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DEVELOPMENT: Women Leading Bangladesh Away from the LDC Tag

Sanjay Suri

ISTANBUL, May 16 2011 (IPS) - Women entrepreneurs and workers will soon help Bangladesh shake off the Least Developed Country (LDC) label, business leaders say.

Nasreen Awal Mintoo, president of the Women Entrepreneurs Association of Bangladesh, speaks with IPS. Credit: Sanjay Suri/IPS

Nasreen Awal Mintoo, president of the Women Entrepreneurs Association of Bangladesh, speaks with IPS. Credit: Sanjay Suri/IPS

“Soon Bangladesh will come out of LDC [status],” Nasreen Awal Mintoo, president of the Women Entrepreneurs Association of Bangladesh, told IPS at the Fourth U.N. Conference on the LDCs (LDC-IV) in Istanbul last week. “And women are really playing a big role in this.”

The move is being fuelled by growth in the private sector, says Mintoo. This was quite visually evident at the parallel private sector events held throughout the Istanbul conference. Bangladesh made a strong showing of its private sector products and services – amid the largely deserted exhibition space allotted to the other LDCs.

“The Bangladesh private sector is doing really a lot – it’s because of the private sector that Bangladesh is growing faster,” Mintoo said. “And women entrepreneurship is growing fast, helping Bangladesh to grow. A lot of women entrepreneurs are coming up.”

That may not seem surprising in a country where the prime minister and the leader of the opposition are both women. But those facts do not make it easy for women, either as entrepreneurs or as workers.


“There are lots of problems in working outside home, and at home also, and there are social barriers,” says Mintoo. “But the women are doing really great despite all these barriers they face. We want that women can work in a better environment.”

The government is going to some lengths to make work more conducive for women. But it’s not enough, says Mintoo. “They should work faster to help women come up.”

Sabera Ahmed, chief executive director of Pentasoft Center of Excellence, says that despite the strong presence of women at the top of government, “we face problems that were previously there.” Ahmed, who has worked both with the government and the private sector, told IPS, “everywhere you go you face problems.”

Some of these arise from religion, she says. “In our religion we don’t have equal rights. So we work in the household, and outside we do men’s jobs, but we are struggling; and we are fighting with the guys.”

Bangladeshi women have been demonstrating in support of the National Women Development Policy, which is being resisted by Islamic clergy. The Jatiya Mahila Sangstha (National Women’s Organisation) has been holding rallies in cities across Bangladesh to press for implementation of the new policy.

The policy, proposed earlier this year, would give women equal political and economic rights. It would also provide for laws to protect women from violence, and make provisions for their health and nutritional needs.

The women’s demonstrations followed street protests by Islamic leaders against implementation of the policy.

But women have been moving ahead despite the hurdles and the lack of a level playing field, said Ahmed. “We are a role model, inside the house, outside, outside the country even.”

Much of the growth in the private sector has been fed by the garments industry, Ahmed said. And women – both women workers and women entrepreneurs – have led that growth.

“In the garments sector we have a revolution. Like in the U.S. there was a women’s revolution in the sixties, in our country we have seen a revolution in the eighties, in the nineties, in the garments sector.”

And that has also changed equations socially and economically, and within the home, Ahmed said. “Very often we see the men taking care of the kids in the house, and the wives are going to the garments factory.”

The difficult position of women is not unique to Bangladesh, Ahmed said. “In India, too, and throughout the sub-continent, we have the same problem.” In Bangladesh, women seem also to have worked to make Bangladesh far from the least of the Least Developed Countries.

 
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