Recognising women and men as equal in Bangladesh

Wednesday, 7 Mar 2018
"By 'gender equality' I understand equal opportunity for both sexes. Wherever possible I try to give a platform to everyone. It’s every human being’s right to be respected."

What’s your name and what do you do?

My name is Atia Hossain and I work for Options in Bangladesh as Health Financing Advisor, addressing access to health care for the most vulnerable people. Through coordination, facilitation and an inclusive approach, we work with numerous stakeholders to make sure the extreme poor can access the health facilities they need.

Why is gender equality important to you?

To me, gender equality means equal recognition of female and male alike, be that in the workplace, in a health service delivery setting, at home, anywhere. And that’s why when I see that gender equality is often misinterpreted as female prioritisation, I prefer to look at “what is needed”. For example, in our recent work for Options, we looked at harmonising the identification of the ‘extreme poor’ among stakeholders so that everyone used the same criteria. We ensured that both women and men who qualified as ‘extreme poor’, as per the pre-agreed criteria, were included in the list. This has enabled the men in the families to take their child to an NGO clinic for immunisation shots, traditionally a place known for treating females only.

Part of our work has involved introducing and establishing a ‘common health entitlement card’ (CHEC), enabling the extreme poor to access health services at little or no cost. This has made a real difference in giving a sense of “rights” among women. For example, a woman we worked with went to a public tertiary hospital to seek care for a cancer using the CHEC, somewhere she would not have dreamt of going to before having a health card issued by the municipality. Vulnerable populations are usually afraid of visiting tertiary hospitals due to fear of being asked to leave or fear of bad behaviour or even fear of having to pay a large sum of money. However, the CHEC has given them the right to visit a tertiary hospital and the right to be treated. Giving people that sense of ‘right’ is powerful.

In yet another situation, I have seen a community leader able to represent her entire community and deliver a speech in front of stakeholders who were predominantly male and considered “eloquently spoken think-tanks”.

What challenges to gender equality do you face in your country?

In Bangladesh, women are often asked do what is traditionally thought of as “women” jobs, such as making announcements at events and serving tea, etc. But we have seen a lot of progress, and traditional female jobs are now being taken up by men, as well as traditionally male jobs being done by women.

However, we often find that in the name of “gender equality”, less qualified females are given positions that perhaps if the process were unbiased, or there was a better understanding of the term, would not have happened.

There is also a difference between rural and urban areas in challenging the roles of men and women in traditional jobs or activities.For example, in the capital city, women are increasingly employed as drivers, but this is uncommon and rarely seen in rural areas. However, in rural areas, many girls ride bicycles to schools, something quite uncommon in the capital city, but these days it’s becoming more visible. Also in the city, women are taking up lead roles in the professional sector, and in sub-urban areas it is common to see women selling vegetables, and managing animal farms, traditionally a male job.

How are you championing gender equality where you live or work?

By “gender equality” I understand equal opportunity to both sexes (and socio-economic groups) alike. Wherever possible I try to give a platform to everyone. The examples of the community leader, and health card holders are perhaps a reflection of that. It’s every human being’s right to be respected, to be treated equally, and without prejudice.

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