SHAHNAJ PARVEEN, INGRID-UTE LEONHÄUSER
Justus-Liebig-Universität Giessen, Nutrition Education and Consumer Behaviour, Germany
Although women constitute about half of Bangladesh population, their social status especially in rural areas remains very low. Rural women belong to the most deprived section of the society facing adverse conditions in terms of social oppression and economic inequality, a visible majority of them being extremely poor. Considering this scenario, this paper investigates the nature and extent of rural women's empowerment and factors influencing it. The paper further outlines a strategic framework for enhancing rural women's empowerment. The methodology of this study is an integration of quantitative and qualitative methods based on data collected in three villages of Mymensingh district. Six key indicators of empowerment covering three dimensions were chosen for this purpose. Data were collected from 156 respondents during January-April 2003 following stratified random sampling. Finally, a cumulative empowerment index (CEI) was developed adding the obtained scores of six empowerment indicators. The results of empowerment indicators show that 81% of the women had a very low to low economic contribution, 65% had a low to moderate access to resources, 81% had a very poor asset ownership, 73% had a moderate to high participation in household decision-making, 42% had a moderate perception on gender awareness and 72% had a moderate to high coping capacity to household shocks. The distribution of CEI demonstrates that the majority of rural women had a very low to moderate (82%) level of empowerment. A significant proportion of the respondents had no formal (50%) and non-formal (67%) education, respectively. The multiple regression analysis shows that there were strong positive effects of formal and non-formal education, information media exposure and spatial mobility on women's CEI, while traditional socio-cultural norms had a strong negative effect. The study concludes that education, training and exposure to information media have the potential to increase women's empowerment. Therefore, effective initiatives undertaken by the concerned agencies in improving women's education, skill acquisition training and access to information could enhance women's empowerment in order to achieve gender equality and development at all levels in the rural society of Bangladesh.
Keywords: Bangladesh, empowerment, household level, rural women