Despite large strides in gender equality in Bangladesh, the country continues to be a highly patriarchal society where gender discrimination is present at all levels of the community. Women are still rendered dependent on men because they are not economically empowered. Shiree research shows that many of the problems, risks and vulnerabilities faced by extreme poor households have a clear gender dimension.
Thus fractured families where women are abandoned, widowed or divorced are highly likely to be projected into extreme poverty. The scourge of early marriage and dowry, although legislated against, remains prevalent. There are numerous instances of women abandoned by husbands through failure to pay dowry, often forced back to rely on the charity of, already poor, paternal relatives.
Extreme poor families are likely to marry daughters at a young age and often, given limited or non-existent dowry resources, into adverse matches, for example with physically or otherwise impaired husbands. Hence in many instances a household becomes “silently female headed” whereby a woman is supporting the entire family from meager earnings or begging. Furthermore women face constraints in grasping the limited economic opportunities that are available.
Extreme poor women are even less well educated than men and may face socio cultural constraints in the range of economic activities available to them and in their ability to access support services or markets. In short the incidence and impact of all the previously listed challenges is greater for women. There are also various groups who through being outside the economic, social or cultural mainstream are likely to be disadvantaged and to become and to remain extremely poor.
The aged, the disabled, adivasis, horijans, street dwellers, street children, other diverse and overlapping categories can be identified. In some cases these groups are historically disadvantaged with low status and low income occupations leading to a story of chronic inter-generational poverty. For others, e.g. street children — the phenomenon is more recent, but nevertheless has similarities in that individuals lacking rights, respect, economic opportunities and so are trapped in a cycle of seemingly never ending poverty.
What should be done to address this challenge?
Shiree is currently consulting with stakeholders and recognized experts in this field in order to develop a consolidated list of priority recommendations that can form the core prescriptive element of the Manifesto for the Extreme Poor – with the aim of these being presented to all of those with potential access to power and resources. The consultation deadline is fixed for September 30, 2012, after which the Manifesto will be drafted.