Women’s Capabilities in Education and Health improving, but remains insufficient in Economic and Political Field
- says Human Development is South Asia 2016 report

In South Asia, over the last decade and a half, there has been an improvement in women’s social, economic and political empowerment. However worldwide, the region fares better than Sub-Saharan Africa only. Progress has been considerable in improving women’s capabilities through education and health, but remains insufficient in economic and political fields. Beside this, a high prevalence of the incidence of violence against women points to the inadequate implementation of laws, finds the research on ‘Human Development in South Asia 2016: Empowering Women in South Asia’ conducted by Mahbub ul Haq Research Centre (MHRC) of Lahore University of Management Sciences.

BRAC Institute of Governance and Development, BRAC University launched the report at a city hotel in Dhaka on May 16, 2017. The research was conducted on Bangladesh, India, Pakistan, Nepal, Bhutan, Sri Lanka, Maldives and Afghanistan.

The report demonstrates that, the overall picture of progress in South Asia not only masks the inequality in opportunity for women both between and within countries, but also across women belonging to different socio-economic, ethnic and religious groups.

The report also suggests that despite overall progress in key indicators, the promise of the MDGs is still unfulfilled and the region needs to intensify its commitment towards meeting the SDGs aiming to complete what the MDGs did not achieve-especially targeting stubborn challenges, such as in female leadership, voice and representation, as well as violence against women.

Speaking on the women’s empowerment, Chief Guest Rasheda K. Choudhury, Executive Director of Campaign for Popular Education (CAMPE) said, there is a fundamental difference between participation and Partnership. Women in Bangladesh have progressed far in participating in various economic activities but they still lack opportunity at partnership level.

While talking about sexual violence that has happened in recent times, she described the difficulties women face in professional fields. She urged the government to increase budget in research sectors and thanked MHRC for thisreport, which is a reminder that there’s a long way to go for women empowerment.

Mr. M Syeduzzaman, Member, Board of Advisors, MHRC said, the report is a message to revisit and update the gender question in light of development in the world. The report shows the difference among different South Asian countries on gender development, educational progress, health progress, political empowerment and employment of women.

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Earlier, BIGD’s Executive Director Dr. Sultan Hafeez Rahman; Rasheda K. Choudhury; Professor MustafizurRahman, Distinguished Fellow, Centre for Policy Dialogue (CPD); Ms. Simeen Mahmud, Head Gender Cluster and The Centre for Gender and Social Transformation (CGST) and Dr. Rushidan Islam Rahman, Executive Chairperson, Centre for Development and Employment Research (CDER) launched the report in front of media. Maheen Sultan, Visiting Fellow, BIGD made a presentation on the key finding and recommendations of the report.

Prof. Mustafizur said gender-based violence costs 2.4 per cent of the country's GDP as existing laws remain inactive to protect women from violence. Bangladesh made significant progress since 2000, especially in framing policies and laws, which eased women empowerment. But we have to monitor whether the laws and policies are implemented properly or not. He also mentioned that a large number of activities, performed by women, remain outside the national accounting system.

Simeen Mahmud said that though Bangladesh's economic growth rate was third highest in the world, its public spending in human development remained lower compared to neighbouring countries.

Presenting the study findings, Maheen Sultan said Bangladesh scored 0.917 in GDI to be third among the South Asian countries, while Sri Lanka secured first place scoring 0.948 and Maldives placed second on the list with 0.937 points.

Female secondary school enrollment in the region reached 63.4 per cent from 36.8 per cent within the timeframe while Bangladesh lags behind reaching 57.38 per cent. However, Bangladesh has done really well in female tertiary education enrollment attaining 32.61 per cent comparing to South Asia's average 20.10 per cent in 2013. She also showed that the female life expectancy increased from 64 to 68 years between 2000 and 2013 while the country's overall life expectancy improved to 70.7 years from 63.5 in the same period.

Focusing on the empowerment of poor women, Dr. Rushidan Islam Rahman suggested improving their access to education, skill development and technology.

In conclusion, Dr. Sultan Hafeez Rahman said that political commitment was vital for women empowerment and hoped that the government would maintain the success while focus on addressing the challenges that remain.