When it comes to higher education of women, Bangladesh is still in-between the stages - the old order is not working and the new one still not designed. Although the government is trying to inspire women at all stages, they are facing various situational barriers in pursuing their dreams.
"We want to inspire women at all stages of their lives and in all their roles, who can define clearly what they want, find and follow their passions, design a structure that allows for both a rich career and family life, but situational barriers always stand in their ways," said a senior official at the ministry of Education.
The official who preferred not to be named said, "In the past, women had a dilemma whether to have a career or a family. Now that dilemma has gone. Now they want to follow their passions. But they cannot for various social reasons, including sexual harassment at various levels, superstition, discrimination and non cooperation. So, there should be an atmosphere and facilities for them that allow for both a rich career and family life.
"A society becomes free in reality only when its people emerge out of the darkness of ignorance and backwardness to the light of knowledge and wisdom," says prominent columnist Aly Zaker in his column in the Daily Star Magazine November 4 issue focusing on women freedom.
Unfortunately, not that much satisfactory result has been achieved so far in Bangladesh though the gender gap is apparently eliminated from the primary and secondary education, but the gap remains very wide in the tertiary level education system. Out of Bangladesh's total population, 48.9 percent is women of whom nearly 86 percent live in rural areas and only about 16 percent women are literate compared to a 30 percent of literate men (Islam and Sultana 2006:57).
Deprivation for Centuries
Women have suffered centuries of violence, exploitation and abuse while men have dominated society for over 2000 years. Enjoy your 30 percent higher salary, and your statistically greater chance of becoming a CEO, or successful lawyer, or Member of Parliament. Not because you're smart, but because you're male.
As has been aptly stated in the 1995 United Nations Fourth World Conference on Women (UN, 1995) in Beijing, the girl-child today is the woman of tomorrow. The skills, ideas, and energy of the girl-child are vital for full attainment of the goals of equality, development, and peace. For the girl-child to develop her full potential, she needs to be nurtured in an enabling environment, where her spiritual, intellectual, and material needs for survival, protection, and development are met and equal rights safeguarded.
Importance of Women Education
"Investing in girls' education delivers well-known returns. When girls are educated, they are more likely to earn higher wages and obtain better jobs, to have fewer and healthier children and to enjoy safer childbirth," according to a statement of the United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon on World Population Day, 11 July 2009.
The inter-linkages between gender inequalities, economic growth and poverty are the main reasons why girls' education is a smart investment for developing countries to reap these benefits fully they need to unleash the potential of the human mind. Educating all their people, not just half of them, makes the most sense for future economic growth.
Systematic exclusion of women from access to schooling and the labour force translates into a less educated workforce, inefficient allocation of labour, lost productivity, and consequently diminished progress of economic development. Evidence across countries suggests that countries with better gender equality are more likely to have higher economic growth.
The benefits of women's education go beyond higher productivity for 50 percent of the population. More educated women also tend to be healthier, participate more in the formal labour market, earn more income, have fewer children, and provide better health care and education to their children, all of which eventually improve the well-being of all individuals and lift households out of poverty. These benefits also transmit across generations, as well as to their communities at large.
Barriers to Women Education:
In 2007, UNICEF in an article in its website outlined the following generic barriers to educating girls:
n Family poverty
n Weak legal frameworks around education
n Uneven playing field from the start
n Issues of safety and security around school affecting girls
n Lack of relevance of school to the lives of children.
These are all very important factors but mostly external and obvious ones. Radical feminists and critical social theorists probe much more deeply into the social contexts of girls and boys ranging from the closer contexts of household, school or community to more macro and policy contexts of parliament, ministry of education or district education office - and examine the root causes of the barriers to girls education.'
Lack of gender-focused budgetary measures is said to be one of the main reasons why women in Bangladesh cannot pursue their dreams in higher education. Very limited access to predicative resources is perhaps the biggest challenge women in Bangladesh face in their efforts to develop their economic condition. Sexual harassment, also known as eve teasing, has become a major constraint for female students.
Barriers due to historically embedded chauvinistic stigma attached to the public psyche can be very powerful and subtle social norms.
Little access of women to information technology also stands in their way to look for professions requiring IT and business knowledge.
For all these underlying reasons women in Bangladesh could not yet occupy 10 percent of the gazette and 15 percent of non-gazette government service positions set aside for them.
Bangladeshis give much more priority to their families. After marriage, women have to move to their in-laws houses and have to look after their needs. This is seen more in Muslim families than others as Muslim ideals are of prioritising family life over individual desires.
"I have talked to my future husband about my job and he says this is alright and that he won't mind if I have a job as long as I don't neglect him and the duties of being a wife. He says I have to live with their family members. I think it is going to be tough at first, you have to learn how to live again and accustom yourself to this new house and these new people," says a 21-year-old woman working full-time.