International Policy/United Nations

Bangladesh Development Star Doesn't Shine for Women

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Bangladesh promises to be a star this September when the U.N. reviews development goals. But despite a strong start on girls' education, many female-focused targets, including maternal mortality, are lagging far behind.

A literacy class for women and girls in Bangladesh.UNITED NATIONS (WOMENSENEWS)--A precocious, gender-sensitive civil society movement stirring in Bangladesh since the 1970s is expected to make the country a star among nations meeting here in September to re-affirm 15-year development pledges that face a deadline in 2015.

Bangladesh, the world's most densely-populated country faces the worst consequences of climate change, but is nonetheless on track to meet the majority of the eight Millennium Development Goals, usually called MDGs, laid out by the United Nations 10 years ago, said Abdul Momen, Bangladesh's envoy to the U.N.

Poverty reduction, for instance, is expected to be half of 1990 levels in five years' time. Child and infant mortality stand to decrease by the targeted rate of two-thirds.

Bookmark and Share

And as a result of the 2009 National Women Development Policy, the country expects to have women in 33 percent of its seats in Parliament by 2015, achieving one of the gender goals.

The present government, led by Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, has brought a new tide of stability and progress in gender equality, said Momen. But this stability stands on shaky ground. Nationwide demonstrations against Hasina's ruling Awami League party, led by opposition parties, turned violent yesterday, when at least 30 people were hurt after riot-police broke up the protests, according to media accounts. Protestors are calling for the May 2011 elections to be bumped up, citing autocratic leadership.

Even with these political tensions, Hasina has presided over her nation's significant successes. At the same time, Bangladesh's gender-focused goals still lag far behind.

The most glaring failure is associated with a U.N. goal calling for a reduction in the maternal death by two-thirds from the rate in 1990.

Maternal Deaths Still High

From 1990 to 2006, maternal deaths dropped by about 40 percent, decreasing from 574 deaths per 100,000 live births to 351. Progress has stalled, though, at a point far above the 2015 target figure of 144.

An estimated 14 percent of maternal deaths in Bangladesh are caused by violence against women, while 12,000 to 15,000 women die annually from hemorrhaging and other health complications, according to a U.N. Development Program 2008 report.

"In terms of health MDGs and maternal health we are in very bad shape," Momen said in an interview in his New York office. "We have this resource gap that decreases our capacity dramatically."

It will take an estimated $1.85 billion in additional foreign assistance allotted for maternal health specifically to decrease the maternal mortality to its target ration in Bangladesh, according to the United Nations Development Program.

Bangladesh allotted nearly $1.17 billion for "health and family welfare," encompassing all health, not just women's and maternal health, in its 2010-2011 fiscal budget. Though that's a 16 percent funding increase from last year, it is still only 6 percent of the total budget, said Monisha Biswas, Bangladesh's advocacy expert of the U.N. Millennium Campaign.

Some of the extra money will go toward recruitment of health care professionals, as well as an increase in medical clinics.

The Dhaka-based Bangladesh Rural Advancement Committee, said to be the largest nongovernmental group in the world, supplements that health funding by an additional approximate $40 million annually, or around 8 to 10 percent of its budget.

The group's engrained social programs, as well as strong leadership and networks in Bangladesh, have been widely credited with bringing sweeping social changes to the country.

1 COMMENTS | Login or Sign Up to post comments


International Policy/United Nations

Female Bangladeshi Forces Carry Hope to Haiti

International Policy/United Nations

Gender Violence Blocks Development Targets: Report

I am glad to see the progress Bangladesh has made in providing basic health care and rights for women and girls. But as this article shows, the country still has a long way to go.

The Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting has reported extensively on women's issues across the globe. Check out their online portals Women, Children and Crisis and Dying for Life for insightful stories on maternal mortality and gender and sexual violence.