Academic journal article Journal of International Women's Studies

Gender Awareness of Rural Women in Bangladesh

Academic journal article Journal of International Women's Studies

Gender Awareness of Rural Women in Bangladesh

Article excerpt

Abstract

This study aims to determine the social status of rural women and their level of gender awareness (GA) in three villages within the Mymensingh district of Bangladesh. Data were collected from 156 respondents through group discussions and personal interviews from December 2002 to April 2003. Women's social status and GA was determined following the Likert scale method. The study reveals that personal income and physical beauty of rural women are the most important factors determining a higher social status while women with distressed conditions including mental and physical disabilities were found to have a lower social status. Among ten pre-selected attributes relating to gender, the respondents were able to recognize gender discrimination with respect to domestic violence, community participation, inheritance of property rights, timing of marriage and divorce rights. However, they failed to recognize disparity regarding payment of dowry during marriage, under-valuation of own work and sex bias in terms of age, education, food and health. A rank correlation analysis points out a significant positive relationship between women's GA and their formal education, exposure to the media, spatial mobility and access to institutional resources, while length of marriage and spousal alienation were negatively correlated. These findings led to the conclusion that development agencies should make pragmatic efforts to increase rural women's gender awareness in respect of increasing their literacy levels, providing useful information through different media, facilitating access to productive resources and establishing women's organizations in the locality. These efforts would help to achieve a higher level of gender awareness among women in rural Bangladesh.

Keywords: Rural women, gender awareness, Bangladesh.

Introduction

Women and men are by constitution equal in the People's Republic of Bangladesh, but in reality they are not (Islam, 2000). Most on-going discussions and research related to women's development and women's rights in Bangladesh indicate that there are at least four mutually interdependent factors influencing the macro-societal system. These include, economic setting, political organization, legal system and ideology and religion. These factors often cocoon women in the social system (Epstein, 1986). There is a gross disparity between women and men in every sphere of life, especially in economic aspects, since the agricultural sector which dominates the national economy is controlled mostly by men. Traditionally, men are the breadwinners and economic dependence makes women socially backward and considered to be a burden on the family. However, the subordination of women in Bangladesh is a consequence of the existing patriarchal social system which determines power relations within households and the bargaining power of household members through the organization of the family, kinship and marriage, inheritance patterns, gender segregation and associated ideologies (Khair, 1998; Kabeer 1999; Naved, 2000). Women's powerlessness arises from their illiteracy, lack of awareness, poor knowledge and skills and also from their lack of self-esteem and confidence (Lazo, 1995). Thus, even though women constitute almost half of the population in Bangladesh, their status has been ranked the lowest in the world on the basis of twenty indicators related to education, health, marriage, children, employment and social equality (NCBP, 2000).

There are social stigmas, such as early marriage, dowry and limited property inheritance rights that cause misery for many women in Bangladesh, especially in rural areas. Early marriage is one of the prominent factors for low educational attainment among females, which leads to lower participation in economic activities as their physical mobility become restricted after marriage (Khatun, 2002). Another contributing factor is that Muslim women's rights to inheritance are not equal to those of men, because a daughter inherits half the share of her brother and a wife receives only one-eighth of the deceased husband's property (ADB, 2001). …

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