Executive Summary

This Gender Assessment (GA) analyzes the impact of programs and projects on gender relations, and makes recommendations for incorporating gender issues/concerns in the future. USAID/Bangladesh?s (USAID/B) portfolio is examined to offer suggestions for mainstreaming gender, and to make actionable recommendations that can be implemented in the short (one to six months), medium (one to two years), and long-term (for the five-year strategy). This study also updates the Mission?s gender action plan (GAP), and provides background for a new Mission strategy for 2011-2015. It is divided into two parts.

Part One provides an overview of USAID Automated Directive System?s gender requirements and past activities related to gender in USAID/B, as well as the methodology. Human development outcomes, key policies of donors and the Government of Bangladesh relating to gender, and current political openings are also examined.

Part Two presents the Gender Action Plan (GAP). It reviews gender dimensions of ongoing USAID/B programs and projects, and the four key sectors for USAID/B?s upcoming Strategic Plan (democracy and governance, food security, health, and climate change). Lastly, steps for mainstreaming gender in Mission policies, procedures, and activities, and cross-sector recommendations are provided.

Bangladesh is widely regarded as a positive outlier among developing countries. This is because despite low levels of per capita income, repeated natural disasters, weak governance, and the confrontational politics of a young democratic system, it has achieved dramatic improvements in education, fertility, mortality, immunization, water and sanitation, rural roads, rural electrification, and micro-credit.

Over the last two decades, Bangladesh has maintained an economic growth rate of between 4 to 6% annually. Poverty levels which were at 57% in the early 1990s have declined to 40% in 2005. The population growth rate declined from 2.5% in the 1980s to 1.5% more recently. The net primary enrollment in schools has increased from 55% in 1988 to 91% in 2007, with gender parity in primary and secondary student ratios. Infant mortality has declined from 145 per 1,000 live births in 1970 to 40 in 2007, with child mortality dropping from 239 per 1,000 in 1970 to 61 in 2007. Micro-finance reaches about 65% of the country?s poor, and the majority of these beneficiaries are women. Furthermore, the impacts of natural disasters have diminished due to better disaster response management.

However, what is commonly referred to as the "Bangladesh paradox," is not without a negative side - especially when viewed through a gender lens. Labor force participation of women is low by South Asian standards at about 26%. Domestic violence is common. One in two women experience physical violence in the home. Women?s property ownership is rare. Less than 10% of all women are named as owners of marital property. Maternal and neonatal mortality and malnutrition rates remain unacceptably high. Maternal mortality is about 320 per 100,000 live births, and neonatal deaths account for two-thirds of all infant deaths. An estimated 30% of adult Bangladeshi women are malnourished. Furthermore, in the last 30 years there has been a shift from a marriage regime of "bride price" to dowry, resulting in an increase in dowry-related violence against women.

Bangladesh is a young country at a unique political place in its history. Following nearly two years of control by the Caretaker Government, elections were held at the end of 2008. The electorate turned out en masse, including women who accounted for more than 50% of voters, demonstrating the people?s preference for a representative democratically-elected government. In 2009 the Awami League (AL) came into office with a strong mandate to implement its election promises, which included restoring women?s rights to inheritance through legal reform in family laws and to place women in key governance positions by enforcing the reservation of seats for women in Parliament, local government, and all levels of government service. The AL is pushing for the implementation of the proposed National Women?s Development Policy, which will establish gender equality at all levels of national life, and help to ensure the economic and political empowerment of women. The long-awaited Domestic Violence Act is about to be enacted by Parliament, and the Local Government Law has reserved seats for women to be directly elected. The government has also promoted women to the level of Secretary in ministries (the highest civil administrative position), including that of Foreign Affairs and Home Affairs, and appointed women Members of Parliament (MPs) as chairs and members of important Parliamentary Standing Committees. Furthermore, the AL is supporting the electoral reforms proposed by the Election Commission, including a revised voter list and provisions for national identity cards to each registered voter (50% of whom are women). These cards have given women a new identity, not as a daughter or wife (only), but as individual citizens who are part of a larger society.