Bangladesh: Women emerge from poverty

Baby Parveen’s grocery store brings in more than USD10 in profits for the family every day. Photo Nader Rahman/UNDP in Bangladesh
Baby Parveen’s grocery store brings in more than USD10 in profits for the family every day. Photo Nader Rahman/UNDP in Bangladesh

On her 18th birthday Mussamat Baby Parveen wed the man her parents had chosen for her. By her 19th birthday she was pregnant and had run away from her husband’s home. His drug addiction had spiraled out of control, he was beating her, and she worried he would eventually kill both mother and child, she explained.

Parveen moved back in with her father, but three weeks after her daughter was born he died.

Highlights

  • Less than a third of Bangladeshi live below the national poverty line, a reduction attained in as little as a decade.
  • Women, whether the four million working in the thriving textiles export industry or those with micro businesses such as backyard poultries and vegetable patches, are at the heart of this success.
  • Thanks to a UNDP cash-for-work programme for poor rural women, 91 percent of the children of participating women now attend school, compared to a previous 57 percent.

“I begged and borrowed from everyone I knew and somehow managed to feed my child with whatever came my way,” says Parveen, who is now 24.  With mounting debts she lied about her skills to get a job that paid more at a textiles factory.

“I was scared they would fire me. I didn’t know how to operate the machine,” she says, “but I had no other option.”

And then, the day before she was to join her new workplace, Parveen’s name came up in a lottery for participation in a UNDP cash-for-work programme for destitute rural women. She was one of 24,000 women selected to repair roads in villages across Bangladesh in exchange for daily wages and job training.

“That day changed my life,” says Parveen, sitting in the roadside shanty that is her store.

With the money she earned, Parveen made some smart investments.

“I started saving every week and in two years I had enough money to buy some land which I leased out to sharecroppers. I also managed to buy a cow and a goat, and I reared them, and sold them for a profit,” she says.

In two years’ time, Baby had enough money to set up a grocery store in her village, earning her a steady income of more than US$10 a day. In fact, 96 percent of participating women invested in small businesses, with two third making capital gains and 81 percent able to regularly feed their families on a daily basis. The UNDP programme has resulted in 17.9 million workdays in total, leading to road repairs for 25,000 kilometres of road that connect local communities to vital services such as schools, markets and hospitals.

The latest Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) Progress Report indicates that less than a third of people in Bangladesh now live below the national poverty line, a reduction attained in as little as a decade. New research has shown that women have been the centerpiece of this impressive human development turnaround. As women emerge from endemic poverty, they prioritise their children’s education and nutrition over most other spending.

“Bangladesh’s poverty reduction is an achievement on a massive scale – that no one would have believed was possible ten years ago,” says economist Qazi Kholiquzzaman Ahmad. “Successive governments have focused on creating employment and growth in the rural economy; and the participation of women in the labor force through opportunities created by the Government as well as non-governmental organizations has been an important element of this success.”

UNDP's Annual Report
Supporting Global Progress

UNDP has decades of concrete development experience in countries ranging from fragile States to middle-income countries like Brazil and Indonesia. This, combined with our four focus areas, make us uniquely situated and qualified to answer the UN’s call for a better and more sustainable future.

View all Annual Reports
Follow us on