Status of Women in Bangladesh


Status of Women is often described in terms of their legal rights, education, economic independency, and empowerment, age at marriage, health, and fertility, as well as the roles she plays in her family and society. The status of women implies a comparison with the status of men, and is therefore a significant reflection of the level of social justice in the society.

Over the last decade, much concern has been shows about the need to empower women so that they can make their own decisions about childbearing and about other areas of their lives. Lack of power over their own decision-making has long been recognized as a barrier to improve women’s sexual and reproductive health. Many NGOs have been demonstrating the link between women’s development and successful family planning program and were responsible for introducing innovative women’s programs in the 1980s. The 1980s saw a number of schemes that trued to combine income generation or literacy or some other aspects of improving women’s status with family planning in order to give women more control over their lives. The role of women in development and as agents of changes as mothers, producers, and as environment managers- also came to be much more widely recognized during this period.

Women’s status as reflected in their legal rights, age at marriage, education, employment is low in Bangladesh. The women here do not have equal access to resources within the household and that their direct role in the process of reproduction gives them some influences over its outcome.

In the following section an overview of the status of women in Bangladesh about their education, employment, mobility etc. are discussed and the relationships between different factors that affect their status are assessed by logistic regression.

 Status of Women in Bangladesh:

In the male dominant society women’s are in a disadvantageous position. Women, in custom and practice, remained subordinate to male in almost all aspect of their lives; greater autonomy was the privilege of the rich or the necessity of the very poor. Most women’s lives remained centered on their traditional roles and they had limited access to markets, productive services, education, health care, and local government. At the household level, the girl child often has unequal access to nutrition, health care and education compare to boy child. Many discriminatory practices arise out of some deep-rooted socio-cultural factors. Women still earn less than men earn and are mostly occupied in low paid jobs. They often do not have easy access to credit and other income generation opportunities, and are still under represented at management and policy levels.

The lack of opportunities contributed to high fertility patterns, which diminished family well-being contributed to the malnourishment and generally poor health of children and frustrated educational and other national development goals. In fact, acute poverty at the margin appeared to be hitting hardest at women. As long as women’s access to health care, education and training remained, limited and prospect for improved productivity among the female population remained poor in our country.

In the 1980’s women’s status in Bangladesh remained inferior to that of men. About 80 percent of women lived in rural areas in the late 1980’s. The majority of rural women, most probably seventy percent, were in small cultivator; tenant and landless households, many of them worked as laborers part time or seasonally, usually during the post harvest and received payment in kind or in meager cash wages. Another twenty percent, mostly in poor landless households, dependent on the casual labor, gleaning, begging and other irregular sources of income, typically their income was essential to household survival. The remaining ten percent of women were in household mainly in the professional, trading, or large-scale landowning categories, and they usually did not work outside the home.

The economic contribution of women was substantial, but largely unacknowledged. Their contribution in agricultural sector and manufacturing jobs, especially in the ready-made garment industry is remarkable. Despite the fact that women constitute half of our citizenry, they continue to face persistent disadvantages and exclusion, evident in gender differentials for various indicators of health. One of the most telling indicators of the disparity between male and female can be found in child mortality. Though following global norms in Bangladesh infant mortality is higher for males than females, soon after birth the mortality rates start to reverse. For example, post neonatal mortality among males is twenty-seven per thousand births versus thirty-one among females and child mortality among male is twenty-eight per thousand births versus thirty-eight among females. These disparities clearly indicate the neglect of girl children in terms of nutrition and access to health care.

The factors that determine the status as well as the fertility of women in Bangladesh are education, and empowerment, occupation of husband, residence and possession of items and religious beliefs and norms.


Educational attainment of women is generally considered a useful index of socioeconomic status as well as of the level of overall social sophistication, and therefore, it is inversely related to the desire for additional children and women’s mean age at marriage. Education is a key determinant of the life style and status an individual enjoys in a society. It affects many aspects of life, including demographic and health behavior. Education through literacy provides access to wider source of information and a broader perspective. Education through socialization process spread out social values. A modern and rational grows out of education.

Table 5.3.1 Level of education of household population (male vs. female) according to age and place of residence.

Background characteristicsNo education










Age 15-1927.810.738.917.511.110.911.
Age 20-2422.215.526.521.210.910.625.335.
Age 25-2922.127.128.522.09.68.319.
Age 30-3426.137.922.
Age 35-3930.043.923.920.66.27.517.
Age 40-4432.149.025.522.
Age 45-4932.156.324.619.

 It also provides economic skills, which increases the capacity to earn income. Like all other factors, there exists persistent discrimination in literacy rate between male and female. The table-5.3.1 shows the respective comparison between male and female among different age groups and residence.

Both in urban and rural areas the percentage of illiteracy is higher among women than males. Through the gap in “primary incomplete” level between male and female is narrow, a significant wider gap exists in the “secondary and higher” levels. Similar trend is also seen from the different age group between male and female.

In most developing countries, there is a tendency for female to be largely concentrated in liberal arts while the male students are largely enrolled in the pure and applied science. Female literacy remains a major problem in all developing countries. Table 5.3.2 shows the distribution of currently married women by education level according to some selected characteristics using the BDHS 2007 Data.

This is apparent from the differences in the level of educational attainment by age group. Education is inversely related to age, that is older women are less educated than younger women are. From this table, it is seen that in case of urban women 25.4 percent of women have no education compared to 36.2 percent of the rural women.

Table 5.3.2 Levels of education of currently married women according to selected background characteristics.

Background characteristicsHighest level of education
No educationPrimarySecondaryHigher
Adolescent (10-19)10.728.357.83.1
Youth (20-29)20.931.137.510.4
Adult (30+)45.628.918.57.0
Working status:    

 In case of female occupation, only 27.8 percent of housewives have never attended to school and 41.2 percent of them who have participation in income generation program never attend the school. Women who are involved in any job have less access to primary and secondary level of education but in case of higher study, it can be concluded that education is proportionally related to working status.

Many factors have an influence on women’s educational opportunities. Most studies point to poverty as the main hinder behind the fact that families fail to either enroll their girls in school or withdraw them before finishing the primary level. It is not just the direct and indirect costs of school attendance are beyond their means, but also that the children are needed at home to perform duties that fall preponderantly on the girls.

Prevailing cultural values and norms appear to have far more significance in the low state of female education, however. Many parents in rural areas lack interest or are openly hostile to the formal education of their daughters for reasons related to social and religious norms in general and to marriage prospects in particular. Most often people of superstitious mentality both in urban and rural areas belief that education spoils a girls’ character and undermines her willingness to fulfill her traditional role. Early marriage and the importance of preserving a girls’ good reputation lead to widespread withdrawal of girls from school.

Among other factors contributing to gender differentials to enrolment are location and physical facilities of school, the shortage of female teachers and a lack of basic amenities (such as sanitation facilities). Female education is further hampered by inadequate incentives to induce the poor to send girls to school. However, education is considered, as the key factor for achieving a sophisticated socioeconomic position for women in cannot always directly affect fertility. It is only possible when a woman get marry at higher age or uses contraceptives.


Women’s participation in labor force is a widely accepted factor for their sound socioeconomic status. Because a woman who employed is more likely to have direct access and control over financial resources be able to function in the non-domestic sphere be able to translate the autonomy required for and embodied in being to autonomy and control inside the home.

The participation of women in labor force is still at the rudimentary level for most of the developing countries. Women still tend to be concentrated in the “unpaid” family labor category and employed mostly in agricultural and related occupation and other family based enterprises. Though women’s participation is professional and technical, occupation is increasing in recent years the majority of women in the category are employed in low-paid low status jobs.

Bangladesh’s real problem is not only unemployment but also under employment. Taking as underemployed those working less than 35 hours per week the rate of underemployment is 35 percent. Some of these people mat not wish to full-time because they have responsibilities at home.

To understand the link between employment and women’s status, ideally employment of women should be examined in combination with concepts of cultural acceptance different types of work for women, women’s total workload and control over training in all branches of technology. Women’s employment does prevail in the no paid or worst paid branches of the national economy. Occupational promotion of women is much more difficult than that of man even in “feminize” occupation as, for example teaching. Even the college and university education for the girl’s is not a guarantee to get jobs. Unemployment and underemployment problem is in such an acute condition. Women are concentrated, as usual in the lower levels of the occupational pyramid and so continue to be a source of cheap labor.

A remarkable increase in the number of female labor force in 1980 and afterwards is compared to 1985-86. No tremendous development over this period has occurred. It is simply because of the definitional change, we have witnessed a handsome amount in female labor force after 1989. The new definition of the economic activities include activities like caring domestic animals and poultry, threshing, boiling, dying and husking crops, processing and preserving food etc. Female usually performs these activities and hence, the number of female labor has increased. We have at least and at least, recognized these works as economic activities. In this society, the men credit for whatever little is produced. The women live in pitiable state of dependency and low status (Daily Star, March, 1999).

Table 5.4.1 Working status of women according to some selected variables

Background characteristics


Working status




( 10-19)


( 20-29)


( 30+)


 The above table shows the percentage of women who are currently working with some selected background characteristics such as age, residence and religion. Women’s participation in labor force increases steadily with age. Women’s participation in labor force varies with the age, residence and religion. The above table represents that in urban areas female employment rate is higher than in rural areas. However, the situation is opposite in case of unemployed women. There is a reason behind this situation. In urban area because of industrialization, there are many opportunities of jobs. The percentage of Urban women is engaged in labor force is 31.3 percent while compared to rural women, which is 32.6 percent.

 Mobility and Autonomy

Women’s mobility that is freedom to movement and participation in domestic decision-making is an indicator of their status. Freedom of movement outside the homestead area is of special interest in many Muslim societies where strong traditions of “purdah” may act to seclude women within their homes. Travel away from home, whether to visit friend or to shopping or take a sick child to a health care center, may be considered shameful, unless an adult family member accompanies the woman. This relative seclusion of Muslim women has direct and obvious consequences in terms of access to static services. It may also have a more profound influence on mentality and outlook by circumscribing interactions with the outside world and exposure to new ideas and models of behavior.

It is time that the seclusion of women is less stringently practiced nowadays than was the case in the period prior to liberation. At the same time, it would be misleading to claim that the position of women in Bangladesh has been transformed. Their lives are still restricted and this restriction varies from urban to rural. The following table 4, obtained by using the BDHS 2007 data, gives an illustration of current situation. The results are shown below.

Table 5.5.1 Women’s mobility according to affirmative response:

ActivityPercentage affirmative responses
Go to outside alone47.8
Go to health center alone48.3

 As the figures above indicate, Bangladeshi women reported restrictions on their freedom of movement. Only 47.8 percent reported that they go outside alone and only 48.3 percent can go to health center alone. This information is obtained from the ever-married sample of BDHS 2007 data. It is possible that respondents provide normative responses and may have projected to interviewers an image of Islamic respectability that was not a true reflection of actual behavior.

Now a logistic regression analysis is performed to assess influence of different background characteristics that affect women’s mobility. The results of the logistic regression analysis are given table 5.5.2. Out of the nine variables, three variables are statistically significant. Table 5.5.2 shows the logistic regression estimates of odds ratios of Bangladesh for the effect of women’s mobility. An odds ratio above 1.00 means a positive effective while an odds ratio below 1.00 represents a negative effect.

Women’s mobility is directly influenced by their education, partner’s education  From the table it can be observed that women with higher education are more than 2.6 times likely to have good outdoor mobility than women with no education. Exposures to radio and TV are considered because these have indirect effects on the outlook of women and they are found statistically significant. The higher is the mobility of women the higher is their exposure and awareness regarding their rights and privileges in the society. Working status of women is also an indicator of their mobility. A Woman who is mason/agricultural worker and sophisticated profession (doctor/lawyer/teacher) has 1.6 times more chance of having the freedom of movement than women who are unemployed. This is quite expected because these occupations require outdoor mobility. The wealth index is also influence women’s mobility where the signs of them β-coefficients as well as the odds ratios reflect of more mobilization of the middle class women from other economic class including the rich.

Table 5.5.2 Logistic Regression Analysis (Dependent Variable – Women’s Mobility):

Independent variablesCoefficient (β)Odds ratioStandard


Respondent’s education     
*No education     
Partner’s education     
*No education     




Ever listened to radio     
At least once in a week0.0531.0540.0511.0315.302
Ever watched TV     
At least once in a week0.5261.6930.04810.826.000
Current use of contraceptive     
*Use no method     
Use any method0.2391.2700.0425.744.000
Respondents occupation     
Sophisticated profession(doctor/ lawyer/ teacher)0.4651.5920.2401.937.052
Below status occupation(mason/ agricultural worker)0.4651.5920.0479.823.000
Wealth index     

Here ‘*’ indicates reference category.

The objective was also to assess to show that the higher the mobility of a woman the higher will be the likelihood that she will use contraceptive. This is confirmed by the positive relationship between the mobility and current use of contraceptive with the coefficient β = 0.239. The odd ratio suggests that the women who use contraceptive their mobility score will be 1.27 times higher than those who do not use contraceptive.

This is likely because good outdoor mobility will ensure the exposure of the woman to the world which will make her more conscious of the family planning issues.

Another important dimension of the status of women is their autonomy. It concerns the execution of women’s decision within the sphere of domestic activities. The following table represents participation of making decision in domestic activities.

Women’s mobility will give her the opportunity to have the exposure that is necessary for self development. This mobility can be caused by her education program or occupation. In the long run, this mobility has an impact in reducing the fertility rate. Table 5.5.3 also shows that the decision of the respondent alone or her and her husband’s jointly taken decision is ultimately held for domestic purposes. Therefore, given that her decision is valued; her mobility plays a significantly positive role in reducing fertility, in other words, improving the fertility rate of Bangladesh.

Table 5.5.3 women’s participation in domestic decision-making:

Type of decision


Child health care20.626.453.0100
Final say on own health care32.820.846.4100
Decision on large household purchase29.417.153.5100
Decision on household purchases for daily needs26.138.235.8100
Who decide how to spend money17.928.753.4100

 A set of questions were included with the aim of assessing the extent to which women participate in decisions regarding such matters as household purchase own health care and child health care. The results of interview are shown in the above table.

The power of decision-making has always been regarded as a key component of women’s status and once again, if possible consequences for reproductive decision are rather obvious. It is often claimed that men are less concerned about the spacing and limitation of births perhaps because they do not experience the burden of pregnancy and childcare. Moreover, contraception may be regarded, as a woman is subject and therefore embarrassing or inappropriate for men to discuss and decide upon. Women design the majority of contraceptive methods for use and in many countries; this gender bias is reinforced by family planning services that are focused almost exclusively on women. It follows, therefore, that women who are not prepared, or not allowed to participate in domestic decision may be at a severe disadvantage in terms of reproductive decisions.

Self-declared Demand for Children

Conceptualization and measurement of desire or demand for children is one of the most controversial aspects of fertility analysis. There are many particularly economists who equate actual fertility with demand for children.

The demographic literature abounds with explanation of fertility levels and differentials, which assume that childbearing behavior, must be an expression of conscious desire or need (Lee and Bulatao, 1983). An equal large body of opinion and research aspects that the reproductive wishes or needs may diverge from reproductive performance because of perceived lack of choice or a host of other barriers that prevent the translation of attitudes into behavior. From this perspective has arisen a huge literature on unmet need for family planning that has been influential in persuading governments and donors to support contraceptive services as the centerpiece of population control policies.

Now to assess whether enhancement of a woman’s access to income generation program would influence her desire family size through her exposures and knowledge. It is argued that the most effective route to smaller families is to provide women with the means of social and economic self-determination. For this purposes a logistic regression analysis is performed where desire for more children is considered as the dependent variable and independent variables are:

  • Age of the respondent
  • Age of the partner
  • Place of residence
  • Number of living children
  • Current pregnancy wanted
  • Current pregnancy terminated
  • Partner’s education level
  • Discussion of family planning with partner
  • Respondent’s involvement in income generation
  • Wealth status

The results of the logistic regression are given in table 3.4 this table shows the logistic regression estimates of odds ratios for the effect of selected background variables, determined as the desire for more children. Odds ratios are shown in place of regression coefficient for easy interpretation of results. An odds ratio below 1.00 implies that a negative effect of an independent of an independent variable, while an odds ratio above 1.00 means a positive effect. While fitting the model, out of eleven variables only two are found statistically significant.

Table5. 5.4 Logistics regression analysis to identify socio economic factors to identify the desire for more children

VariablesEstimateOddStandard ErrorZ-valueP-value
Age of respondent-0.2130.8080.120-1.771.076
Partners age0.1111.1180.0741.493.135
Place of residence     
* Rural     
Current pregnancy wanted     
Current pregnancy terminated(before calendar beginning)     
Partner’s Education level     
Discussion of family planning with partner     

 Here ‘*’ indicates reference category.

VariablesEstimateOddStandard ErrorZ-valueP-value
Employment status of respondent     
Wealth status     
Respondents education     
Number of living child     
At least one-4.6480.0091.058-4.390.000

 Here ‘*’ indicates reference category.

Women’s education is an important index of socioeconomic status as well as of the level of overall social sophistication and therefore it is inversely related to the desire for additional children and women’s. The odds ratio suggests that the higher the education level the lower the desire for additional children. Age of respondent and partner is also inversely related to the desire for more children. With the increase of age, couple’s attitude towards the desired family size will change. If the current pregnancy terminated is 1.2 times more likely to prefer to have additional children. When the number of living children increases, the desire for more children decreases significantly.

Discussion of family planning with partner can have a fruitful impact in the decrease of fertility rate, as it is shown; a discussion decreases the desire of children for the couple.

The respondent’s involvement in income generation increases the desire for more children by 1.2 times as it might give her the ability to provide her children with basic necessities.

Women from poor economic status have less desire for more children (odds ratio 1.199, 0.363). Whereas women from middle class have 2.2 times higher chance to have a desire for more children. The rich mostly desire fewer children (odds ratio 0.764) compared the poor because of their spontaneous involvement in their own profession.

The fertility rate can be decreased successfully by discussion with partners on family planning. Higher education, more involvement in income generation and better wealth status will help the fertility rate to decrease significantly.

The number of living children is an important determinant of desire family size. Because, the higher the number of living children the lower will be the desired family size.

Fertility preferences as measured by desire for more children show that many factors are effective behind the desire of smaller family size among the women of Bangladesh. Knowledge, attitude, availability and use of health care services are important determinants of reproductive health of women and children. A woman’s status in society and her reproductive behavior are intricately intertwined in a two-way relationship. Overall, reproductive behavior, but in particular the ability to regulate and control fertility has an impact on the status of woman. The reversed is also true that is the status of a woman has an impact on her number of children she has, her ability to regulate and control her fertility will be limited. The present study suggest that women’s participation in economic activities is linked to improved status of women and improved status of women is strongly linked to low desired family size and improved child survival.

Policy Implication

From the above discussion, it is clear that welfare of women is particularly likely to contribute to fertility decline. Where education reduces fertility, female education has a much larger effect than male education. Women’s low status also induces a preference for sons over daughters, which sometimes contribute higher fertility. Son preferences have been shown to induce women to want additional children in several countries (Bulatao and Faweett, 1983). Other improvement in women’s status are their increasing economic independency, working status and self declared desire for children also contribute to reduce fertility.

It emerges from the analysis that the most important outcomes for the participants of income generation project were their education, skill that increases their confidence and the new respect for which they can be treated by their husbands and communities. The multivariate analysis supports the contention that women’s status has had an impact on family planning as intended.

It is also found that empowerment of women is associated with mobility, independence in decision-making and husband-wife interaction. The study further supports the view that the women who participate in development programs, their exposure to economic, social and physical situation change such women find themselves is simply not conductive to desiring more children. The effects of generation program outlined in a setting that is affected by modern exposure. While these changes do not amount to a major socio-economic transformation, they helped facilitate the status effect. However it would be a mistake to conclude that these broad social influences are solely responsible for the changes that occurred.

Clearly the income generation opportunities introduced by the different NGOs were essential.

Status of Women