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Women in Bangladesh have come a long way

H.E. Winnie Estrup Petersen, Ambassador of Denmark together with Ambassadors from the EU Member States have written tribute to Bangladesh’s women #internationalwomensday2021. Click to read: [OP-ED: A tribute to Bangladesh’s women | Dhaka Tribune]

As European countries represented in Bangladesh, we pay tribute to the women of this country and congratulate civil society and the government of Bangladesh for advancing their rights.

Over the past 50 years, many women were able to improve their socio-economic status. Female literacy rates and labour force participation have increased in recent years as women’s rights improved, indicated by the country’s 50th rank in the World Economic Forum Gender Gap Index, making its position the second in Asia.

Merely a few generations ago, the role of women was primarily perceived as mothers, wives, or daughters. Nonetheless, women have broken barriers, demanded equal rights, and are claiming their rightful place in society. Bangladeshi women have leapt boundaries and are now occupying positions within the government, politics, law enforcement agencies, civil society, sports, business, journalism, arts and entertainment, and academia, and continue to prosper in the evolving sectors of the economy.

Gender equality makes economic sense. This is best reflected in Bangladesh’s graduation from the “least-developed-country” category. This graduation was made possible mostly by women, as they constitute nearly 60% of the garment sector’s labour force -- the primary export industry of Bangladesh. The sector thrived under the European Union’s Everything But Arms initiative, a provision that provides free market access to the 48 least developed countries.

Women have grasped these employment opportunities and increased their economic empowerment and decision-making power. To further advance their rights, the European Union supports decent work and offers skills development training to marginalized women, forging a partnership with the government of Bangladesh and the International Labour Organization (ILO). This has allowed many women to nurture their entrepreneurial spirit by establishing small businesses and grasping additional employment opportunities. 
                                                                                           
Women in Bangladesh have come a long way, overcoming many challenges. Bangladesh’s civil society has played a vital role in this journey, and it has been our honour to support their tireless efforts to advance women’s rights. We have sought to stand by the side of the most vulnerable, providing assistance of various forms such as skills development, food and nutrition, legal aid, access to justice and to basic services.

Throughout the years, many have benefitted from these provisions. For example, since its implementation in 2011, more than five million people, mostly poor rural women, were offered legal aid through the EU-funded “Activating Village Courts” initiative. Alongside many other schemes, this remains an example of our endeavour to continue to support gender equality in Bangladesh.

The evidence is undeniable. When women and men have equal opportunities and access to jobs, property, education, and health, communities thrive. 
 
Hence, women and girls should be free to pursue their dreams and make full use of their capacities to enhance their empowerment and inclusion in the labour market. Girls must enjoy the same education and opportunities as boys since only then discrimination can be prevented in all its forms.

The European Union and the Member States have always stood beside Bangladesh, and on this International Women’s Day, we reaffirm our pledge to continue our support. Once again, we thank Bangladesh’s women for their resilience and congratulate their achievements in taking the country forward.

Rensje Teerink is Ambassador and Head of Delegation, European Union, Peter Fahrenholtz is Ambassador of Germany, Harry Verweij is Ambassador of Netherlands, Winnie Estrup Petersen is Ambassador of Denmark, Enrico Nunziata is Ambassador of Italy, Jean-Marin Schuh is Ambassador of France, Francisco de Asís Benítez Salas is Ambassador of Spain, Alexandra Berg Von Linde is Ambassador of Sweden.