USAID Plans to Spend Up to $6 Million To ‘Empower’ Women in Bangladesh

April 8, 2014 - 12:41 PM

Bangladeshi women

Bangladeshi women (UN Entity for Gender Equality & the Empowerment of Women)

(CNSNews.com) - The United States Agency for International Development (USAID) is planning to award a $5.5 to $6 million grant  to “increase the empowerment of women” in Bangladesh, which includes increasing their “community leadership,” “decision-making” and “time-management” skills and monitoring how they spend their free time. (See USAID Women's Empowerment.pdf)

The objective of the grant is to increase the empowerment of women in the Feed the Future (FTF) zone of influence in the Barisal and Khulna divisions, and four southern districts of the Dhaka division in the central part of the country over the course of three years, according to USAID.

The grant highlights gender equality problems in Bangladesh’s agricultural sector, where 45 percent of the nation’s population is employed, citing researchers from the International Food Policy Research Institute and the Oxford Poverty and Human Development Initiative:

“The WEAI (Women’s Empowerment in Agriculture Index) baseline results for Bangladesh show that only 33 percent of women in the FTF zone are empowered, while more than half do not have gender parity with the primary male in their household.”

“Weak leadership, lack of control over income and lack of control over resources are the main areas of women’s disempowerment. Hence, achieving gender equality remains a challenge and a goal for Bangladesh,” they conclude.

The grant announcement suggests a variety of activities that would promote Bangladeshi women’s empowerment.

For example, it says applicants should “address how to improve the community’s understanding of women’s rights,” adding that, “this may include sensitization sessions where men and other community members discuss topics such as women’s role in decision-making in agricultural production in their household.

“WEA (Women’s Empowerment Activity) interventions should allow women, who are typically the key preparers of food in the household, more of a say in what food crops are grown” the grant notice says.

The grant applicant is also expected to aid women in time management by monitoring the free time of those participating. “The applicant should also discuss how to monitor, in weekly or monthly meetings, how the group members are implementing their respective household schedule and how the extra time is being used by group members such as in leisure, socializing, etc.,” the USAID grant application explains.

“If decision-making by women in agricultural resources, production, and income use improves and they have increased leadership roles underpinned by balanced time management, then women will be empowered to actively participate in and benefit from economic growth and move towards gender parity,” the grant hypothesizes.

Grantees should also encourage Bangladeshi women to use a cell phone app for banking to make sure they retain control of the income they earn, the agency said.

“The applicant should propose a strategy to retain control of women-generated income in the hands of women. For example, interventions could include encouraging traders/market actors to pick up produce at the homestead to work around women’s mobility issues or to pay women directly (regardless of who delivers the product) via mobile phone banking systems. The applicant should also demonstrate innovative ways to increase women’s access to markets through increasing their mobility and access to market information,” the grant suggests.

Women comprise up to 80 percent of those working in Bangladesh’s ready-made garment industry – which accounted for 77.1 percent of its total exports in 2009-2010 - and many Bangladeshi women are members of local government councils.

Bangladeshi textile workers

Bangladeshi textile workers earn an average of 24 cents an hour. (AP photo)

The grant announcement recognizes that the government of Bangladesh has already made “major progress in closing the gender gap in school enrollments at both primary and secondary levels,” and has issued “a general statement of commitments to equality of women and men as evidenced by The National Women Development Policy, formulated in 2011.”

However, it notes that ”the broad challenges that remain are evident.”

“The United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) Human Development Report indicates that Bangladesh’s gender-related development Index (GDI) is lower than the human development index (HDI). The report also states that, out of the 155 countries with both HDI and GDI values, 100 countries have a better ratio than Bangladesh's index.”

When CNSNews.com asked USAID if this grant imposed standards of western feminism on Bangladesh and whether it was a responsible use of government funds,  USAID spokeswoman Lisa Hibbert-Simpson responded: “I apologize, but we have to decline your request at this time.”

The grant was announced on March 4th. The closing date for applications was originally April 8th but it has been extended to April 30th.