For the 8th consecutive time, Bangladesh was declared the most gender-equal South Asian country by the World Economic Forum (WEF)’s Global Gender Gap Index 2022. This index evaluates gender equality in countries based on four primary dimensions: health, education, politics, and economic participation. Closing 71.4% of the gender gap, the country ranks 71st out of 146 nations evaluated. While that’s great news, what stops it from overfilling our hearts with pride is that the country’s global ranking in this year’s index was 71 covered – 6 notches below the report’s previous edition. Second to Bangladesh among South Asian countries on this index is Nepal – 96th, with a score of 69.2%.
Iceland sits right at the top, being the most gender-equal country in the world, according to the report, having closed 90.8% of the gender gap in the nation. On the other hand, Afghanistan is the worst-performing country in this index, having reached only 43.5% of parity.
Unfortunately, Bangladesh fell a few steps behind in defeating patriarchy this year, with a 0.5% increase in the gender gap compared to 2021. As a result, it resulted in the deterioration of its position in the global index. Although, the difference in the scores this year and the previous year is insignificant (71.9% and 71.4%).
Four Key Areas of Measurement
On the four subindexes- political empowerment, health and survival, and economic participation and opportunity- Bangladesh ranked 9th, 123rd, 129th, and 141st, respectively. The scores for political empowerment and health and survival have not changed from 2021, but the gender gap has widened for educational attainment.
The slight drop in educational attainment performance is why the top performer in South Asia fell behind its global competitors in gender equality. In 2021, Bangladesh had been able to close 95.1% of the gender gap in literacy, ranking 121st, but this year the country scored 92.3%. The gender gap in literacy rate has widened (92.8% last year vs 922 this year.) Enrolment of girls in secondary education is higher than that of boys, and women’s participation in tertiary education is, as usual, lower than that of men (19.84% vs 25.7%).
Economic Participation and Opportunity
South Asia performed the worst in economic participation and opportunity regarding gender equality. Bangladesh bridged a more significant percentage of the gap than last year, moving from 147th to 141 in ranking, but the gap is still wide, as suggested in the report. The labour-force participation rate for women was lower than last year (34.87% vs 38.50%). Furthermore, more than 90% of female wage earners do informal jobs; hence their contribution to the economy is not recognized. Also, women are still massively outnumbered by men in superior or managerial positions, and there has been no change in this regard from last year.
However, points for advancement of women to leadership roles have risen from 3.9 last year to 4.02 this year. Although an improvement, participation of women in professional and technical work is only 29.65% in Bangladesh. There has been a 13% rise in women’s estimated earned income, while for men, the raise was 11%. The Gender Gap Report 2022 also mentions that there has been a decrease in workforce participation in both men and women this year, by 3.6 and 5.45 percentage points, respectively, meaning the reduction was more prominent for women.
The report also points out an imbalance in unemployment between the two genders – the unemployment rate among adult females is 7.6% the rate among adult males is only 3.9%.
Bangladesh sits at the top 10 in the political empowerment subindex primarily because the country has been under a female head of government for 30 out of the past 50 years, i.e., longer than a male head of government. It is the only indicator of political empowerment in which Bangladesh is ahead of all other nations – being under a female head of state for the longest time. However, Bangladesh needs to step up its game in women’s participation in other aspects of politics, mainly women in ministerial positions – having bridged only 8.3% of the gender gap in this particular aspect. Also, in the parliament, only 20.9% of the members are women.
Health and Survival
Bangladesh has been able to close 96.2% of the gender gap in health and survival, but it remains below the following South Asian countries: Sri Lanka (1st), Nepal (109th), Bhutan (125th), and Iran (118th) in this subindex. The lack of improvement in women’s health and survival compared to men is mainly attributable to increasing cases of gender-based violence against women, rapes, and child marriage, among many other issues.
The general indicators included in the report incorporate the absence of equal inheritance rights for widows and daughters, equal access to land and non-land assets for women, and the existence of restricted attainment of freedom of justice.
Progress Isn’t a Myth
We can’t deny that Bangladesh has progressed a lot over the past 50 years of its independence in gender equality. The government has provided massive support by implementing various policies to favour equal rights and supporting women in their professional endeavours, education, and healthcare. Women thrive in male-dominated sectors, too – be it sports, tourism, technology, etc. Several non-profit organizations are constantly fighting against the violence, injustice, and rights violations that women face. These organizations have burgeoned in numbers in the past decade, drawing more attention and participation from supporters of equal rights.
Furthermore, from 2000 until now, maternal mortality rates have declined 60% due to investments in prenatal care. WEF’s report mentions that the percentage of births delivered by a trained health professional is now 92.4%, only 13% in 2006 when WEF first published this Global Gender Gap report. In addition, a joint statement by the International Labor Organization and the United Nations in 2020 found Bangladesh to have the lowest gender pay gap in the world – 2.2%, while the global average is 21.1%.
Statistics and Indices Are True but Incomplete
In reality, though, the gender gap in our country has many more layers, not addressed on pen and paper and indexes. Despite the prevalence of women’s empowerment in the country in recent years, gender equality is more of a debate of people’s mindsets, which unfortunately hasn’t broadened on par with all the progress. Gender-based violence remains one of the rampant barriers to reaching gender parity, and it’s just not women in rural areas or the uneducated portion of the population who are facing or participating in such heinous activities.
Women constantly face exploitation, oppression, and injustice in their professional and domestic lives, and most of these instances go unrecorded. Women are unappreciated, unnoticed, and ignored in their academic and professional feats over their male counterparts because of the deep-rooted bias against women prevalent in every stage of life. Sexual harassment cases in workplaces go unrecognized because many women fear losing their jobs. In many families, mothers, wives, and daughters face discrimination, contempt, and derogation. These are cases not measured by global indexes.
Cases of rape, sexual assault, etc., on public transport are so common that women must take precautionary measures whenever they travel alone via these vehicles. Even the streets are unsafe for walking alone. In such situations, rather than punishing the perpetrator, Bengali society never misses a chance to blame the attire of the woman harassed by them.
A couple of months ago, a woman was harassed and physically attacked at Narsingdhi station by a group of men and women for wearing indecent clothes. A woman can’t walk on the streets of her own country in clothes of her choice without being catcalled, teased, assaulted, or attacked. It’s truly devastating that this is the state of the most gender-equal country in South Asia. Hence, although unfortunate, it’s not shocking that in the Global Gender Gap Report 2022, South Asia ranked 8th, the lowest out of 8 regions assessed in the report.
Gender equality is one of those topics of discussion that can easily make your blood boil with frustration and disappointment, prompting you to start a war even. Over the years, the world has come a long way regarding equal rights for men and women. Progress is, unfortunately, not enough. When a first-world nation such as the United States (27th) has clipped women’s freedom with the recent overturn of Roe v. Wade, one may find it hard to believe that women’s rights are valued anywhere.
A small country in a small part of Asia may be the most successful among its peers in approaching gender parity, but based on just unrecorded, unregistered, and non-disseminated it is yet to truly become a safe place for women to live and prosper.
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