DHAKA, Bangladesh — As an emerging country in South Asia, Bangladesh has been an aid recipient country for over a decade now and the types of aid provided have varied over the years. During this period, emphasis on project aid has increased, which includes projects aimed at improving social infrastructure and living conditions in the country. Empowering women in Bangladesh is one of the ways in which these goals can be achieved.
Bangladesh had made notable progress in reducing gender disparity. Overall school enrollment for girls increased from 33 percent to almost 56 percent from 1991 to 2005, thus showing a shift on the emphasis being placed on the education for women. Between 2006 and 2010, the female labor force participation increased to 36.1 percent with around 53 percent of women employed in the agricultural sector, 22 percent in manufacturing and 5.7 percent in household activities. Development partners along with the government’s willingness have helped foreign aid in empowering women in Bangladesh and a few of these initiatives will be presented below.
Northern Areas Reduction-of-Poverty Initiative Project
One of the notable foreign aid funded projects aimed at empowering women in Bangladesh is the World Bank’s Northern Areas Reduction-of-Poverty Initiative Project (NARI), approved in 2011. This project has been focusing on providing information and technical skills to underprivileged women so they can get employed in the garment sector. The project has also been providing temporary housing facilities and any other support that can help these women adapt to life in an urban city and formal sector employment.
So far, the project has trained 8,030 women and 5,525 women have taken up jobs in the garment sector. All trainees are offered work through the placement program by the project and those that do not accept work in the garment sector usually return home and start their own businesses.
The Urban Governance and Infrastructure Improvement Project
ADB’s Second Urban Governance and Infrastructure Improvement Project (UGIIP-2) that was approved in 2008 has helped women become more vocal about the needs of their communities and also in the decision-making process. With the help of this project, women were more likely to take part in the governance of their communities with a total of 859 women members in the town-level coordination committees and 1,928 women members in the ward-level committees.
Slum improvement committees led by women were seen as being more efficient in making use of the funds properly and making sure of the quality of the community’s infrastructure. There was an improvement in access to economic opportunities and social services with traffic congestion decreasing in 47 secondary towns, compared to the target of 30 for this project. Water supply improved as well as access to sanitation, increasing from 62.3 percent to 87 percent, further reflecting the importance of women empowerment in infrastructure development and also the significance of foreign aid in empowering women in Bangladesh.
Rural Empowerment through Renewable Energy Project
One of the main focuses in USAID’s the Rural Empowerment through Renewable Energy Project, initiated in 2005, was to provide technical training to young women so they can assemble, install and maintain the solar home system (SHS) components and accessories. The Grameen Technology Centers established under the project employed more than 100 women engineers and trained them to become trainers in solar energy technology. A total of 2,797 women were trained at the end of Phase 1 and Phase 2 of the project.
The Community Legal Service Program
The Community Legal Service (CLS) Program, funded by U.K.’s Department for International Development (DFID), initiated in 2012, has been providing grants to nongovernmental organizations in order to provide poor and marginalized communities in Bangladesh better access to justice. With a strong focus on women and girls having access to justice, the project’s awareness campaign has led to a number of citizens, mainly women, to claim their rights and settle disputes. This gave them a voice to come forward and speak up for themselves.
However, the program needs to adopt a more comprehensive approach in providing access to justice to women and girls since many women often get socially and economically disempowered after getting into a legal claim. Therefore, the potential impact of these programs on the lives of women and girls need to be considered as well.
Regardless of the foreign aid effectiveness debates, it cannot be entirely denied that the programs mentioned above and many others can to some extent help countries solve their social problems, whether it is poverty or women’s lack of power in the society. Recognizing the potential that these organizations have in terms of developing an economy and a country is very crucial and that is why more resources should be mobilized in terms of empowering women in Bangladesh. Moreover, foreign aid is more of a complementary element and so the Government of Bangladesh should also take the initiative to mobilize resources to education, health, safety and security for women so they can be more independent.
– Farihah Tasneem