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24 December, 2018 10:40:06 AM

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Infrastructure can be powerful driver of gender equality

Gender issues are not just women's issues. Particularly in South Asia, men are important stakeholders in making progress towards gender equality
Prof. Sarwar Md. Saifullah Khaled
Infrastructure can be powerful driver of gender equality

Women’s economic empowerment and promotion of gender equality is a significant issue in Bangladesh. As per an evaluation of the Asian Development Bank (ADB), infrastructure projects have significant potential to increase the economic empowerment of women in the country.

It can also contribute to the government's efforts to promote gender equality. However, the evaluation makes it clear that building new roads, expanding electricity grids and improving water supply services – the mainstay of ADB's support for Bangladesh over the past decade – do not automatically lead to better livelihood opportunities for women or other gender equitable results.
The Independent Evaluation Department of ADB, prepared the report which was presented recently by ADB's principal evaluation specialist Hyun H. Son at a programme here in Dhaka the capital city of Bangladesh. The Director General of Independent Evaluation at ADB, Marvin-Taylor Dormond, said that women must be given a seat at the table in infrastructure building. He further said that women need to be part of the decision making in all phases of infrastructure projects. And giving them a voice in such crucial driver of economic growth will go a long way toward reducing Bangladesh's still high levels of gender inequality.

The half of the country's total population is female. So the development of the country is not possible without the development of women. The government has taken up a Tk 2.50 billion project to give women training for employment in different sectors of the economy. The government has also taken various awareness raising programme to resist violence against women which is usually seen here in the country. The evaluation assessed the support of ADB for gender and development in its Bangladesh operations during 2005-2015. The period saw a marked increase in infrastructure projects in ADB's US $9 billion portfolio for the country, of which infrastructure accounted for US $5 billion.

In Bangladesh’s Seventh Five Year Plan 2016-2022, both the government of Bangladesh and ADB are committed to promoting gender equality and women’s empowerment. The evaluation found that this collaboration and ADB's "top-down and bottom-up" approach to strengthening gender equality by working with government ministries, local governments, and communities was effective. The ADB supported infrastructure projects in Bangladesh were particularly effective in promoting gender equality when they enhanced women's access to education and health care, and helped promote their economic empowerment.

For example, the US $206 million Second Rural Infrastructure Improvement Project, to improve roads in the Chattagram, Dhaka, and Rajshahi divisions increased livelihood opportunities by building sections for women in markets, and training women in shop management and other income generating skills. The road improvements also contributed to increasing the enrollment of girls in schools, and made it safer and easier for women to go to work. And the girls and women are positively encouraged to avail themselves of the full range of these opportunities.

The evaluation found that significant strides have been made in reducing gender disparities in education and health in Bangladesh, where the status of women has generally improved over the last decade. But women continue to face high levels of inequality in livelihood opportunities and access to economic assets. According to the latest available estimate, in rural Bangladesh, women own only 8 percent of productive assets. Women's participation in the workforce, though improving thanks to the garment industry which employs over 4 million workers of which 80 percent are girls, labour migration and microfinance programmes, remains low, at an estimated 34 percent. The evaluation raises the concern that these factors will heighten the risk of women to the effects of vulnerability to shocks.

The evaluation report's main author, Hyun Son said that because of high levels of inequality in livelihood opportunities and economic assets, women have far less resilience than men to various shocks, such as natural disasters, climate risks, and economic downturns. The poor women typically lack the resources to protect themselves in case of disasters or restore their lives back to pre-disaster levels. Better social safety nets are needed for Bangladesh's marginalised groups, particularly women, and this should be a priority area for development support. The two ADB supported programmes – the Public Expenditure Support Facility Programme and the Countercyclical Support Facility Programme – helped the government to increase spending on social safety nets, especially for women. Both the programmes helped government ministries in putting gender equality into the mainstream of their work.

From the evaluation an important conclusion is that there was little focus in operations to get men to support gender equality. Gender issues are not just women's issues. Particularly in South Asia men are important stakeholders in making progress toward gender equality. The evaluation report said that men need to be involved in addressing gender inequalities and supporting women's empowerment, lest they resort to violence in response to such empowerment. Men’s positive attitude and support towards gender equality and women’s empowerment together with women’s responsible attitude towards it will go a long way in achieving such goals since men still play a key role in the Bangladesh and other South Asian societies.

The writer is a retired Professor of Economics, BCS General Education Cadre

SHK

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Published by the Editor on behalf of Independent Publications Limited at Media Printers, 446/H, Tejgaon I/A, Dhaka-1215.
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Editor : M. Shamsur Rahman
Published by the Editor on behalf of Independent Publications Limited at Media Printers, 446/H, Tejgaon I/A, Dhaka-1215.
Editorial, News & Commercial Offices : Beximco Media Complex, 149-150 Tejgaon I/A, Dhaka-1208, Bangladesh. GPO Box No. 934, Dhaka-1000.

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