented free education up to secondary level for the girls.
- Social Support: Without congenial and peaceful social atmosphere, it is not possible to empower the women. According to UN Agenda 2030 “SDG No. 16 Promote peaceful and inclusive societies for sustainable development, provide access to justice for all and build effective, accountable and inclusive institutions at all levels, it is the obligation of the society to support the womenfolk to empower”.
- Government’s facilities: The government should provide support with reserve quota in education, employment and leadership to equalize the women’s position in the mainstream. It is urgent to make laws and ordinances especially for women’s security such as humiliation, sex abuse, eve-teasing, violence and child marriage etc. Facilities like maternity leave, baby care, transportation to and from working places, academic and training institutes and recreational places etc. to be provided. According to SDG 5.a reforms should be undertaken to give women equal rights to economic resources, as well as access to ownership and control over land and other forms of property, financial services, inheritance and natural resources, in accordance with national laws.
- Self motivation and determination: Self motivation and determination of women are also very important to gain mental courage to overcome the obstacles for achieving their rights in the social and working arena. According to Diane Mariechild, “A woman is the full circle. Within her is the power to create, nurture and transform”. One of the most courageous things you can do is identify yourself, know who you are, what you believe in and where you want to go— Sheila Murray Bethel. According to Margaret Sanger, “Woman must not accept; she must challenge. She must not be awed by that which has been built up around her; she must reverence that woman in her which struggles for expression” (Psychology Today 2013).
Fig 4 Women Change from feeling weak to strong (Hossain 2015)
- Correct explanations of religious and spiritual norms: In Indian Sub-Continent the religious and spiritual norms are very influential in the social activities. In many cases, misinterpretation of religious explanations misguides the common people; as a result women are harassed and suppressed. A social action plan is necessary for correct explanation and execution of these complicated norms.
Strategies to increase women’s representation in decision-making (Fig 5)
Electoral and political reform– The most popular electoral model widely practiced across the Commonwealth is the First Past the Post/simple majority electoral models, considered to support the incumbent, and not favorable to women’s political candidacy. Markedly, electoral reform and introduction of quotas into political party structures has brought about the rise of women’s representation in many Commonwealth countries (Commonwealth report 2015) ISBN 978-1-84929-109-5
Quotas used in politics – Over 70 countries globally have adopted alternative forms of quotas, which have advanced the participation of women in decision-making. There are three notable types of gender quotas used in politics: 1) reserved seats (constitutional and/or legislative); 2) legal candidate quotas and/or reserved constituencies (constitutional and/or legislative); and 3) Political party quotas (voluntary). A combination of quotas with the first past the post electoral model has proved effective in fast-tracking the representation of women in Bangladesh, India, Rwanda and Uganda. Reserved constituencies and/or reserved seats for women to contest independently and by
direct election has worked in the Rwanda, Swaziland and Uganda national elections, and in Bangladesh, India and Lesotho local governance.
Capacity building for women – Bangladesh has provided leadership and management training for women to ‘build the capacity of female political aspirants’ as well as to equip them with qualities such as ‘self-confidence and assertiveness’ as most agree that “economic disadvantage impedes equal participation”. Thus awareness creation and training activities are being used to sensitize societies to the need to vote for women across Bangladesh. It has succeeded in strengthening the representation of women in local governance without introducing affirmative action policies; through civil society capacity building efforts for women interested in local governance.
Adoption and Implementation of national gender policies – Bangladesh has adopted and implementing national gender policies and has guaranteed equal rights for men and women.
Financial Resources – Many women are limited by financial resources which further inhibit their effective participation in politics. A dedicated fund should be set aside through state or party mandates to support women’s advocacy and political campaigns. Women entrepreneurs can also serve as donors to support women’s electoral campaigns.
Mass mobilization of women– Apart from legal or electoral reforms, a mass mobilization of women can lobby political parties to mainstream women in party manifestoes and electoral campaigns. Women are known to be the highest number of voters in any election, and can exchange their votes for positive action.
Target accomplished women to join politics– Government and civil society groups can target accomplished, competent and qualified women leaders and groom them for political leadership.
These women have established families with reduced family responsibilities, wide experience, and loyal constituency and are financially stable. These women can also be mentored by other women in political authority. Appointing women leaders into positions of authority has proved effective in many Commonwealth countries.
Involving male champions– Practically it is important to partner with men who have long-standing control of power, and sensitize them to understand gender equity, equality and mainstreaming. In this way, male champions can serve as agents for change for the inclusion and effective participation of women at all levels and across all sectors including the home. Affirmative action for women representation at all decision-making levels remains a challenge, seen as positive action for women at the detriment of men.
Despite the fact that women’s development has been accorded priority by different governments in the consecutive Five-Year Plans of Bangladesh, women continue to be disadvantaged, deprived, neglected, and face discrimination even after 42 years of independence. The society is male-dominated while women are poverty-stricken and continue to be victims of domestic violence and abandonment. In spite of constitutional guarantees, women have not enjoyed the same equal rights as men as accorded to them. At the onset of the new millennium, the percentage of female representation at both the local and national level has remained low compared to global standards.
It is obvious that the people of Bangladesh are changing their mindsets in connection with global context and they are showing more respect to women and giving them priority to take part in all levels of development. Without participation of women, Bangladesh can never be a Sonar Bangla. So the women should be supported all the way to establish their empowerment to lead change in Bangladesh.
Educating a woman is actually educating a family; educated women are more conscious of the world surrounding them. They are responsive to the negative impact of having too many children and health and hygiene issues. Increasing rate of literacy among women reduces fertility rate. Education empowers them, helps to achieve economic freedom and it is directly linked with poverty reduction.
Bangladeshi women are marching forward but it is essential to provide them more support so that those who are living in rural Bangladesh can make their presence felt in all spheres of national life. The government is doing its best to increase literacy among women so that they do not lag behind in any respect. However, it is utmost essential to prevent child marriage, dowry related violence and sexual harassment from the society. It needs to rise together and spread the light of education which will empower women to be able toput more effort to nation building (Financial Express May 19, 2016).
The authors acknowledge the organizing committee of the International Seminar on Empowering Women to Lead Change and ICFAI, Tripura, India for giving the opportunity to present the paper. Special thanks are due to Dr Sukanta Sarkar, Assistant Professor (Eco), Department of Social Science and Humanities, Faculty of Management Studies, ICFAI University for extending his support. The authors are indebted to the IUBAT University and Bangladesh Forest Research Institute authorities for providing the facilities to conduct the research.
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