Women in Bangladesh Source: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Women_in_Bangladesh

Women in Bangladesh
Begum Rokeya.jpg
Begum Rokeya was a pioneer writer and a social worker of the undivided Bengal. She is most famous for her efforts in favour of gender equality and other social issues.
General Statistics
Maternal mortality (per 100,000)176 (2015)
Women in parliament20.3% (2018)
Women over 25 with secondary education45.3% (2018)
Women in labour force36.0% (2018)
Gender Inequality Index[1]
Value0.537 (2019)
Rank133rd out of 162
Global Gender Gap Index[2]
Value0.719 (2021)
Rank65th out of 156

The status of women in Bangladesh has been subject to many important changes over the past few centuries. Bangladeshi women have made significant progress since the country's independence in 1971, where women in the region experienced increased political empowerment for women, better job prospects, increased opportunities of education and the adoption of new laws to protect their rights through Bangladesh's policies in the last four decades. Still, women in Bangladesh continue to struggle to achieve equal status to men due to societal norms that enforce restrictive gender roles as well as poor implementation of laws that were set to protect women.

In legal matters, Bangladesh follows a mixed system, predominantly of common law inherited from its colonial past as well as some Islamic laws that mostly concern personal status issues. Politically, women have been comparatively prominent in the sphere: since 1988 the Prime Ministers elected were women, and the current Prime Minister, Speaker of Parliament, and the Leader of the Opposition are women as well as of 2020.


The extent to which women in the region in the past has varied over time, where the status of women varied between religious and ethnic groups, as well as across social classes.

Pre-Independence Era[edit]

Before the 20th century, women in this region, as well as in Bengal in general, experienced different levels of autonomy depending on where they lived. While women who lived in rural areas were able to roam around in groups and appear in public, those who lived in urban areas would have to observe purdah by covering up. Prevalent in both Hindu and Muslim families at the time, these middle-class and upper-class women were mostly homemakers who barely went outside; any occasional movement outside were done inside cloaked carriages. This was seen as a way to protect women from unknown dangers of urban areas by the patriarch of the house. However, purdah was not common among lower-class women.[3]

Polygamy was practiced in this region regardless of religion. Nevertheless, the practice was not common among the general populace and was more commonly observed in the aristocratic class; recent eras see a further decline in polygamous relationships. Historically, Sati was practiced in this region, mostly among the upper class, until the late 19th century.

Post-Independence Era[edit]

Available data on health, nutrition, education, and economic performance indicated that in the 1980s the status of women in Bangladesh remained considerably inferior to that of men. Women, in custom and practice, remained subordinate to men in almost all aspects of their lives; greater autonomy was the privilege of the rich or the necessity of the very poor.

Most women's lives remained centred on their traditional roles, and they had limited access to markets, productive services, education, health care, 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, acute poverty at the margin appeared to be hitting hardest at women. As long as women's access to health care, education, and training remained limited, prospects for improved productivity among the female population remained poor.

About 82 percent of women lived in rural areas in the late 1980s. The majority of rural women, perhaps 70 percent, were in small cultivator, tenant, and landless households; many worked as labourers part-time or seasonally, usually in post-harvest activities, and received payment in kind or in meager cash wages. Another 20 percent, mostly in poor landless households, depended on casual labour, gleaning, begging, and other irregular sources of income; typically, their income was essential to household survival. The remaining 10 percent of women were in households mainly in the professional, trading, or large-scale landowning categories, and they usually did not work outside the home.

The economic contribution of women was substantial but largely unacknowledged. Women in rural areas were responsible for most of the post-harvest work, which was done in the chula, and for keeping livestock, poultry, and small gardens. Women in cities relied on domestic and traditional jobs, but in the 1980s they increasingly worked in manufacturing jobs, especially in the readymade garment industry. Those with more education worked in government, health care, and teaching, but their numbers remained very small. Continuing high rates of population growth and the declining availability of work based in the chula meant that more women sought employment outside the home. Accordingly, the female labour force participation rate doubled between 1974 and 1984, when it reached nearly 8 percent. Female wage rates in the 1980s were low, typically ranging between 20 and 30 percent of male wage rates.

In 2019 Bangladesh's highest court ruled that on marriage registration forms, a word used to describe unmarried women that can also mean "virgin" must be replaced with a word that only means "an unmarried woman".[4]

The official religion of Bangladesh is Islam and 90% of the population being Muslim.[5][6]

Education and economic development[edit]


Azimpur Girls' School in Bangladesh

The literacy rate in Bangladesh is lower for females (55.1%) compared to males (62.5%) – 2012 estimates for population aged 15 and over.[7]

During the past decades, Bangladesh has improved its education policies; and the access of girls to education has increased. In the 1990s, girls' enrolment in primary school has increased rapidly. Although there is now gender parity in enrolments at the primary and lower secondary school level, the percentage of girls drops in the later secondary school years.[8]

Workforce participation[edit]

Women in Bangladesh are engaged in many work activities, from domestic work inside the home, to outside paid work. Women's work is often undervalued and under-reported.[9]

Land and property rights[edit]

Women's inheritance rights are poor: discriminatory laws and patriarchal social norms make it difficult for many women to have access to land.[10] Most women inherit according to the local interpretations of Sharia Law.[10]

Engagement in public life[edit]

Bangladesh has contiuosuly had a female prime minister for 30 years. This is the longest unbroken tenure for a democratically elected female head of government in the world. 21% of MPs in the Jatiya Sangsad are women, the highest proportion in South Asia.[11][12]

Crimes against women[edit]


Bengali settlers and soldiers in the Chittagong Hill Tracts have raped native Jumma (Chakma) women "with impunity" with the Bangladeshi security forces doing little to protect the Jummas and instead assisting the rapists and settlers.[13]

The indigenous Buddhist and Hindu Jummas of Sino-Tibetan background have been targeted by the Bangladeshi government with massive amounts of violence and genocidal policies as ethnic Bengali settlers swarmed into Jumma lands, seized control and massacred them with the Bangladeshi military engaging in mass rape of women, massacres of entire villages and attacks on Hindu and Buddhist religious sites with deliberate targeting of monks and nuns.[14]

Child marriage[edit]

Bangladesh has one of the highest rates of child marriage in the world.[15] The practice of dowry, although illegal, contributes to this phenomenon.[16] 29% of girls get married before age 15 and 65% before the age of 18.[17] Government action has had little effect, and has been contradictory: although the government has pledged to end child marriage by 2041, the Prime Minister in 2015 attempted to lower the age of marriage for girls from 18 to 16.[17] An exception to the law was instituted so that marriage at 16 is permitted with parental consent.[18]

Domestic violence[edit]

In 2010, Bangladesh enacted the Domestic Violence (Prevention and Protection) Act, 2010.[19] Domestic violence (DV) is accepted by a significant percentage of the population: in the 2011 DHS survey, 32.5% of women said that a husband is justified in hitting or beating his wife for specific reasons (the most common reason given was if the wife "argues with him" – at 22.4%).[20] In recent years violence towards women, committed by men, has decreased significantly and is considerably low compared to south Asian countries like Sri Lanka, Nepal, and India.[21] Violence towards women is a crime. Awareness needs to be raised to uphold women's human rights.


Dowry violence is a problem in Bangladesh. The country has taken action against the practice of dowry through laws such as Dowry Prohibition Act, 1980; Dowry Prohibition (Amendment) Ordinance, 1982; and Dowry Prohibition (Amendment) Ordinance, 1986. However, abuses regarding dowry continue, with the legal enforcement against dowry being weak.[22]

Sexual harassment[edit]

"Eve teasing" is a euphemism used in South Asia for public sexual harassment (often known as "street harassment") of women by men. Examples include wolf-whistling, obscene gestures, threats of abduction, stalking, groping, and rubbing against women.[23][24] Eve likely alludes to the first woman in the Biblical creation story.[25] As of 2010, according to the Bangladesh National Women Lawyers' Association, nearly 90% of Bangladeshi girls aged 10-18 had been subjected to eve teasing.[23][26]

Other concerns[edit]

Freedom of movement[edit]

Bangladesh Railway female coach
Bangladesh Railway female coach

Bangladeshi women and girls don't get the rights of freedom of movement everywhere as the men have, the society is based on patriarchal values and socially conservative policies towards women and girl's freedom.[27]


The maternal mortality rate in Bangladesh is 240 deaths/100,000 live births (as of 2010).[28] Sexually transmitted infections are relatively common,[29] although the rate of HIV/AIDS is low.[30] A 2014 study found that Bangladeshi women' knowledge about different diseases is very poor.[31] Bangladesh has recently expanded training programs of midwives to improve reproductive health and outcomes.[32]

Family planning[edit]

Already in the 1990s, family planning was recognised as very important in Bangladesh.[33] The total fertility rate (TFR) is 2.45 children born/woman (estimates as of 2014).[34]


See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Gender Inequality Index" (PDF). Human Development Reports. Retrieved 29 October 2021.
  2. ^ "Global Gender Gap Report 2021" (PDF). World Economic Forum. Retrieved 14 December 2021.
  3. ^ Meredith Borthwick (8 December 2015). The Changing Role of Women in Bengal, 1849-1905. ISBN 9781400843909.
  4. ^ "Bangladesh: Court removes 'virgin' word from marriage form". BBC News. Retrieved 7 September 2019.
  5. ^ "Official Census Results 2011 page xiii" (PDF). Bangladesh Government. Retrieved 17 April 2015.
  6. ^ "Bangladesh court upholds Islam as religion of the state". Al Jazeera.
  7. ^ "The World Factbook". cia.gov. Archived from the original on 13 June 2007. Retrieved 2 August 2016.
  8. ^ "UNICEF Bangladesh – Girls' Education – Girls' Education Strategy for Bangladesh". unicef.org. Retrieved 2 August 2016.
  9. ^ Science, London School of Economics and Political. "Department of Gender Studies" (PDF).
  10. ^ a b "Land and Property Rights of Rural Women in Bangladesh" (PDF). Retrieved 28 November 2019.
  11. ^ "Proportion of seats held by women in national parliaments (%) - Bangladesh". World Bank. Retrieved 29 October 2021.
  12. ^ "Bangladesh - Parliament". IPU Parline. Retrieved 29 October 2021.
  13. ^ McEvoy, Mark (3 April 2014). "Chittagong Hill Tracts of Bangladesh – rapists act with impunity". Survival International – The movement for tribal peoples.
  14. ^ Iqbal, Jamil M. (2 November 2009). "The fate of the Chittagong Hill Tracts tribes of Bangladesh". In Defence of Marxism.
  15. ^ "Child Marriage is a Death Sentence for Many Young Girls" (PDF). Retrieved 28 November 2019.
  16. ^ Early marriage, UNICEF, retrieved 27 August 2015
  17. ^ a b Bangladesh: Girls Damaged by Child Marriage: Stop Plan to Lower Marriage Age to 16, Human Rights Watch, 9 June 2015, retrieved 27 August 2015
  18. ^ Mansura Hossain (7 March 2015), Age of marriage 18, but 16 with parental consent, Prothom Alo, retrieved 27 August 2015
  19. ^ "English Version of the Domestic Violence (Prevention and Protection) Act, 2010" (PDF). Protecting Human Rights. Archived from the original (PDF) on 5 November 2013.
  20. ^ "Demographic and Health Survey 2011" (PDF). Retrieved 28 November 2019.
  21. ^ "57% of boys, 53% of girls think wife beating is justified". The Times of India. Retrieved 2 August 2016.
  22. ^ "Dowry violence continues unabated". 11 September 2009.
  23. ^ a b Nahar, Papreen; van Reeuwijk, Miranda; Reis, Ria (January 2013). "Contextualising sexual harassment of adolescent girls in Bangladesh". Reproductive Health Matters. 21 (41): 78–79. doi:10.1016/S0968-8080(13)41696-8.
  24. ^ Talboys, Sharon L.; Kaur, Manmeet; VanDerslice, James; Gren, Lisa H.; Bhattacharya, Haimanti; Alder, Stephen C. (January–March 2017). "What Is Eve Teasing? A Mixed Methods Study of Sexual Harassment of Young Women in the Rural Indian Context". SAGE Open. 7 (1): 1. doi:10.1177/2158244017697168.
  25. ^ Barrett, Grant (2006). "Eve Teasing". The Official Dictionary of Unofficial English. McGraw-Hill. p. 109. ISBN 0-07-145804-2.
  26. ^ "When sexual harassment leads to suicide". IRIN News. 13 December 2010. Retrieved 2 August 2016.
  27. ^ "Patriarchy: The deep rooted cultural beliefs that normalise rape". Dhaka Tribune.
  28. ^ "The World Factbook". cia.gov. Archived from the original on 30 October 2011. Retrieved 2 August 2016.
  29. ^ Gibney, L; Macaluso, M; Kirk, K; Hassan, MS; Schwebke, J; Vermund, SH; Choudhury, P (2001). "Prevalence of infectious diseases in Bangladeshi women living adjacent to a truck stand: HIV/STD/hepatitis/genital tract infections". Sex Transm Infect. 77 (5): 344–50. doi:10.1136/sti.77.5.344. PMC 1744386. PMID 11588280.
  30. ^ "The World Factbook". cia.gov. Archived from the original on 13 June 2007. Retrieved 2 August 2016.
  31. ^ Hossain, Mosharaf; Mani, Kulanthayan KC; Sidik, Sherina Mohd; Shahar, Hayati Kadir; Islam, Rafiqul (December 2014). "Knowledge and awareness about STDs among women in Bangladesh". BMC Public Health. 14 (1): 775. doi:10.1186/1471-2458-14-775. ISSN 1471-2458. PMC 4246425. PMID 25081860.
  32. ^ "WHO – Bangladesh expands training of midwives to improve maternal and neonatal health". who.int. Archived from the original on 6 June 2014.
  33. ^ Barkat-e-Khuda; Stoeckel, John; Piet-Pelon, Nancy (April 1997). Bangladesh Family Planning Programme: Lessons learned and Directions for the Future (PDF). International Centre for Diarrhoeal Disease Research, Bangladesh. ISBN 984-551-091-4. Archived from the original (PDF) on 3 September 2013.
  34. ^ "The World Factbook". cia.gov. Archived from the original on 13 June 2007. Retrieved 2 August 2016.
  35. ^ Bangladesh (Report). Bureau of International Labor Affairs. Archived from the original on 19 February 2004.

Public Domain This article incorporates text from this source, which is in the public domain. Country Studies. Federal Research Division.

Further reading[edit]

  • Nasreen, Taslima (1998). "The contest over gender in Bangladesh". In Herbert L. Bodman; Nayereh E. Tohidi. Women in Muslim Societies: Diversity Within Unity. Lynne Rienner. ISBN 978-1-55587-578-7.

External links[edit]