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International Women's Day: Message and significance

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Dr. Forqan Uddin Ahmed :
The International Women's Day was observed on 8 March in both developed and underdeveloped countries to underscore women's equal rights and opportunities worldwide. The struggle for realising women rights has a long history. In 1857, thousands of working women in New York took to the streets to protest against inequitable wages, a 12-hour work day, and sexual nuisance in the workplace. On March 8, 1908, a large number of women assembled in New York City to realise their right to suffrage. In 1910, as many as 100 women representing 17 countries decided to initiate an International Women's Day at an International Conference of Socialist Women in Copenhagen, Denmark.
The first IWD was held in 1911 in Germany, Austria, Denmark and some other European countries. The IWD has emerged as a universal event for celebration. The United Nations for the first time formally proclaimed International Women's Year on March 8, 1975. Since then, IWD has emerged as the most important day for women across the world to remember their prolonged struggles and commemorate their social, political and economic achievements. IWD is an official holiday in more than 15 countries, including China, Russia, and Vietnam. Previously special event of the day was on "Women and Education," in which women everywhere lag behind. Indeed, women's education is vital to any country's progress, be it social, political or economic.
The female population of Bangladesh has been estimated at 53.3 million during 1989-90 representing 48.5 percent of the total population. Of these 22.0 million women are in the reproductive age group indicating serious implications for future population growth. The annual growth rate of the labour force which has been projected at 3.4 percent during the FFYP is higher than the population growth rate. This would be mostly contributed by the increasing female participation in the labour force which has increased by more than three folds in recent times.
The labour force projection has assumed the growth rate of female labour force at around 11 percent per annum. The female labour force participation is expected to increase to 25 percent by the year 2000. Possibilities of employment expansion dominate family labour in agriculture, specially the crop sub-sector where women would play critical role in the generation of employment opportunity. The major source of further employment growth would be the manufacturing sectors specially the small and informal manufacturing activities, non-crop agriculture and other services. In order to harness the potential of women, conscious efforts will be needed to channelize greater investment in women.
To remove the unequal status of women in all spheres, changes will also be required in attitude and fundamental structure of project formulation. For mainstreaming, emphasis would be given on visibility of women and their needs. All development policies/projects would be formulated keeping in view that benefits including access to or control of resources are to be derived equally both by men and women. All economic and social sectors, therefore, would address identifiable gender-specific constraints with quantifiable targets to be achieved within the Plan period. During the fourth five-year Plan, the general strategy would be to take up sectoral/multi-sectoral programmes with special thrust on education, health, family planning, agriculture, industry, trade and services, environment and natural resources. The broad objectives of these sectors would be framed keeping in view the necessity of extensive participation of women in these sectors. Only programmes/projects in special concern areas of women and to alter the traditional concept of women to bring about a significant change in the socio-cultural million would be undertaken by the Ministry of Women's Affairs.
Due to multi-sectoral nature of women's programmes under FFYP, inter-ministerial monitoring and coordination of WID aiming at the promotion of cross sectoral aspect and ensuring participation of different ministries/implementing agencies would be very important. In this connection formation of a National Council for Women's Development (NCWD) is under the active consideration of the Government. The proposed council will have two organs namely: 'The Standing Committee of the National Council for Women's Development' and 'The Executive Committee of the National council for Women's Development.' The Standing committee will be located in the Ministry of women's Affairs. The main tasks of the Standing committee will be to monitor and evaluate the women's development projects, to identify the main constraints and potentials of women's development and to take up necessary steps for protection of legal rights of women, etc. The Executive Committee will be located in the Planning commission. The tasks of the Executive Committee will be formulation of macro-policies, inter-sectoral coordination of WID programmes, ensuring inclusion of women component in the multi-sectoral project, assessing overall development impact on women and to take up necessary steps for policy interventions.
Policy makers and intelligentsia believe that there is still a lack of consciousness among the rural people about the value and importance of women's education.
Nonetheless, the overall achievements and performance of female students in higher education are actually striking. In view of their relatively better grades in the SSC and HSC examinations, in recent years, an ever-increasing number of female students are pursuing higher studies in the public and private universities. For example, female students comprise about 50% of the students in Dhaka University. On the whole, the performance of the female students is also comparatively better than their male counterparts. Moreover, as of June 2007, women teachers in Dhaka University constituted 26.2% of the total number of teachers. Five years back, female teachers comprised merely about 16%. Women teachers got their positions through their own educational excellence. A large number of females are also entering the civil service on their own merit. These are some impressive developments in women's empowerment in Bangladesh.
However, if we want to make Bangladesh competitive with rest of the world, further development and expansion of women's education is indispensable. Undeniably, education is the most helpful means for increasing women's self-confidence, enabling them to participate equally and effectively in the development process in a country. The message must focus to significant changes and women in development.
(Dr. Forqan Uddin Ahmed, Writer, columnist and researcher.)

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