The gap between men and women in Bangladesh has widened, more in accessing economic opportunities, during the pandemic, various indicators and development literatures show.
Despite being one of the top performers in reducing the gender gap in recent decades, the country now needs to make significant progress in attaining equality between men and women in line with the global targets under Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
It is found that the country's earlier achievements have been challenged by the fallout of the Covid-19, particularly in the areas of education, employment, health, decision-making and overall women empowerment.
In such a context, rights groups and women empowerment advocates are calling for effective partnership among policymakers, implementation agencies and beneficiaries to reduce the gender gap.
According to the latest report released by World Economic Forum (WEF), Bangladesh has secured the top position among South Asian countries in ensuring gender equality for the seventh consecutive year since 2014.
However, the country has slipped 15 notches to 65th position among 156 countries on the WEF Global Gender Gap Report 2021.
In fact, the country's overall gender gap has widened by 0.7 per cent, said the report published on March 31. Still, Bangladesh is the only South Asian nation in the top 100 countries which closed 71.9 per cent of its overall gender gap so far.
The WEF report takes into consideration economic participation and opportunity, educational attainment, health and survival, and political empowerment in measuring the gender gap.
Accordingly, Bangladesh has been placed at 147th in economic participation and opportunity, 121st in educational attainment, 134th in health and survival, and 7th in political empowerment.
Bangladesh's worst performance is recorded in the area of "economic participation and opportunity" for women, compared to their male counterpart. It measures labour force participation, wage equity for comparable jobs, income and the proportion of women in top positions in organisations.
Bangladesh has made a remarkable progress in bridging 95.1 per cent of the gender gap, in terms of educational attainment based on the literacy rate and enrolment in primary, secondary and tertiary education, show in various studies.
In recent times, the gap in attaining education and engaging in income-generating activities has become a cause for concern.
Also, the distribution of advancements in education is not even for all the regions and districts in the country as some districts are lagging behind on the national average.
According to a study titled "Gender Equality and Women Empowerment: Role of Government Services", Chattogram division is somewhat falling behind in some key indicators of gender equality, compared to the national average.
The study was conducted under a European Union (EU)-funded project titled "Enhancing the Participation of Community-based Organisations (CBOs) and Civil Society Organisations (CSOs) in Democratic Governance in Bangladesh".
It was jointly implemented by Oxfam, Bangladesh and Centre for Policy Dialogue (CPD) in 2019.
Though Chattogram district has been doing well in terms of maternal health, sexual and reproductive health, child and infant mortality, reduction in child marriage, it lags behind in women's position in social and economic empowerment comparing to the national average, the report showed.
Enrolment of female students in pre-primary education in Chattogram is about 67.9 per cent against the national average of 65.5 per cent but the rate is quite lower than some poverty-stricken districts such as Pirojpur (88 per cent), Barguna (89.2 per cent), Kurigram (82.3 per cent), and Nilphamari (77.5 per cent).
The dropout rate of female students from primary education in the district is also higher than the national average of 15.9 per cent. The dropout rate of female students in the district is16.7 per cent.
Participation of women in labour force is around 32.2 per cent while the national average is 36 per cent which shows a gap in attaining education and entering income-generating activities.
Meanwhile, the unemployment rate for women over 15 years of age in the district is about 5.5 per cent, lower than the national average of 5.7 per cent but significantly higher than districts like Nilphamari (2.5 per cent), Rangpur (2.3 per cent), Kurigram (1.9 per cent), Gaibandha (3.3 per cent).
Besides, the rate of migrant women workers in proportion with women at work is only 2.5 per cent in Chattogram comparing to the national average of 12.2 per while districts like Nilphamari (30.5 per cent), Rangpur (17.8 per cent), Pirojpur (12.9 per cent), and Barguna (25.4 per cent) are in a far better position.
Identifying the reasons behind the lower participation of women in the workforce in Chattogram, the report said work-oriented training, both in the public and private sectors, is lower there than the demand.
There has been no mechanism either of tracking what types of works women are doing after taking different skills development training.
To close the gap in gender equality not only in Chattogram but also in other districts, the study recommended better coordination among government departments and ministries to mobilise resources to local government bodies which should set priorities with consultation with beneficiaries and other partners.
In terms of increasing primary education enrolment, the increased amount of education stipend for female students is needed while the stipend disbursement process requires further monitoring and evaluation.
The government should take specific measures and take up projects considering the SDG indicators where Chattogram is lagging behind in view of ensuring women empowerment, the study added.
In the case of discrimination among women groups, the social safety net programme should be widened to effectively include the women from the marginalised community especially in disaster-prone areas.