Empowered women take better decisions and make better life choices for themselves and their families. They also help to reverse traditional societal gender-based injustice. Seeking healthcare proactively or participation in decision making on issues related to them and their family is an important indicator of women’s empowerment. And, improving healthcare access for girls and women is one of the targets within the UN Sustainable Development Goals – gender equality and empowerment of all women and girls – adopted in 2015.
A recent study published in South East Asia Journal of Public Health available online on Bangladesh Journals Online, supported by INASP, analyses women’s empowerment in Bangladesh in terms of health-seeking behaviour.
The study conducted by Md. Nazmul Hasan and Prof. M Sheikh Giash Uddin of Jagannath University in Dhaka, Bangladesh has found an improving trend in women’s empowerment, particularly in terms of health-related decision making.
According to the article, about two-thirds of the Bangladeshi women took their and their children’s healthcare decisions alone or jointly with their husbands. The analysis was done based on the data of Bangladesh Demographic and Health Survey (BDHS) 2011.
“It is very pleasing that the condition of women, their health seeking behavior and access to health has undergone a paradigm shift over the past few decades,” said Dr Md. Anwarul Azim Majumder, Executive Editor of the journal.
This is a growth compared to another study in 2007 conducted by Bangladesh’s National Institute of Population Research and Training (NIPORT), which showed that 55.8% women made their own healthcare decisions and 64% made decisions about their children’s healthcare.
The study titled ‘Women empowerment through health seeking behaviour in Bangladesh: Evidence from a national survey’ found that women’s age, education, their husband’s education, urban or rural domicile, working status and affiliation to non-governmental organizations (NGOs) had a significant impact on women’s empowerment.
Women aged 30-39 were more than twice as likely to seek their own healthcare and three and a half times more likely to seek children’s healthcare compared with women younger than 25 years of age.
“Education plays a role in women’s empowerment. These days, more women are being educated. The female: male ratio in schools and colleges is increasing,” explained Dr Majumder. “As a result, more women can be seen in the workplace these days. They get salaries and contribute to the family. They can take decisions in their own and family matters.”
According to Dr Majumder, “the present generation is far ahead in education compared to the older generation. If I take my own example, my grandmother and aunts were not educated, but all my female cousins have graduate degrees.”
While there is still a lot that needs to be done in some areas of public health such as efficient communication, Dr Majumder credited the improvement in public health in the recent years to government programs and non-governmental and private sector programs that include awareness raising, promotional campaigns and health camps.
He said, “the government has also carried out many awareness-raising programs for girls in towns and villages. Many health indicators have improved over the years.”