In Verisk Maplecroft’s Women’s and Girls’ Rights Index 2016, Bangladesh is ranked 21st out of 198 countries (where 1st denotes the greatest risk). The index categorises the country as exposing investors to an ‘extreme risk’ of association with practices that discriminate against, or otherwise limit or infringe the rights of, women and girls.
Bangladesh has one of the highest rates of child marriage in the world; according to a recent estimate, 33% of girls younger than 15 and 74% of those younger than 18 are married, despite marriage of those younger than 18 being banned by law. The practice endures even though household poverty has declined and girls have equal access to primary education. According to the World Bank, there has been a 10% decrease in poverty since 2005 and almost 20% since 2000. Even so, 31.5% of the Bangladeshi population still lived below the poverty line in 2010. As well as persistent poverty, social and cultural pressures and the impact of natural disasters are all likely factors contributing to child marriage. Girls who marry at a young age are exposed to serious health consequences, such as birth complications, leading to one of the highest (although declining) maternal mortality rates in the region. Domestic violence rates in Bangladesh are also very high, although the issue is increasingly targeted by health and social workers. Finally, laws governing marriage, separation and divorce are based on Islamic traditions, which limit women’s legal rights.
Even though Bangladesh has achieved gender parity in primary school enrolment, many girls fail to complete their secondary education, and those who do often emerge with low competency levels, putting them at an economic and social disadvantage.
There are over 500 microfinance providers in Bangladesh, and approximately one-third of rural households utilise their services. Despite critics suggesting that the availability of microfinance can lead to over-indebtedness and therefore trap people in poverty, a 2014 World Bank study has done much to rehabilitate the reputation of micro financing in Bangladesh as a means of reducing poverty, especially among women.
Bangladesh has one of the largest gender pay gaps globally. The exception is in the garment sector where pay is generally equal, although women remain underrepresented in positions of management. The employment opportunities that the garment sector affords have allowed many women a much greater degree of economic and social freedom than they could expect if they remained in their rural villages. However, the vast majority of jobs are in export-orientated factories that operate on a high-volume, low-cost model. This model is based on tight profit margins and, when combined with an inadequate inspection regime, can increase the vulnerability of young women to labour rights abuses and safety violations.
 UNICEF, Women and girls in Bangladesh, key statistics, available at: http://www.unicef.org/bangladesh/Women_and_girls_in_Bangladesh.pdf