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Women are the key to development

  • Published at 02:00 pm May 5th, 2018
  • Last updated at 06:16 am May 6th, 2018
Women are the key to development

There is a factor that is generally agreed upon in international law: Equal rights and the inherent human dignity of women and men. International human rights instruments also affirm that women’s rights, their empowerment, full participation in the decision-making process, and access to power and resources are fundamental -- not only for the fulfillment of their moral, ethical, spiritual, and intellectual needs -- but also for the achievement of equality and development within every society.

It may be recalled here that the advent of Islam heralded an unprecedented era for women’s emancipation and empowerment, whereby the status of women was exalted to being claimants of codified rights not only to own and inherit property and take part in economic activities, but also to be able to seek and transmit knowledge.

One needs to realize the inherent importance of women in the context of a country’s development as they usually constitute about 50% of the population. Equality of opportunity assumes an important role in the context of socio-economic growth. It is this aspect that creates the need to generate sustainability with regard to their participation within development.

It is clear that policy-makers in different societies, particularly in developing countries, need to place emphasis on women empowerment through appropriate policy actions that will ensure equitable distribution of resources -- be it in matters regarding health care, nutrition, access to civic amenities, education, or in the creation and support of micro-entrepreneurship.

This should be reflected through gender sensitive development activities consistent with Article 16 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

Within the developing world, gender equality, more often than not, is affected due to shortcomings in the way governance is carried out. In this regard, one could identify the following drivers as causes of women disempowerment:             (a) Regressive and discriminatory socio-cultural mindset that restrict women and girl’s access to opportunities; (b) gender insensitive under-investment in social sectors of health and education; (c) asymmetry in awareness and access to information; (d) exclusion and non-participatory planning, decision-making, and resource allocation;(e) violence against women.

In this regard, there is also a need for all developing countries to recognize the potential contribution of those associated with civil society, media, human rights institutions, and other non-governmental organizations in fulfilling objectives related to the empowerment of women.

This factor will be particularly applicable in any country with a large rural population. Bangladesh has accorded special emphasis on uplifting women and girls in rural areas. Emphasis is being given with regard to their education facilities, including functional literacy, health care, family planning, and stopping child marriage.

We have to understand that these steps can succeed only if there is political commitment.

The other measure that is being advocated in different developing countries in parts of Asia and Africa is the question of reserved quotas for women in representation to political processes, economic enterprises, and social organizations.

Such a course of action was prevalent in Bangladesh for many decades. However, in the recent past, we have witnessed violence, demonstrations, and opposition to the continuation of the existing quota framework in this country.

Within the developing world, gender equality, more often than not, is affected due to shortcomings in the way governance is carried out

This has eventually led to the cancellation of this system. A proviso has, however, been referred to, whereby some indirect quota benefits will be made available for disabled people and women. One needs to wait and see how the new regulatory process will be implemented.

The OIC-Independent Permanent Human Rights Commission (OIC-IPHRC), after carefully studying, made an important suggestion that needs to be followed by Muslim countries -- member states “should endeavour to allocate at least 5% of their respective GDP to promote education with positive discrimination for skill-oriented vocational training for women and girls,” with emphasis on science and technology, to enable them to actively participate in economic, social, and cultural development on an equal footing.

It has also been suggested by the UN and other related human rights institutions that all governments should attempt to close data gaps by investing in national statistical capacity. It has also been pointed out that all countries need to systematically collect, analyse, and use gender-sensitive indicators and sex-disaggregated data in policy, program design, and monitoring frameworks that will help governments prepare and implement informed policies and plans.

Interestingly, a dynamic is gradually emerging in most developing countries, particularly in Africa, that there is a need to implement effective laws which will criminalize violence against women and girls and will also make available comprehensive, multi-disciplinary gender-sensitive, protective, and prosecutorial services to prevent all forms of violence against women.

Ways have to be found to explore means to fund self-sustaining community-based pilot studies and projects to support women entreprenuers for women through private-public partnership.

It is clear that success in this dynamic will require capacity-building and training of policy-makers for the formulation of gender-sensitive policies and programs.

It has also been generally agreed upon in Africa that women empowerment can be taken forward faster if any society can engage religious leaders and scholars in public advocacy and consensus-building to challenge social taboos and mobilize support for women-related issues.

According to the McKinsey Global Institute, it has been estimated that proper economic interactive engagement by women and improvement of gender equality in the Asia-Pacific region could boost their collective GDP by $4.5trillion by 2025. McKinsey has also pointed out that Asia-Pacific is “arguably the most dynamic region in the world” but women in many countries there face vastly unequal treatment at work and in society compared with men.

The report also urges policy-makers in the region to take steps to shift attitudes regarding the role of women in society and improving access to child care.

Bangladesh needs to learn a lesson from these observations. All of us need to remember that, from an economic perspective, trying to grow without enabling the full potential of women is like fighting with one hand tied behind one’s back. Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina and her initiative to overcome existing challenges in this area have led to her being honoured by US-based NGO Global Summit of Women with the Global Women’s Leadership Award in April, 2018 for her distinguished contribution.

Muhammad Zamir, a former ambassador, is an analyst specialized in foreign affairs, right to information and good governance. He can be reached at [email protected]

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