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Women receive UN recognition for innovative approach towards gender equality

To mark International Women’s Day 2019, the UN honored three Bangladeshi women who defied tradition, challenged gender stereotypes and social barriers put in front of them because they are women, and became a successful community activist, an entrepreneur and an employee in a non-traditional sector, empowering many others on the way.

Women receive UN recognition
Figure: Innovative Approach towards Gender Equality award winners with ILO, UNFPA, and UN Women country heads.

At an event hosted by the ILO, UN Women and UNFPA on 14 March 2019, Pushpa Khatun (19), Parvin Akhter (33) and Nasima Akhter (37) received a recognition award from the Country Heads of the respective UN agencies.

As a member of the UNFPA supported Nari Nirjaton Protirodh Committee and community activist in Bogra, Pushpa Khatun has stopped 13 child marriages, including her own, and provided support to eight victims of domestic violence.

Parvin Akthar was forced into early marriage when she was in school. But with training and seed funding from the UN, she was able to attract financing from a private bank against her business plan. She now runs a small textile factory which employs poor women and caters to Dhaka and UK based clients. She has introduced flexible work hours and a child care facility in her factory to ensure a women-friendly workplace and also provides sexual harassment training for all her workers.

Women face multiple challenges in attaining a quality education and in finding decent employment. The ILO, through its skills development program in Bangladesh, is creating opportunities for women.

Tuomo Poutiainen, Country Director of ILO Bangladesh

Another awardee, Nasima Akhter was an overseas worker who returned home and took a vocational course in electronics. Nasima is currently employed as a quality controller at an international appliance company. Her job as a technician is considered to be a non-traditional career for women, but it provides for her son’s education. Nasima says, “I felt lucky to have received skills training at an ‘older’ age. My dream is to be a supervisor in the production floor of this factory.”

31 million women in Bangladesh are not engaged in education, employment or training according to labor force data. Addressing this issue, Country Director of ILO Bangladesh, Tuomo Poutiainen said, “Women face multiple challenges in attaining a quality education and in finding decent employment. The ILO, through its skills development program in Bangladesh, is creating opportunities for women of all ages to access vocational education and training and find job placement.”

“We have to create an environment where women can thrive as entrepreneurs by removing structural barriers such as gender-bias that banks have towards financing women’s businesses and increasing government investment in women-friendly public services such as childcare that would free up women’s time.”, said Shoko Ishikawa, Country Representative, UN Women.

Speaking at the event, UNFPA Representative Dr. Asa Torkelsson said, “Clearly, women’s access to reproductive health has been a game changer for women’s economic empowerment across the world, and in Bangladesh too. In order to increase women’s access to sexual and reproductive health (SRHR), UNFPA Bangladesh has substantially contributed to the development of Midwifery education in Bangladesh and deployed 1200 Midwives in 350 Upazila Health Complexes.”

This year’s joint UN event to mark International Women’s Day reflects the spirit of the UN reform agenda, ILO’s 100 years celebration, 50 years of the UNFPA and UN Women’s continued mandate to advance women’s rights and opportunities.

Government officials, diplomats and representatives from UN agencies, development partners, civil society, the private sector, employers’ and workers’ organizations attended the program which started with a panel discussion followed by a cultural program.

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