| 08-11-2016

Equal rights for women needed to fight hunger

A recent report submitted to 65th session of the Committee on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women, underlines key gaps that Bangladesh needs to fill.

Despite succeeding in fostering social and economic progress, as well as improving human development indicators, socio-political gaps still need to be filled to ensure the realization of the rights of women and girls. With inequalities in income and consumption increasing, malnutrition continues to pose a challenge for Bangladesh, particularly for women and girls. These and other findings will be addressed in the 65th session of the Committee on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW), as Bangladesh goes under review.

As echoed in a     parallel report by FIAN International, with the support of Campaign for Right to Food and Social Security, Maleya Foundation and Nagorik Uddyog Citizen’s Initiative, women and children are the most affected by malnutrition in the country. This particularly affects those from marginalized groups, including indigenous peoples, Dalits and rural women. With 24% of women underweight, Bangladesh is under the “Serious” category according to the Global Hunger Index 2015. 

Although the national constitution guarantees equal rights, women and girls are not treated as equal and their roles are closely tied to their reproductive and household activities only. Women’s participation in the labor force is hindered by unequal wages, poor access to education and basic resources. This leads to higher rates of unemployment and underemployment: while the work participation rate of women is 31%, men account for 81.7%. 

On the same note, the informal sector, which accounts for 87.4% of the total workforce in the country, is mainly constituted by women. Contrary to existing regulations, long working hours seem to be the norm for the informal sector, together with lack of minimum safety conditions. Something similar happens in the context of women farmers, especially those of female-headed households, who encounter numerous difficulties to make their living.

And discrimination and exclusion escalates when it comes to women from marginalized communities, like the Dalits, who are stigmatized as “impure”. Dalit women not only face occupational segregation, but also systemic political, economic and social exclusion. 

For their part, women in indigenous communities face several hurdles due to food scarcity. Traditionally, they have played a leading role in processing food and preserving seeds, which had provided them with social standing and strength within their communities. In a context of food shortages, they are unable to perform their role and therefore disempowered.

This develops within a context of loss of access to indigenous peoples’ ancestral territory, and therefore to natural resources. Bangladesh should “review and revise laws that conflict with identity, culture and livelihood of indigenous peoples […]as well as to develop relevant policies and programs as per the FAO Voluntary Guidelines on Responsible Governance of Tenure of Land, Fisheries and Forests, which have emphasized the role of women in protection of the human right to food and nutrition,” recommends the report. 

Amongst some other specific recommendations, the report points to the need for equal participation of women in all spheres of public and political life and for the accountability of concerned authorities to implement the gender sensitive policies at the ground level. In particular, the Land Commission should be functional and resolve land issues through necessary reforms as per existing agreements, like the Chittagong Hill Tracts Peace Accord (CHT).

You can access the report     here