Bangladesh has made remarkable progress in the last 20 years in improving the lives of women and girls. The maternal mortality rate has decreased by more than two-thirds since 2000 and continues to fall. The fertility rate is declining and there is greater gender parity in school enrollment. Bangladesh has also advanced regulations for protecting women’s rights and privileges, and, due to more women receiving education, progress continues to expand in women’s participation in the labor force. This workforce participation, however, remains constrained to limited, low-paying sectors. Three million women are employed in the lucrative ready-made garment sector, Bangladesh’s largest export industry. Increasing numbers of women are involved in small and medium enterprises, but there remain large finance gaps that women face despite government initiatives. Additionally, inequality continues to persist; child marriages and gender-based violence (GBV) are common and even increased at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic. Across its programs, USAID is committed to addressing many of the challenges facing women in Bangladesh.
Promoting Women's Entrepreneurship
USAID seeks to boost inclusive economic growth, working to increase women's entrepreneurship in both rural and urban Bangladesh. In the Chittagong Hill Tracts, USAID improves market access for women weavers in the Bandarban and Khagrachari districts. Expanded access to buyers is critical for women entrepreneurs living in hard-to-reach areas. USAID investments helped female artisans and weavers utilize online sales platforms to market their goods, enabling them to sell directly to wholesalers and consumers. Limited access to finance also presents a barrier for women entrepreneurs, so USAID mobilizes women-led community savings groups that provide loans and start-up money to other women, helping them start small businesses.
Promoting Food Security and Healthy Communities
USAID’s Feed the Future programs invest in inclusive and sustainable agricultural-led economic growth to help ensure a well-nourished population, especially among women and children. USAID activities improve women’s practices around nutrition and provide valuable sources of sustainable income for households, such as drying fish and raising livestock. Focusing on women has led to a significant impact on malnutrition in Bangladesh, reducing stunting – or chronic malnutrition – by over 20 percent in project areas. In Cox’s Bazar, Feed the Future maintains a network of sales agents, all of whom are women, who sell nutritious food and sanitation and hygiene products directly to rural communities.
Advocating for Women’s Leadership in Society
Although the Government of Bangladesh has made strides in addressing gender inequality – such as introducing gender-sensitive budgets for 40 ministries and establishing affirmative actions to increase women's participation in political and workforce leadership – barriers to overcoming inequality still exist. To address these issues, USAID supports women in the ready-made garment and shrimp and fish processing industries through training and promoting participation in labor unions and community associations. In 2022, more than 300 female union, federation, and community leaders received training, 172 women assumed leadership positions in registered unions, and 21 women were elected to leadership positions in worker community associations. USAID also supported the establishment of anti-sexual harassment committees in union factories. The committees ensure companies provide free female hygiene products, ultrasound examinations for pregnant workers, and daycare centers for younger children.
Empowering Women against Gender-Based Violence
Gender-based violence remains a prevalent issue that inhibits rural communities in particular from participating in inclusive growth. USAID works to intentionally address the underlying causes of GBV by helping rural communities engage key stakeholders, including adolescent boys and girls, as well as local leaders from government and business promote women's empowerment. Additionally, USAID trained more than 900 Islamic, Hindu and Christian religious leaders, including female madrasa teachers on promoting social support and respect for women in sermons and community engagements. Also, USAID trained more than 10,000 family planning service providers, 70 percent of whom are women, to improve their ability to provide gender-sensitive health programming – particularly important for adolescents – to better respond to GBV and conduct gender-sensitive counseling.