Thesis on Socio-Economic Issues Contributing To the Empowerment of Indigenous Women

Socio-economic issues are the determining factors for the development of individuals. The development of individuals can be perceived by understanding their socio-economic profile. In this study, the socio-economic profile of indigenous women was very poor and they had minimum access to all the factors of development. Education, income, health, water and sanitation etc were poorly perceived by them. Consequently, most of the indigenous women were illiterate, poor, unhealthy and highly traditional. More than half of the indigenous women didn't have education, proper income sources, health facilities, water management and modern health services. 

Large numbers of women depended on natural sources like spring, well, rain and so on for their drinking water and on the other hand, for want of modern health facilities, they were compelled to treat themselves from local kabiraj and customary health providers. Besides, the indigenous women were out of the decision making procedure in their family and community. Sometimes they were affected by violence in family and community. In this way, the indigenous women were deprived in their home and community. Though some of the indicators empowerment was gradually developing, the rate of development was very poor. So, women lived in a poor standard of lives in indigenous community. Due to the poor socio-economic profile, the empowerment of indigenous women is a matter of discourse among the national and international agencies. The study has focused on the socio-economic issues of indigenous women. At the same time, with various analytical tests, has tried to find out the reasons behind their un-empowerment. It found that without the development of education, income, modern health services, water managements and sanitation, the actual empowerment of indigenous women is difficult to achieve. 

The study is about the socio-economic issues contributing to the empowerment of indigenous women of Bandarban district sadar upazila. It was conducted on four indigenous communities named Marma, Bawm, Tripura and Mru/Mro. The study has examined their socio-economic conditions and types of development which led them to the empowerment. To explain the empowerment of indigenous women, feminists’ theories were used especially liberal feminism. Among the feminists’ theories, Wollstonecraft’s equal education, Mill and Taylor’s equal economic right and political opportunity (Liberalism) and social class oppression (Marxian feminism) were highly concentrated to the issue of empowerment of indigenous women. The study focused on education, income, health, sanitation, water, decision making rights, violence and other issues of the four communities’ indigenous women which contributed to their empowerment. 

In the world of patriarchy, women are taught as the second sex (Simone De Beauvoir, 1989) and they are the most disadvantaged group in the world regarding education, income, occupation, health, sanitation and so on. Still we find the news of oppression of women all over the world. It is very much crucial to say that Indigenous women are very much victim of that deprivation and they are being deprived three times more than their male counter partners in the world. The indigenous women are being deprived as the member of patriarchal society, as women and as Indigenous women. It is found that in the postmodern era, indigenous women are violated, raped, discriminated and oppressed. As far as the technology develops, the degree of the indigenous women’s oppression is being intensified and taking new form. But in reality, it is not possible to stop without the development of socio-economic status of indigenous women. There is a strong correlation between socio-economic development and indigenous women empowerment. To stop discrimination, inequality, violation and oppression against indigenous women, it is necessary to ensure first the socio-economic development of indigenous women. Indigenous women’s empowerment can be the solution to stop this inequality. To ensure the empowerment, we have to ensure the socio-economic development of them.

According to the Beijing declaration (1995), it is said that women or indigenous women are like earth and we have to ensure of the development of them in the world. But in reality, it is not happening. For example, education is the principal capital of human civilization and indigenous women are not getting proper education. In Australia, it is showed (Ross and Taylor, 2010:10) that the education level of indigenous women is lower than their non-indigenous counter partners and the dropout rate from primary school is also higher among the indigenous women. From the 1991 Census and the 1994 National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Survey (ABS) and Centre for Aboriginal Economic Policy Research (CAEPR) (1996; Daly 1995; Hunter 1996), it is found that the rate of school attendance among the indigenous female children is lower than non-indigenous in Australia. From the Yukon Women’s Directorate of Canada published report (2009: 250), it is found that indigenous women are more backdated than the non-indigenous women. The rate of education among the indigenous women is lower (48%) than that of the non-indigenous women (58%) in Canada. Inchauste (2009:16) said education level of indigenous women and non- indigenous is not equal in Bolivia. He talked about education in a paper (IMF, 2009) prepared for Bolivia and he showed that the rate of education among indigenous women is 20 percent and on the other hand, the rate of education among non-indigenous women is about 70 percent. Thus we find a great disparity regarding education of indigenous women all over the world.

In Bangladesh, indigenous women’s education level is at the marginal. For language barrier, social exclusion, poverty, unavailability and far distance of educational institution, lack of indigenous friendly environment, remoteness of the residence and lack of educational materials, the education rate of them is very poor. The menthol to education of indigenous people is still very low. It is found that overall net enrolment rate of is 44. 49% (Biawas, 2008) among the Indigenous of plain lands which far behind the national rate of around 87 %. The indigenous enrolment is still very low than the national average. From the baseline survey (CHTDF, 2009) on Chittagong Hill Tracts (CHT), it is found that the rate of education among the indigenous women is about 54 percent and highest rate is found among Lusai (77%) having at least one class and lowest rate is found among Khumi (14%). About 77% of the female heads have no education. While 11% have attended but did not complete primary level education, 4% have completed primary level education. About 1% has attended secondary level class and 7% have completed secondary level education.

Another important issue for the development of indigenous women is economic solvency. Economy is the root of all development. Without economic development, it is not possible to ensure a happy and comfortable life for them. For being stayed in a very remote or deep forest or improper area, they always remain economically poor and disadvantaged. But in the twentieth first century with the development of science, information and technology, indigenous people come to light as a matter of discourse but still lead a poor and unhappy life. Indigenous people comprise 5% of the world's population, yet they account for 15% of the world’s poor (Anaquot et al, 2008: 17). In addition, Indigenous peoples account for approximately one-third of the world's extremely poor rural dwellers. Thus, there is a very strong correlation between indigenous people and poverty. From various sources, it is found that indigenous women are the most vulnerable and poor. For example, in Mexico, some 13% of the population –or over 13 million people- are indigenous. Roughly 50% of the total Mexican population lives below the poverty line, but in 2009 the National Council for the Evaluation of Social Policy showed that 75% of indigenous people suffered from poverty and 40% from extreme poverty (cited in IGWIA 2010: 85) and in Guatemala, almost three-quarters of indigenous people in Guatemala live in poverty, as compared with 41 percent for non-indigenous. The indigenous people of Ecuador live extreme poverty line and in 1998 some 87% of all indigenous people lived in poverty, and 96% of all indigenous people in the rural sierra. Extreme poverty affected 56% of all indigenous people and 71% of those living in the rural sierra (PatriƱos and Hall 2004). In Peru, it is showed (2004) that indigenous households made up 43% of all households below the poverty line and 52% of all household in extreme poverty (Patrinos and Hall 2006:1). In Chile, figures for 2006 show that of the 6.6% of the population that identifies itself as indigenous, 19% live below the poverty line, compared with 13.7% of the non-indigenous population (IGWIA 2010: 253).

In Bangladesh, the indigenous women are victim of economic, political and social deprivation. Due to the loss of customary lands in the plains and CHT, it has been found that indigenous women are increasingly shifting from traditional occupation to wage labor on farm and non- farm sectors. Approximately, more than 20, 000 indigenous women are working in garments sector in both Dhaka and Chittagong cities and living a difficult live to manage their daily necessities. The garments owners pay them very poor though they work as same as non- indigenous women (Halim, 2008). From the baseline survey, it is found that more than half of indigenous women live under poverty line in CHT (CHTDF, 2009).

Health is the root of all happiness and it helps to make a sound body and mind. But the health facilities provided for the indigenous women is not sufficient and most of time they suffer an unhealthy lives. In every county of the world like America, Canada, Australia, South- America, Africa and Asia, the Indigenous people live their lives with improper health facilities. Indigenous peoples’ lack of access to adequate health care manifests itself in a variety of ways. There are practical obstacles (UN, 2009) such as geographical distance or seasonal isolation, lack of hospitals, visiting doctors, medicines and treatment and so on, are responsible for the unhealthiness of indigenous women. In the Americans, for example, 40% of Indigenous peoples lack access to orthodox health care services and 80% rely on traditional healers as their primary health care provider. Among the scheduled tribes or adivasis of India, mortality, morbidity and malnutrition rates remain particularly high when compared to the Indian population at large ((Muhankumar, 2009). United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA, 2005) showed that in Panama of Latin America, the maternal mortality rate in rural areas including indigenous was estimated in 2000 to be 90 per 100,000 live births compared with 30 per 100,000 live births in urban areas. In Australia (2005), for direct maternal deaths, the ratio for Indigenous women was 7.2 per 100, 000 compared with 3.6 per 100,000 for non- Indigenous women (Burns, 2010).

In Bangladesh, the health for indigenous women is not sufficient. For being illiterate and living at the remote area, it is not possible to ensure proper health service for indigenous women. For example, in CHT, the health services provided by government and other NGOs, can’t reach to them for remoteness and insufficient communication. For this reason, it is seen that, the indigenous women of CHT don’t get the proper health services and remain unhealthy. The Baseline survey report (2009) on CHT showed that among the Maternal Health Care issues, the highest knowledge found among them is on the issue of ‘ANC checkup’ (34%). The use of CRP is tolerable and it is about 54% of CHT women, compared to the national CRP for any method is 55.8% and 47.5% for any modern method (NIPORT, 2007).

The other socio-economic issues like sanitation, water, food and so on are not sufficient among the indigenous women of Bangladesh. Empowerment of indigenous women is not possible unless the socio-economic development is not ensured. But in CHT, after the 1997 accord, the rape and abduction have increased tremendously and they don’t feel safe in the local area. To make the gender equality, it is necessary to empower the indigenous women. Such development process calls for institutionalizing agency role of women in the whole process of development. The essence of women empowerment and development should be seen as a process and environment in which women will transform from passive seeker of services to active demanders of their rights and pro-active change agents in development. Women as catalyst to development are the role of women in development, involvement of women in development process, development of the status of women in various socio-economic aspects. The women of CHT are not used to such empowerment. If we truly want gender equality and indigenous women empowerment, it is essential to ensure the socio-economic development of them. To educate the indigenous women, may be the first step for this development. Later proving employment, health services, sanitation facilities, waster security, and violence free situation can help indigenous women to develop themselves day by day. And then it may be called as the proper empowerment of them.