Saima Wazed Hossain has said ensuring that women are protected during this global crisis needs a solution which is based significantly on an understanding of the culture where the woman belongs; and importantly that the biased social and economic structure ensures they are impacted even more adversely.
"In order to effectively address the issue we need to be willing to take the ‘bull by the horn’ i.e. rather than reaching for the lowest hanging fruit, work at solutions that are mindful of its impact to all including women, and the diverse communities that make our country," said Saima, the Advisor to the Director General of WHO on Autism and Mental Health.
In her recent article, she said they need to acknowledge that they have not sufficiently delved into legal, social and economic protections that are necessary.
Despite many female political leaders, the everyday woman still suffers in silence because she does not have the voice or the agency to speak her mind or pursue her dreams independently, said Saima, also Member of WHO’s Expert Advisory Panel on Mental Health.
"Addressing these issues become even more important when we are faced with a global pandemic, making this gap starkly apparent. In the past few months, women across the globe have been victims of a rising number of domestic violence situations, which have escalated. In addition, women who hitherto worked in the informal sector, have been left particularly vulnerable; essentially unaccounted for and unsupported, significantly impacting their financial and emotional well-being."
Saima said the issue of women’s rights, feminism and gender is complex and ongoing in most countries including Bangladesh.
"When I was asked to write about impact of COVID-19 on women and girls, I found myself drawn towards writing about women’s situation in general as that automatically impacts COVID-19 response as well. Since I am a woman who has been a part of many different cultures, yet a Bangali at heart, I am not only a survivor within its ranks but also responsible for being a part of the solution to the problems we face."
In his chronicles as a young adult, Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, the Founding Father of Bangladesh, wrote about the need for equal rights for men and women.
He stayed true to his vision by giving them equal voice in the political process of the country as an equal citizen. As a President he went to tremendous lengths to rehabilitate and support the survivors of the genocide committed by the Pakistani military on Bengali civilians in 1971.
'One- size-fits-all solution won't work'
"Since independence, much progress has been made to ensure that women from childhood have every opportunity to participate in educational and economic opportunities in the country," said Saima.
"We not only have a woman as the Head of Government, but women holding positions in the justice system, as Speaker of the House of Parliament, as ministers, in academia, armed forces, and the corporate sector, among others. New laws addressing age of marriage, gender violence, domestic abuse and others have also been adopted," she added.
Saima said cornerstones of the transition of the role of women in Bangladesh are the growth in the RMG (ready-made garments) sector, and the opportunities created by small cottage industries.
In the 1980’s, Bangladeshi society experienced a major shift due to the demand by the growing RMG sector for large number of cheap labor who would work under practically any circumstances.
Despite the many questionable labour practices and human rights issues, for the young women living in abject poverty and treated as a burden on their families, it was an opportunity for financial freedom, and to be valued within their families.
Up until that time, the only other income opportunity for women with minimal education was domestic work.
The same time that women began to be employed in the RMG sector, women were simultaneously also making incremental earnings through small cottage industries.
"Looking at these notable and impactful changes, it is undeniable that the most significant reason behind Bangladesh’s dramatic economic development is the role and function women have played, be it as a leader or as a daily wage earner," Saima said.
Nevertheless, she said, the question remains, has economic participation, opportunities for education, and employment truly impacted how women are treated in society on a daily basis?
The societal imbalance that exists between "men, women, and those we identify as third gender in Bangladesh, are in almost every country but manifests themselves differently," she said.
"Thus, a one- size-fits-all solution does not work because of this very reason. The Covid 19 pandemic we are all trying to survive, demonstrates that no issue or solution is as simple as it appears."