A Socio-Economic Study on Rural Women and Food Security in Some Selected Areas of Mymensingh District

1 January 2017

Background of the Study Bangladesh is known as one of the developing countries in the world. With a per capita income of US$ 750, an estimated 49. 8 percent of its population is living below the national poverty line and 41. 3 percent are living in absolute poverty earning US$ 1 per day or less (UNDP, 2007). It is highly populated country having about 146 million. Female population constituted 74. 4 million of the total population.

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There is a great deal of gender discrimination, subordination and subjugation in every sphere of life. From their childhood, women are neglected in food sharing, education, work, freedom of choice, right to property and decision making aspect. Over the last decade, both government and non government organization have taken many initiatives and enacted several legislative measures in favour of upgrading women’s status basically empowering women.

In Bangladesh, women constitute about half of the total population of which 80 percent live in rural areas (BBS, 2006). But their status has been ranked the lowest in the world on the basis of twenty indicators related to health, marriage, children, education, employment and social equality. It is a well established fact that in a patriarchal society like Bangladesh, women are ascribed a lower status than men who have the sovereign power to control households and society as a whole, while women are often secluded in their homes (Balk, 1997).

The World Bank study in Bangladesh highlights that women have limited role in household decision-making, limited access and control over household resources (physical and financial assets), low level of individual assets, heavy domestic workloads, restricted mobility and inadequate knowledge and skills that leading to women’s vulnerability (Sebstad and Cohen 2002: 44). 2. Empowerment of Rural Women within the Context of Globalization Rural women play a critical role in agricultural production and in the rural economies of developing countries.

In the developing world as a whole, agriculture accounted for about 63 per cent of total female employment in 1997 and it is still the most important sector for female employment in sub-Saharan Africa and Asia. Rural women make major and multiple contributions to the achievement of food security and produce more than half of the food grown worldwide. In sub-Saharan Africa this figure is higher, with women contributing 60 to 80 per cent of the labour in food production both for household consumption and for sale. In Asia, women do 50 to 90 per cent of the work in the rice fields.

Women diversify and perform multiple tasks simultaneously to sustain their livelihoods, working on farms and engaging in off-farm activities, as well as continuing their critical role in terms of reproduction. Their responsibilities include the collection of water and fuel, activities that are particularly burdensome in areas with a poor social infrastructure (Olumakaiy and Ajavi, 2006). Women must not only have equal rights, capabilities and access to resources and opportunities, but they must also have the agency to use those rights, capabilities, resources and opportunities to make strategic choices.

Empowerment of women in rural areas is dependent on several factors, including ownership and control over land; access to diverse types of employment and income-generating activities, access to public goods (such as water, village recreational area and forests), infrastructure, education and training, health care and financial services and markets; and opportunities for participation in political life and in the design and implementation of policies and programmes. i. Land and Property Rights

Despite efforts to diversify, most households in rural areas still depend on land and natural resources for their basic subsistence. Without secure land rights, farmers have little or no access to credit, rural organizations, irrigation systems and other agricultural infrastructure and services. Land and property ownership increases women’s food security, their bargaining power within the household and their social status as members of the community. Women have benefited less than men from these programmes.

For example, a survey of land distribution conducted in Brazil, Mexico, Nicaragua, Paraguay and Peru found that women represented only one third or less of landowners (Olumakaiy and Ajavi, 2006). In Eastern Europe, agricultural reform has mainly involved tenure rights. Previously collectively or state-owned land has been privatized as private and corporate farms and either been returned to pre-socialist-era owners or to ex-collective or state-farm workers. Although land reform took diverse forms in the 1990s, private property became the predominant form of land ownership and new owners have mostly been men.

For example, in Kyrgyzstan, a land distribution survey in 2002 showed that only 450 of 38,724 farms belonged to women (Olumakaiy and Ajavi, 2006). Ownership rights to agricultural land remain in the public domain, but the right to exploit farmland has been privatized. Traditional attitudes and stereotypes regarding the role of women and men in society have given men control over land. In Nepal, for example, according to the 2001 census, only 11 per cent of the total households reported women owning land.

In sub-Saharan Africa, reform has often sought to transform customary tenure land into state property or individualized private property. Men have tended to acquire legal ownership of the land (Olumakaiy and Ajavi, 2006). ii. Credit Credit enables producers to initiate, sustain, or expand agricultural production and increase productivity. However, producers with limited resources, especially rural women, receive only a minor share of formal agricultural credit even in countries where they are major producers.

As land is the major asset used as collateral to obtain rural credit, women have limited access to credit facilities. Withdrawal of credit provided by the Government in rural areas as the result of an increased liberalization and privatization of the financial sector can make access to credit even more difficult for women. Lack of information and knowledge concerning how to apply for credit and mutual distrust between banking institutions and agricultural producers constitute additional obstacles. Over the last decade, considerable attention has been given to micro credit nterventions for the empowerment of women. However, mixed results have been seen in South Asia, one of the most active regions in promoting micro credit for women. Some studies showed that the bargaining position of women within the household was strengthened by access to credit and control over income and assets. Assessment of credit programmes in Bangladesh, however, showed that men either significantly or partially controlled the credit, women brought into the household and that loans were used for purposes different from the ones applied for. iii. Employment and Income-Generating Activities

The spread of agro-industry and rural industrialization has increased the possibilities for women to access cash income through self-employment or the setting up of rural enterprises. Wage employment allows women to get out of the relative isolation of the home or their small rural communities and gain self-esteem and confidence. A survey of households conducted in two townships in China confirmed that the division of labour and gender-specific decision-making patterns in households changed as the source and structure of household income changed. The role of women in decision-making increased as their incomes increased.

When the contribution of women to the purchase of agricultural inputs increased, their share in decision-making increased from 25 to 29 per cent and when the labour input of women to marketing increased from 47 to 56 percent, their share in related decision-making increased from 53 to 61 percent (Olumakaiy and Ajavi, 2006). iv. Education and Training A successful agenda for the empowerment of rural women requires the dismantling of values, structures and processes that maintain women’s subordination and that are used to justify inequality in access to political, social and economic resources.

Education plays an important role in this process. Studies in many countries have shown that education for girls is the single most effective way of reducing poverty, although it is not sufficient by itself. Inequalities in education and skill acquisition can explain the fact that women benefit less than men from economic opportunities as well as the trend towards the increase of women among the poorest in the population. Gender inequalities in access to education are well documented in rural areas.

The situation varies considerably between countries and regions, and although there is no exact data about the situation in rural areas, global figures indicate that approximately 60 per cent of the illiterate people in the world are women, with only 69 per cent of women over the age of 15 being literate, compared to 83 per cent of men (Olumakaiy and Ajavi, 2006). In addition to increasing women’s access to the formal education system, it is important to provide women with access to training, including on marketing, rural entrepreneurship, farm and household management and financing.

Rural women’s access to training and education is essential if they are to develop livelihood strategies that build on the opportunities created by globalization (Olumakaiy and Ajavi, 2006). v. Decision-Making Rural women continue to face a number of constraints on their ability to participate in formal and informal decision-making processes. The predominant responsibility for household tasks continues to be assigned to women and girls and limits their time and opportunities to be actively involved in educational, social and political activities.

Discriminatory and stereotypical attitudes, lack of education, security concerns and freedom of movement may also limit opportunities for women to participate. Where rural women participate in decision-making, there are signs that women in local government have a tangible impact on allocation of resources, for example in relation to services and amenities such as water supplies and public health, as well as positive effects in terms of building social acceptance of women’s political authority.

Gender-sensitive budget initiatives have been undertaken to promote the needs of rural women, but studies indicate that these initiatives only lead to women’s empowerment if they are accompanied by the creation of an enabling environment that eliminates inequalities in other areas such as household division of labour. 1. 3 Status of Women in Rural Bangladesh In a developing country like Bangladesh, participation of women in national economy is inevitable. They should play vital roles not only in family economies, but also in national economies. But the situation of women in Bangladesh presents a dismal picture.

They are dominated by patrimonial and patriarchal kinship systems which maintain a set of social relations with a material base that enables men to control property, income and women lobour and to enforce dependence of women on males. They do not have individual identity socially. Status of women is an important factor affecting the socio-economic development of a country. There is no single indicator to measure the status of women in a society. Purdah (veil) system acts as the major obstacle for rural women to establish their rights (Begum, 1987).

Despite the system of purdah women have to perform jobs such as ensuring food for their whole family, collecting firewood and cooking, feeding and rearing up children, feeding poultry birds and cattle, taking care of the households animals and birds, processing agricultural products, washing cloths and gardening in the homestead premises. No doubt, the contribution of women to their families is very significant and is not necessarily less than that of the male member of family. But their contribution in terms of labour and their roles in agriculture do not get social recognition.

There is a clear division between male and female in a society like Bangladesh. Various indicators reveal that the status of women is much lower than that of men. The rate of literacy, particularly of women, is low in Bangladesh. The literacy rate for both sexes is 53. 3 among them 49. 8 per cent of women are literate compared to 57. 1 per cent of men (BBS, 2006). Table 1. 1 shows the percentage distribution of women’s education levels. Moreover, in each education level, percentage of male population is higher as compared to that of the female population.

On the other hand, girls are conditioned to accept inferior status compared to boys and realize that they are liabilities, not assets like their brothers. Status of women in the society is dependent upon the role they play as daughter, wife and mother. Prior to her marriage, a girl has to learn cooking, cleaning and taking care of siblings and domestic animals. Some girls are married between the ages of 13-16. About 80 per cent of them are married before 18 years of age. Women are married at a much lower age than men. Their mean age of marriage is 19. 0 years compared with men’s mean age of 25. 3 years (Von harder, 1977).

The health situation of the female population of the country is also unsatisfactory. But the average life expectancy of female is higher than that of their male counterpart. Average life expectancy is 64. 4 years for men and 65. 7 years for women . Nutritional status of women and girls is marked by sharp differences with that of men than boys. Health care for women is often restricted to their pregnancy. General health of women for all ages is often neglected. Early marriage, repeated pregnancy and long child bearing span have serious implications for women’s low nutritional status and high maternal mortality rate, for example, 3. 5 per 1000 live birth (BBS, 2006). The Bangladesh Bureau of Statistics, in a special report in 1993, showed that women death due to unnatural causes (suicide, murder, burn, snake bite, poisoning, accident and drowning) is almost three times higher than pregnancy related cause. 1. 4 Role of Women in Farm and Non-farm Activities Women in rural Bangladesh are mostly underutilized, largely unrecognized. Official labour force statistics have not yet recognized the vital role that women play in agriculture production process. Women are involved in different works related to production, processing and household activities.

The activities of women are mainly restricted within home like cooking, child care, washing, cleaning, tailing, crafting etc. due to the socio-economic backwardness and also deep rooted socio-cultural norms, rural women in Bangladesh do not participate in income generating activities in a modern sense. But the rural women in Bangladesh perform various economic functions as a member of the farming households. From a number of micro surveys it has been found that since independence in 1971, there has been a steady upward trend in the participation of women in income generating ctivities. Economic hardship is the main reason for such changes. Rural women work very hard but the activities they perform are often excluded from the national income statistics. Besides their household works (Table1. 1), women in rural areas are engaged in wide range of activities at different stages of the production process, but rarely do. They become beneficiaries or women’s of the means of production. The religion of Islam grants the right of property to them but due to their low socio-economic status, their legal rights can hardly be exercised.

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