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Women Education, Empowerment and Poverty Eradication

Women education, empowerment and proverty eradication

Poverty eradication and holistic development of a country, though different in dimensions, these two are interrelated in a sense. Poverty eradication is one of the vital pre-conditions for the women education and holistic development of a country. Poverty can be eradicated through various development efforts. So as a matter of fact, the word development covers wide and important areas than just poverty eradication.

Education is directly involved both in poverty eradication and comprehensive development. Whatever the efforts, initiatives, publicly on investments are there to eradicate poverty vis-à-vis to achieve development, all may go in vain if there is no pro-people and effective education system.

At present, most of the countries have adopted free market economy. These countries take up different ways and means to encourage domestic and international investments. Investments constitute the prime factor for the development of these countries. Recently Bangladesh also has put emphasis on such kind of development efforts. But a country may get some immediate benefits out of investments in a certain sector, but for long term dividends, the government of the country must formulate some principles that would streamline the whole process.

One of these principles is education, an underdeveloped or a developing country can never prosper unless its education sector develops in keeping with the investments. For that reasons, investments in education sector is regarded as the most vital initiative. It is true that a nation has to wait for two or three decades to get results out of the investments in education sector. But the benefits derived are long-term and very rewarding.

Since the World War II, education has been a widely talked-about issue throughout the world. However, the developing countries got into the sceneries much later. These countries started thinking about education seriously just some two and a half decades back. Many international seminars and conferences on education had been held during this period. Some feasible programmes were taken up in these seminars for all the countries of the world and commitments were made through joint declaration to implement those programmes within a definite time schedule.

Women education also comes up as an important agenda. Women constitute half of the population of country. So any attempt to development is sure to be frustrated if the question of education of this vast part of population is ignored or their right to education is not ensured. Every country could understand this social reality and so the issue of women education is to be responded to with importance. The international declarations and the education strategies usually seek to include women’s issue. The declarations made clear why women education is so important and further showed some guidelines as to make the programmes on women education successful within a stipulated time-frame.

PRSP and Education

Empowerment and total emancipation of women are two major aspects of PRSP. It also calls for an end of early marriage of woman, compulsory birth registration, widening of job opportunities for women and proper attention to the women in development (WID) programmes. And for achieving these goals education for women has been emphasized.

The government has taken some programmes to realize PRSP goals. Scholarship in SSC and HSC levels, transport, free hostels are some of them. Moreover, those who are interested in technical or vocational education are supposed to have special scholarships. There are also commitments of allocation of government funds for cultural activities for women students.

But it is hard to predict whether the programmes taken could be implemented in full length. It is not beyond doubt that the activities are being done properly. It is also doubtful whether the present activities will satisfactory help remove the gender discrimination at primary and higher levels of education. It goes without saying that only one way cannot lead us to a destination in such a complex journey. Women should be motivated to education; but if there is no clear outlook on gender equality in the curriculum and teaching method, nothing useful could be achieved.

PRSP has fixed some policy agenda. One of them is to include subjects like household activities, women rights and legal aid to them. Education on sex has also been prescribed at the SSC level.

Training for women teachers to improve quality, market-based technical and vocational education for women, improved teaching methodology are some of the other agenda. Among the future plans, there are suggestions of forming Parents-Teachers Association, improvisation of PTI, housing for women teachers and so on.

The goals and objectives on gender issue as illustrated in the PRSP are too far-off right now. In some cases, the strategies also are not beyond controversy. The following recommendations can be taken into account in order to fulfill the gaps both in strategy and in the implementation process.

1. Drop-out problems should be prioritized. The rate of drop-out is very high at present. Most of the rural school-going girls are the students of first generation. Their parents are not educated, in some cases they are illiterate. So these parents are to be involved in the whole process. The amount and area of scholarships should be expanded.

2. There has to be a monitoring cell to monitor the activities relating to women education and women empowerment.

3. An action research system should be developed. Problems emerged during the implementation period should be analyzed promptly and thus ways and means are to be found out to solve them.

4. The issue of women empowerment should be dealt with by both men and women. So motivation process should include the men members of the society with equal importance.

5. Interest-free loans should be provided to the poor girls and women when necessary.

6. The inter-relation between women empowerment and women education is not only a practical phenomenon. The politicians in general and the civil society in particular should grasp the essence of the problem. There has to be continuous and sincere efforts for taking the issue in the political system of the country.

The International Declaration and Strategic on Women Education

The General Assembly of the United Nations adopted in 1989 a draft on child rights containing 54 clauses. This draft ultimately turned out to be an international law. There are four principles in this declaration to protect the lives of the children, to ensure their security and to help them develop.

According to these principles no child should become a victim to disparity, s/he will enjoy every right irrespective of nationhood, caste, race, gender, language, social status. Their opinion should be considered seriously. They should be allowed to speak and be listened to.

In 1990, two different drafts were prepared namely World Declaration on Education for All and The Framework for Action to meet the basic Learning Needs in Jomtien Conference in Thailand. The drafts focus on the importance of elementary education for all children, especially the girls. The Conference fixed up the target of education for all by 2000.

But as a matter of fact, this target could not be achieved within this time frame. Consequently, new plans and programmes were to be chalked out in World Education Conference held in Dakar, the capital of Senegal. Dakar declaration is known as Dakar Framework of Action. The six agenda were adopted in Dakar Declaration. One of these is to ensure compulsory and free primary education for all girls and children living in disadvantages societies and for the children of minorities by 2015. The other one is to increase the rate of adult education up to 50 per cent by 2015. The Dakar Declaration also emphasized on removing disparity between men and women in the field of education by 2005. One strategy out of 12 taken up in Dakar was to change outlook, values and behavioral patterns, if necessary, in order to implement an integrated programme for equality in education.

In 1995, the issue of education for children and women got a new momentum from the Beijing Declaration and a platform for action was adopted in the 4th World Women Conference held in Beijing, the capital of People’s China. Before that, in 1979 the widely-known Convention of the Elimination of all forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) put forward suggestions to reduce the discrimination between men and women in the education sector within shortest possible time. CEDAW put special emphasis on taking up different programmes for those girls who leave schools without complaint.

The United Nations fixed up eight development targets for all the inhabitants of the planet, especially the poverty-stricken people in 2000, which are now popularly known as Millennium Development Goals (MDG). While fixing up MDGs, health, education, social development, environmental care were treated as basic pre-conditions for poverty elimination while environmental care was prioritized.

Out of eight MDGs, two are particularly connected with education

MDG 2: Universal primary education (all children, boys and girls should complete their primary education. The timeframe is 2015).

MDG 3:
Equality between boys and girls and empowerment of women.

It is observed that all organizations including the UN will give a priority on education as a means to eliminate poverty. It is not because of the fact that education is correlated with the issue of poverty elimination; but also for the fact that it is related to social development, issues of social discrimination, empowerment of women and long-term development.

Women Education in Bangladesh

The Qudrat-E-Khuda Education Commission formed in 1972 attached importance to engaging women teachers in large number, especially at the primary level. Afterwords, many more Education Commission emphasized on women education, but no recommendation could be materialised as those were not connected with national education policy. For this, once again in 4th 5-year plan, 1990-95, the participation of women at primary level was emphasized. Women teachers were appointed in all the 1061 satellite schools established in 1997, but that was too small an effort in the context of the whole scenario. However, the schools run by the NGOs have been engaging women teachers and choosing girls as students on priority basis from the very beginning of their programmes.

To reduce discrimination between men and women at the primary level, the decision for appointing women teachers had been taken much earlier, but at present the ratio of men and women teachers is 60:40. In Madrasa education the percentage of women teachers is much lower, only eight per cent. It has been observed in different research findings that the quality of education given by the women is more effective compared to men at primary level.

The principle of appointing women teachers in large number many help reduce the discrimination. Besides, initiatives were also taken to increase the number of women employees in offices. But in spite of all these initiatives, the disparity could not be reduced considerable. The failure to implement the plans is the basic root of this situation. Women are far behind in the race of literacy, socio-economic status, life style in family and society and in taking personal decision. The table below shows that women are ahead of men in two stages of literacy. This is a reflection of the attitude of the society.

The stage of literacyWomenMenBoth
Primary stage22.319.521
Higher stage13.328.120.4

It is observed from the report of Education Watch that with the growth of age, the difference of literacy rate between men and women goes higher. Women of 54+ are far behind their men counterparts in gaining  literacy. The rate of literacy in the women age group is below 10 percent. The difference of literacy rate between men and women of 60-64 age group is as high as 32.7 per cent.

At one time education was considered to be an opportunity, but now it is claimed as a right. women education should also be explained by the same outlook. The difference we make between boys and girls in most of the families in their early childhood bears a great impact on their education. Boys enjoy more facilities than girls in receiving education. The question of education of girls is still subject to opportunity. The society is not conscious enough to realize that a girl, as a human being has a right to education; she should not be treated as a lesser person. It is a paradox indeed that primary education is now free and compulsory on the one hand, and on the other hand, girls in large number remain out of education.

Success of Women at 23 Villages of Pairaband
‘There were days when we starved. Clothes were torn.  Our children could not go to school. Those days are gone. We are changed. Now we are self-reliant. We have turned out our house into a farm house. We do not have any scarcity now.’- Those were the words of some smiling women of Chuhor Mouza of Pairaband Union of Mithapukur Upazila under Rangpur district. There are 23 villages in seven Mouzas of Chuhor under Pairaband. The number of families is 2,7000. When we visited the area on last 6th March 2006, the whole environment seemed pleasant. Women of the area are not idle. They are working on every day. They have made their fortunes by their own efforts. Anisa Begum is an inhabitant of Islampur village of Chuhor. Her husband Shafiqul Islam is an agricultural worker. Their three children are going to school. Anisa was seen working in her vegetable garden. The whole area is covered with trees and plants. The frontal yard of the house, the garden all are clean and beautiful to look at. Anisa tells about her part. It was a family of hardship. Her husband was a day laborer and they somehow managed to maintain the family by his small earning. She continues, initially she borrowed only 800 Taka at the advice of the agriculture officer Hamidur Rahman. Then she got engaged in animal husbandry. The by selling out those, she made an orchard of different fruits and vegetables. Simultaneously, she started manufacturing organic fertilizer and fishing in a small canal. Selina Begum is another inhabitant of the same area. She informed that she had no land in 2002. Her husband is a rickshaw puller. They lived in others’ land anda now they own a land of 40 decimal. This was possible after they had worked taking lease of other people’s land. They produce organic fertilizer using different perishable things and hyacinth. Now they have four school going children. Selina proudly says that she did not have to fall back on others. Now she earns from 40 to 50 thousand taka by selling vegetables and composed fertilizer. Like Selina, Babli, Alema, Asia, Saera, Morsheda, Majeda, Sufia, Monowara, Nurjahan, Beauty, Mariam, Isaton, Zohra and some other women have also become successful in Chuhor area. They have not only made domestic farms, but also formed a women’s club to sell out their items in an organizational manner. This they have done to ensure fair price to their items. Rasheda Begum has been made the principal organizer to coordinate their activities. While talking about their success, the women of the area have praised Hamidur Rahman, an agricultural officer for his inspiration. Mr. Hamidur helped them in every stage of their efforts. He always responds to the working women whenever he is called in. Sub-assistant Agricultural Officer (former block supervisor) Hamidur Rahman said that the success of the women of the area have been made possible as all activities were integrated under agriculture extension programmes. Once these women led a backward life. The situation has now changed. They now work in the fields, manufacturing organic fertilizer. Moreover, they are producing vegetables, fruits; selling out hens, ducks, goats and so on. He said, every house in the area is like a farmhouse. Many people from home and abroad and NGO officials have rushed to this area when they have heard the success stories. Working women from different parts of the country are also visiting the area. They are going back with inspiration and lessons. Source: Prothom Alo, March 8, 2006

Education, Empowerment of Women and Human Resource Development

Empowerment and development are inter-related. The slow speed of women education is directly hampering the empowerment of women, as a result of which both women development and women participation in development are being hindered. According to a survey carried out in 2000, the number of illiterate women in developing countries is 66% higher compared to men.

The scope that has been created for economic development in developing countries can bear fruits only when there is favorable condition for equal participation of men and women in development activities. In the developed countries, the disparity between men and women is quite narrow, whereas in the developing ones it is so vast that women can hardly plan any role in social responsibilities even in their personal lives. The slogan Personal is political which was put forward by feminists during the early-70s has not been materialized even after so many years.

Family and individual life constitute part of the whole social system, so the question of women empowerment and removing disparity between men and women are not just the agenda of women only. The participation of both men and women strengthen the development process. So the empowerment of women has become a social and political phenomenon. Empowerment of women has now become a human agenda and not anything men or women. Uplifting the standard of women’s livelihood as well as their capacity to take decisions at family and social level leads to women’s empowerment.

Human resource development largely depends on empowerment of women. On the other hand, education is a necessary pre-requisite for women empowerment and human resource development. So, women education is a vital necessity for any society. Again, women cannot be empowered only by formal or informal education, their rights and privileges should be taken into account.

But the question is, what is empowerment? There were days when women rights meant development of women or elimination of their poverty. But in recent days, empowerment means total development of women, their control on resource and freedom to take their own decision. So, women empowerment does not only wipe out discrimination, it is an index of total human development.

Women development and their advancement are explained in PRSP. Women’s economic deprivation is reflected in their low level of participation in the labor market, low return on their labor and their concentration in low-level jobs. Compared to men (6.4%), a large proportion of women (about 34.3%) work as unpaid domestic workers. That is why various MDG and PRSP goals provide impetus to act proactively through goal-oriented interventions with relevant programmes.

Education is deeply related to women empowerment. Formal education system makes them active in formal fields, guides them to different ways of life and recognizes her ability to utilize talents. non-formal education helps women to raise her voice confidently at grass-root level. non-formal and informal education can play an active role in identifying and thereby exploiting the hidden talents and capabilities. Through this, even a woman with little education can maintain her family, small farm or business. She, even being at the marginal stage can change her economic conditions through micro-credit, co-operative system of anything of its kind. There are other examples also. Women are participating in recent elections contesting with men in local government institutions. Although the number of such women is not very high, they can prove themselves worthy like the men if they get necessary education and opportunity to flourish talents.

Not only in the Pairaband area, the women of other parts of the country have also the same success stories. We may not have known all their stories, but of course, their activities are inspiring their neighbors. It is understandable that all who have developed themselves are not formally educated. May be, many of them have very little education. But they had enough motivation. People like Hamidur Rahman are beside them. A woman cannot exercise her talents and capacity even after gaining the highest degree of university under the prevailing formal education system. But the initiatives and efforts to become self-reliant have made many of the women important personalities and they are now more empowered than they were before.

The working women of Pairaband area are not only benefiting themselves through their initiatives, they are also spreading their spirit among all. They are also creating scopes for others and thus playing a role in reducing poverty of other families. This means, if empowerment of women and their right to take decision can be ensured, it will contribute to poverty eradication process.

Some Recommendations

It has now become an urgent need to take up some initiatives to implement the targets and strategies that were adopted in different conferences to overcome the present situation. If the government comes forward with collective efforts and sincerity, the undone tasks can be finished within a short period. The following steps should be taken to eradicate poverty and establish gender equality through education.

1. First of all, the problems in education should be identified. Without proper detection of problems, no strategy will come to any use. Particularly, the government should acknowledge the disparity in education system. The NGOs, parallel to the government, should identify the problem. The findings and observations of the government and other organizations should be processed accordingly to reach an all-out comprehensive action plan.

2. The targets that had been fixed to achieve by 2000 should now be re-evaluated. The causes of failure should be analysed and thus necessary steps should be taken to implement those within shortest possible time. Special monitoring cell may be formed for the purpose. Research should be made to know why implementation could not follow the commitments.

3. In Bangladesh, there is no comprehensive education policy suitable for the challenges of the modern world. No education system can be fruitful without a workable education policy. In absence of an education policy, the projects taken up for women education fail to function properly. So an education policy that can meet the demands of the day has become a crying need.

4. Upabritti, that has been introduced to encourage women education should be expanded upto degree level. In addition to that women should be assisted if they want to go for business or other ventures after completing formal education.

5. In a developing country like ours, we are suffering from shortage of human resource in technical and vocational areas. Technical and vocational education pages an easy way for employment. Women should have the privilege to enter into such kind of education or training.

6. The women who are engaged in small business should be encouraged and inspired by recognition. They may be given special training to enrich their skills. The working women in small and cottage industries should be provided with large amount of loans for the expansion of working area.

7. Massive campaign should be carried out on the utility of education. The campaign should be understandable and penetrative in the backward section of the society. The understanding of women empowerment should be spread among the women in urban areas. Women should have proper knowledge to distinguish between privilege and rights.

8. In Bangladesh, almost in every school there is a school management committee. But women are hardly included in those committees. At present, the role of participation of women in the school committees is only 15 per cent. In the non-formal school, this rate is 60 per cent. Women should be more in number in the school management committees.

9. The women from slums and tribal areas or backward society should have special education that can meet their specific demands.

10. Different aspects of inter-relation between men and women should be focused through different management structures and through implementing if innovative ideas. Participation of women in development work and training programmes should be ensured. Quota system may be introduced for some period to increase the number of women in such activities.

11. In a backward society like ours, there are different types of defective ideas, superstitions, psychological constraints and so on. In some cases, even the educated people lack modern outlook. There are historical and religious reasons behind this. women are often treated as subordinates of men. Proper initiatives should be taken to change the values of our people so that everyone can treat both men and women as human beings. Awareness programmes should be there to eliminate all kinds of differences.


1. Various reports of Education Watch.
2. The PRSP documents, General Economic Division, Planning Commission, GoB.
3. Different reports published by DPE.

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