5: Child health and far-sighted gender policy
In a comment on the positive health results in Bangladesh, the well-known economist Amartya Sen emphasizes the importance of the country emphasizing the reduction of the gender gap . Sen emphasizes that the driving force lay in the policy pursued after the liberation in 1971. The issue of freedom, including the liberation of women, became part of a progress plan that related to what people wanted and was ready to fight for. The emergence of radical movements and the content of the struggle for independence, which focused specifically on the contrast with Pakistan, made it possible to formulate a policy that would strengthen the position of women.
Education policy gives particular priority to the education of girls. According to INSIDEWATCH.NET, Bangladesh is one of the few countries in the world where more girls than boys complete primary school Public services, such as health and education, also included a much higher proportion of female employees than has been and is the case in most developing countries. 4 million, mainly women, are now working in the textile industry, which is one of the most important sources of economic growth in Bangladesh.
Many will nevertheless argue that the growth of this industry is a sign of exploitation of the labor force of poor women rather than a real liberation of women. The industry is known for miserable working conditions both in terms of wages and safety in the workplace . Nevertheless, Sen claims that the most characteristic feature of the progress in Bangladesh is the political mobilization of women. This includes both political will and a targeted commitment to equalizing inequality between women and men. This political climate has made a positive contribution to achieving the fourth millennium goal – the goal of reducing child mortality by two thirds.
The importance of the mother’s education for children’s health has been a recurring theme in scientific studies of child health. Countless studies show better health and lower mortality in children the higher the mother’s education. This applies not only to children in developing countries, but also to Norwegian children . It is a universal context.
Despite significant progress in child mortality, not all health indicators in Bangladesh are positive. Reproductive health (maternal health – pregnancy-related mortality, the fifth millennium goal) and pregnancy control are uncommon. Much remains to be done if the goal of reduced maternal mortality is to be reached. Almost half of the children in Bangladesh are chronically malnourished. As many as 42 percent of children under the age of five in Bangladesh are young for their age. Even among children born to mothers with schooling, 30 percent of children remain malnourished. The figures underline how complicated child health is. They also show how child health and child mortality are also “structurally conditioned”, which means that they are affected by the conditions in society in general.
Malnutrition in children is often conditioned by conditions even an educated mother can do nothing about, such as widespread poverty, inadequate access to clean water and poor food security. An educated mother can also not do much if there is no present and competent health service. It is undoubtedly important and right to increase access to education and health services for girls and young women.
6: Avoid reinforcing locked patterns
However, there also seems to be some disturbing and vaguely worded assumptions underlying the argument for investing in women as a strategy to combat poverty and social exclusion. For the first there is an uncritical belief that women supposedly have an inherent ability to provide care, or that they can only work in the caring professions. Also in western countries, we see that women’s entry into the labor market largely goes to care and welfare jobs. Instead of dissolving this pattern and entrenched ideas about women and men’s work, they are rather reinforced.
For the second is global poverty deeply structurally contingent, which means that it is influenced by great inequality between countries in the “North” and “South”. Emphasizing such young women’s ability and responsibility to pull nations out of poverty does not take into account historical realities. It is therefore important to remember that as late as the beginning of the 20th century, more than 10 per cent of all children in Norway died during their first year of life, and 200 women per 100,000 live births died in childbirth.
In 1938, Norway had an infant mortality rate slightly higher than that of Bangladesh today (46 per 1,000). Our own history tells us that there are few rapid measures, and that mother-child health is associated with major societal changes of both an economic, political and social nature. The Bangladesh paradox emphasizes the importance of living conditions for child health and highlights the importance of political mobilization of women.