Bangladesh is ranked 63rd out of 86 in the 2012 Social Institutions and Gender Index. The country was ranked 90th out of 102 in the 2009 Social Institutions and Gender Index.

The 2011 UNDP Human Development Index (HDI) score for the country is 0.500, placing it in 146th place (out of 187 countries). The Gender Inequality Index score is 0.550. Bangladesh’s World Economic Forum Global Gender Gap Index rating for 2011 is 0.6812, placing it in 69th place (out of a total of 135 countries).

Discriminatory Family Code: 

Bangladesh has outlawed early marriage and has raised the minimum age for legal marriage to 18 years for women and 21 for men. In addition, acts passed in 2004 and 2005 now make it a legal requirement to register marriages and births, with two years imprisonment the ultimate penalty for failure a marriage.[1]

United Nations data estimates that 48 per cent of all girls between 15 and 19 years of age were married, divorced or widowed.[2] Elsewhere, UNICEF found that 33 percent of women between 15 and 49 were married before their 15th birthday, while the 2007 Demographic and Health Survey (DHS) found that 78 percent of women between 20 and 49 years of age were married before age 18.[3] 

A 2007 Pew Global Attitudes Survey found that popular attitudes limit women’s autonomy in regard to marriage:  the survey revealed that only 12 percent of respondents believed that it was better for a woman to choose her own husband. Three times as many believed that it should be up to her family, while a majority believed that the woman and her family should decide together.[4]  Dowry payment is illegal, but occurs frequently.[5]

Polygamy is legal in Bangladesh, but many consider the practice to be out-dated and the practice is highly discouraged.[6]A 2002 World Values Survey found that nearly 83 percent of respondents either disagreed or disagreed strongly with the statement, “It is acceptable for a man to have more than one wife.”[7]

Islamic law regards women as “custodians” but not legal guardians of their children. In the event of divorce, women can retain custody of sons until age seven and daughters until puberty. If a father dies, his children may be taken away by his family. Hindu law also views fathers as the natural, legal guardians of children.[8] Women’s rights to divorce are limited under Islamic law.[9]  Perhaps for this reason, more than 87 percent of Bangladeshi women believe that divorce is never justifiable.[10]  According to the 2010 CEDAW report, divorced and widowed women are more likely to be living below the poverty line than married or never-married women.[11]

According to Islamic law, daughters inherit half as much as sons. In the absence of a son, daughters can inherit only after the settling of all debts and other obligations. In principle, wives are entitled to half of the assets of a deceased husband. Under Hindu law, a widow (or all widows in the case of a polygamous marriage) inherits the same share as a son. For Christians, the Succession Act of 1925 provides for equal inheritance between sons and daughters.[12] Note that at the time of drafting the government had introduced a National Women Development Policy (2011), which is set to provide equal inheritance rights for women, but it is unclear how this policy will be implemented without contradicting existing laws.[13]

[1] Birth and Death Registration Act, 2004 and Muslim Marriages and Divorces (Registration Amendment) Rules, 2005 in CEDAW (2010), p.27.  It is unclear whether these laws are being implemented effectively. [2] UN (2004), p. 24; UN (2008) [3] United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) et al., (2006), Table CP.4; National Institute of Population Research and Training (NIPORT), Mitra and Associates, and Macro International (2009) , Table 6.3. [4] Pew Research Center (2007), Question Q.44. [5] CEDAW (2010), p.9 [6] US Department of State (2010). [7] WVS (2002), Question D076. [8] CEDAW (1997), p. 81; CEDAW (2003), p. 41-42. [9] Freedom House (2010) [10] WVS (2002), Question F121. [11] CEDAW (2010), p.17 [12] MoWCA (2009), pp. 102-103; Japanese International Cooperation Agency (JICA) (2007), pp. 36-37; Steinzor (2003), p. 8. [13] Engendering Democracy (2011)

Restricted Physical Integrity: 

Rape and sexual harassment are criminal offences under the Prevention of Cruelty Against Women and Children Act, adopted in 2000, which establishes the death penalty for those found guilty of rape charges.[14] However, these laws have proven difficult to enforce, especially in rural areas.[15]  According to the US Department of State human rights report for 2011, police often fail to adequately investigate reports of rape, or allow perpetrators to be freed after the payment of a fine.[16]  In addition, under the law, rape victims must file police reports and obtain medical certificates within 24 hours of the crime in order to press charges; this prevents most rape cases from reaching the courts.[17]

The Domestic Violence (Prevention and Protection) Act became law in 2010.[18]  According to the 2011 report to the CEDAW committee, the new law will enable the granting of temporary and permanent protection orders, and the imprisonment of abusers.[19] 

According to a 2007 survey, more than half of ever-married women reported experiencing some form of physical or sexual violence in their marriages.[20]Women themselves are likely to report acceptance of domestic violence. According to data collected for the 2007 DHS, more than one-third of women believe that a husband is justified in beating his wife. Acceptance is highest among married women age 15-19, while women who are wealthier or live in urban areas are most likely to believe that domestic violence is never justified.[21]Further, just one quarter of women who experienced domestic violence reported telling someone about it.[22] Dowry-related domestic violence is also considered to be widespread, with cases of women suffering beatings and even death at the hands of their husbands when their natal families have refused or failed to make dowry payments.[23]  According to the 2010 CEDAW report, there were 4487 cases of dowry-related violence reported in 2008.[24]  A World Bank Survey on Gender Norms also reported in the CEDAW report found that women were more likely to experience domestic violence in cases where their family had agreed to pay a dowry.[25]

Gender-based violence outside the home includes sexual harassment in the workplace and in public spaces (known as ‘eve teasing’), assaults and rape. There are also reports of women accused of sexual misconduct (in the eyes of their accusers) suffering physical and mental violence as the targets of vigilantism, including social exclusion, whippings, and hilla, or forced marriage; according to the US Department of State, these have sometimes been at the instigation of local level religious leaders.[26]Acid attacks – where acid is thrown at the face, usually causing permanent disfigurement – are also reported, and are usually undertaken as an act of revenge by a rejected suitor, following accusations of spousal infidelity, or in response to land disputes (in which cases acid has been used to attack men as well as women).[27]  They were specifically criminalised under the 2002 Acid Crime Control Law, and since then, prevalence rates have begun to decrease.[28]

Abortion is only legal to save the pregnant woman’s life.[29]  According to the US Department of State, information about contraception is freely available, but cost and illiteracy often limits access.[30]  Knowledge of contraceptives in Bangladesh is widespread. According to the 2007 DHS, contraceptive knowledge among ever-married and currently married women is nearly universal.[31]Contraceptive usage is also high, with 80 percent of women interviewed for the DHS reporting that they had used a modern method at some point as a form of family planning.[32]These numbers represent a five-fold increase in the use of modern methods of contraception over the past three decades. These high prevalence rates are related to the government’s social marketing program, which distributes many forms of contraceptives through a network of retail outlets, including a government-supplied brand that is distributed for free or for a nominal charge.[33] More than half of women surveyed in the 2007 DHS received their contraceptives from a public-sector source, although the private sector is gaining ground.[34] Bangladesh has integrated contraceptive distribution into its Rural Services Delivery Program, including IUD insertion.[35]

[14] US Department of State (2011); CEDAW (2010), p.28 [15] CEDAW (2003), pp. 16, 19-21. [16] US Department of State (2011) [17] Freedom House (2010) [18] CEDAW (2011), p.6 [19] CEDAW (2011), p.6 [20] NIPORT et al (2009), Table 14.1 [21] NIPORT et al (2009) Table 13.6.1. [22] NIPORT et al (2009) Table 14.9 [23] US Department of State (2011); CEDAW (2010), p.89 [24] CEDAW (2010), p.89 [25] CEDAW (2010), p.89-90 [26] US Department of State (2011) [27] CEDAW (2010), p.90 [28] CEDAW (2010), pp.28, 89; Freedom House (2010) [29] UN (2011) [30] US Department of State (2011) [31] NIPORT (2009), Table 5.1 [32] NIPORT et al (2009), Table 5.3. [33] NIPORT et al (2009), p. 65. [34] NIPORT et al (2009), Table 5.12.  [35] MoWCA (2009), p. 69.

Son Bias: 

According to data from the 2007 DHS, rates of vaccination are very high in Bangladesh:  82.5% of girls and 81.2% of boys under the age of two included in the survey had had all their basic vaccinations.[36]  Rates of malnutrition were slightly higher for boys than for girls, as were under-five mortality rates.[37]  Overall, this would not indicate bias towards sons in regard to early childhood care.

According to the Multi Cluster Indicator Survey for Bangladesh for 2006, 3.8% of girls aged 5-14 were undertaking more than 28 hours of domestic labour within the home, compared to 0.9% of boys, indicating preferential treatment towards sons in regard to the allocation of household chores.[38]

Of women aged 20-24 interviewed for the 2007 DHS, 15.4% had received no education at all, while 15.6% had completed secondary school or gone on to tertiary-level education.[39]  For men in that age bracket, 25.1% had received no education, while 14.7% had completed secondary school or gone on to tertiary-level education.  This would indicate some preference towards educating daughters over sons.

The male/female sex ratio for the total population in 2012 is 0.95.[40]  Elevated sex ratios at birth and in juvenile age groups indicate that Bangladesh is a country of concern for missing women although there has been improvement in recent years.

[36] NIPORT et al (2009), Table 10.2   [37] NIPORT et al (2009), Tables 8.3 and 11.1 [38] UNICEF et al (2007), Table CP.2  [39] NIPORT et al (2009), Tables 3.2.1 and 3.2.2 [40] Central Intelligence Agency (2012)

Restricted Resources and Entitlements: 

It is unclear what women’s legal rights are to own and manage land and property other than land in Bangladesh.  Despite their growing role in agriculture, social practices effectively exclude women from direct access to land.[41] It is customary for a woman not to claim her share of the family property unless it is given willingly. Women often surrender their right to property in exchange for the right to visit their parental home and seek their brothers’ assistance in cases of marital conflict.[42] Households headed by women, which make up almost 30 percent of the total in the country’s eastern provinces, are more likely to suffer extreme forms of poverty and landlessness.[43]

In Bangladesh, women’s access to bank loans and other forms of credit is limited. Most women lack the collateral to receive loans from banks. Low literacy rates also hamper women’s access to the formal financial sector. [44] In addition, just 30.5 percent of currently married women who earned a living interviewed for the 2007 DHS reported having sole decision-making power over how that money was used.[45] Nearly 12 percent reported that their husband had sole power.[46]In recent years micro-credit programs operated by the government, NGOs, and the Grameen Bank have substantially increased the number of women employed outside the household in self-employed entrepreneurships, and also in manual labour and manufacturing.[47] However, 43 percent of women are still employed in agriculture, the vast majority as unpaid family labour.[48]

[41] JICA (2007), p. 6. [42] Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) et al. (2004), p. 42 [43] JICA (2007), pp. 39-40. [44] MoWCA (2009), p. 103. [45] NIPORT et al (2009), Table 13.2. [46] NIPORT et al (2009), Table 13.2. [47] See Cotula (2002[2007), pp.138-139 [48] JICA (2007), pp. 42-43.

Restricted Civil Liberties: 

There are no reported legal restrictions on women’s freedom of access to public space, however in 2010 the government reported that in practice, women’s movement is commonly limited to their homes and local areas due to discriminatory social norms.[49]

The situation in regard to freedom of speech, assembly, and association has recently improved, with the lifting of the Emergency Powers Rules in 2008.[50]  The 2010 CEDAW report notes that the media are active in challenging gender stereotypes, and raising issues that they feel are relevant to women.[51]  There appears to be an active and vocal women’s rights movement in Bangladesh, operating particularly in the areas of gender-based violence prevention and support to victims, and providing microcredit and other forms of support to disadvantaged women.[52]

With respect to political participation, there are 64 women in Bangladesh’s 345-seat Parliament as of November 2009.[53] The constitution mandates that 45 of those seats are reserved for women. In 1997, one-third of the local Government seats of members were reserved for women.[54] These female representatives are nominated by their political parties and are allocated via the proportional representation of the parties in the other 300 seats.[55] According to a 2002 World Values Survey, 62.1 percent of Bangladeshis agree or agree strongly with the statement, “On the whole, men make better political leaders than women do, while 29.5 percent disagreed.[56] However a 2007 Pew survey found the number that preferred men reduced to 52 percent, with 41 percent believing that men and women were equally qualified.[57] Despite this some of the highest-ranking elected and appointed leader in politics, including the previous Prime Minister, have been women.[58]

The Bangladesh Labour Act of 2006 increased the amount of employer-funded paid maternity leave to sixteen weeks.[59]  Attitudes towards working women are mixed in Bangladesh. In a 2002 survey, 59.5 percent agreed or agreed strongly with the statement, “A working mother can establish just as warm and secure a relationship with her children as a mother who does not work.” However, 36.9 percent disagreed.[60]Further, 46.2 percent disagreed with the statement “Being a housewife is just as fulfilling as working for pay,” although this number had dropped more than 10 percent since 1996.[61] 68.2 percent of Bangladeshis (and 57.8 percent of women) also believe that women should give up their jobs to men in tough economic times when jobs are scarce, although more than 86 percent believe that both men and women should contribute to household income.[62]

[49] CEDAW (2010), p.17 [50] Freedom House (2010) [51] CEDAW (2010), p.57 [52] See CEDAW (2010); US Department of State (2011) [53] Inter-Parliamentary Union (IPU) (2009) [54] CEDAW (2010) [55] US Department of State (2010) [56] WVS (2002), Question D059. [57] Pew (2007), Question Q.43. [58] MoWCA (2009), pp. 63-64; CIA (2011) [59] MoWCA (2009), pp. 38-39; International Labour Organization (ILO) (2009) [60] WVS (2002), Question Do56; World Bank (2009),  Indicator 4.4. [61] WVS (2002), Question D057; World Values Survey (1996), Selected Country/Sample: Bangladesh, Question D057. [62] WVS (2002), Question C001; World Bank (2009), Indicator 4.5; WVS (2002), Question D058.


Formerly East Pakistan, Bangladesh came into being as an independent country in 1971, following a violent struggle between the two parts of Pakistan.[63]  The country was ruled by a military government for 15 years up to 1990, when democratic elections were held.[64]  Bangladesh is one of the world’s most densely populated countries, with high rates of poverty and outmigration, as people leave to seek work abroad, often in dangerous and exploitative conditions.[65]  Conditions for many of those living in poverty – particularly in agricultural areas – are exacerbated by the country’s vulnerability to floods and cyclones.[66]  Bangladesh is classed as a low-income country by the World Bank.[67]

Bangladesh has made significant gains in the area of gender equality in recent years. On the legislative front, the government has introduced significant reforms including legislation on violence against women, equal pay and maternity leave entitlements and parliamentary quotas.[68]Further in 2011, the government adopted the long awaited National Women Development Policy which, when enacted through legislative reform, aims to secure women’s rights in a range of areas.[69]Bangladesh has been impressive gains with respect to gender equality in education: from 2004 to 2007 the female literacy rate increased from 46% to 54%.[70] Despite recent progress however, gender gaps remain in employment.[71]

The Constitution affirms gender equality.[72] Bangladesh ratified the Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) in 1984, and the Optional Protocol in 2000.[73]

[63] BBC (n.d.) [64] BBC (n.d.) [65] BBC (n.d.) [66] BBC (n.d.); CIA (2011) [67] World Bank (n.d.) [68] CEDAW (2010) [69] Engendering Democracy (2011) [70] CEDAW (2010) [71] World Economic Forum (2011); CEDAW (2010) [72] Articles 27-29 of the 1971 Constitution of Bangladesh in Ministry of Women’s and Children’s Affairs (MoWCA) (2009), p. 8. [73] UNTC (2011)


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CEDAW (2003), Consideration of Reports Submitted by States Parties Under Article 18 of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women: Bangladesh, Fifth Periodic Report of States Parties, CEDAW/C/BGD/5, CEDAW, New York, NY.

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Central Intelligence Agency (2012) The World Factbook: Sex Ratio, available at, accessed 29 February 2012.Cotula, L. for the FAO (Food and Agriculture Organization) Legal Office (2002 [2007]), Gender and Law: Women’s Rights in Agriculture, FAO Legislative Study No. 76, 2002 (revised 2007), Rome.  Available at

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Discrim. Fam. Code Rank 2012: 
Discrim. Fam. Code Value 2012: 
Legal Age of Marriage: 
Early Marriage: 
Parental Authority: 
Rest. Phys. Integrity Rank 2012: 
Rest. Phys. Integrity Value 2012: 
Violence Against Women (laws): 
Female Genital Mutilation: 
Reproductive Integrity: 
Attitudes Towards Domestic Violence: 
Prevalance Of Domestic Violence: 
Son Bias Rank 2012: 
Son Bias Value 2012: 
Missing Women: 
Fertility Preferences: 
Rest. Resources & Ent. Rank 2012: 
Rest. Resources & Ent. Value 2012: 
Access To Land: 
Access To Property Other Than Land: 
Access To Bank Loans And Credit: 
Rest. Civil Liberties Rank 2012: 
Rest. Civil Liberties Value 2012: 
Access To Public Space: 
Political Participation: 
Political Quotas: