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
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 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
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
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.
Age M F M F M F M F M F M F
Age 15-19 27.8 10.7 38.9 17.5 11.1 10.9 11.1 50.0 5.6 7.9 5.6 3.1
Age 20-24 22.2 15.5 26.5 21.2 10.9 10.6 25.3 35.9 8.2 8.2 7.0 8.7
Age 25-29 22.1 27.1 28.5 22.0 9.6 8.3 19.1 23.2 5.8 7.0 15 12.3
Age 30-34 26.1 37.9 22.2 22.2 4.8 7.9 23.6 16.3 5.0 5.6 18.4 10.7
Age 35-39 30.0 43.9 23.9 20.6 6.2 7.5 17.1 14.3 6.4 5.7 16.5 8.0
Age 40-44 32.1 49.0 25.5 22.4 6.0 8.1 17.8 11.8 5.2 4.0 13.4 4.7
Age 45-49 32.1 56.3 24.6 19.1 6.8 7.1 18.8 10.3 6.3 3.9 11.3 3.3
Urban 23.6 25.4 19.8 18.2 7.0 8.4 21.4 25.3 6.2 7.8 22.0 14.9
Rural 32.3 36.2 28.4 22.5 6.7 9.0 17.5 23.5 5.9 5.4 9.1 3.5
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
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
Background characteristics Highest level of education
No education Primary Secondary Higher
Adolescent (10-19) 10.7 28.3 57.8 3.1
Youth (20-29) 20.9 31.1 37.5 10.4
Adult (30+) 45.6 28.9 18.5 7.0
Urban 25.4 26.5 33.1 14.9
Rural 36.2 31.5 28.8 3.5
Employed 41.2 29.3 21.6 7.8
Unemployed 27.8 29.8 34.6 7.8
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
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
Residence Urban 31.3 68.7
Rural 32.6 67.4
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
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:
Activity Percentage affirmative responses
Go to outside alone 47.8
Go to health center alone 48.3
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 variables Coefficient (β) Odds
Primary 0.142 1.152 0.053 2.647 .008
Secondary 0.303 1.353 0.063 4.798 .000
Higher 0.958 2.605 0.128 7.464 .000
Primary 0.025 1.025 0.055 0.457 .647
Secondary -0.001 0.998 0.062 -0.025 .980
Higher 0.196 1.216 0.093 2.103 .035
Ever listened to radio
At least once in a week 0.053 1.054 0.051 1.0315 .302
Ever watched TV
At least once in a week 0.526 1.693 0.048 10.826 .000
Current use of contraceptive
*Use no method
Use any method 0.239 1.270 0.042 5.744 .000
0.465 1.592 0.240 1.937 .052
0.465 1.592 0.047 9.823 .000
Poorest 0.131 1.141 0.078 1.670 .094
Poorer 0.057 1.059 0.073 0.782 .434
Middle 0.189 1.209 0.071 2.678 .007
Richer -0.035 0.965 0.065 -0.543 .587
Constant -0.170 0.843 0.077 -2.213 .027
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
Table 5.5.3 women’s participation in domestic decision-making:
Type of decision Husband Respondent Joint Total
Child health care 20.6 26.4 53.0 100
Final say on own health care 32.8 20.8 46.4 100
Decision on large household purchase 29.4 17.1 53.5 100
Decision on household purchases for daily
26.1 38.2 35.8 100
Who decide how to spend money 17.9 28.7 53.4 100
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
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
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
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
Variables Estimate Odd Standard
Intercept 4.093 59.934 2.695 1.518 .128
Age of respondent -0.213 0.808 0.120 -1.771 .076
Partners age 0.111 1.118 0.074 1.493 .135
Place of residence
Urban -1.362 0.256 0.987 -1.380 .167
Current pregnancy wanted
Later 0.927 2.527 0.880 1.053 .292
Yes 0.189 1.208 0.877 0.215 .829
Partner’s Education level
Primary 0.168 1.183 0.855 0.196 .843
Secondary 0.727 2.069 0.983 0.739 .459
Higher 1.043 2.837 1.648 0.632 .526
Discussion of family planning
Yes -0.614 0.541 0.802 -0.764 .444
Here ‘*’ indicates reference category.
Variables Estimate Odd Standard
Employment status of
Employment 0.210 1.234 0.732 0.286 .774
Poorest 0.182 1.199 1.958 0.093 .925
Poorer -1.012 0.363 1.906 -0.530 .595
Middle 0.788 2.201 1.737 0.454 .649
Richer -0.270 0.764 1.878 0.348 .727
Primary -0.515 0.597 0.928 -0.554 .579
Secondary -0.659 0.517 1.0832 -0.609 .542
Higher -0.639 0.527 2.504 -0.255 .798
Number of living child
At least one -4.648 0.009 1.058 -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.
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.