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In Bangladesh, no healthcare say for women
Farhad Khan, On BDNews24 – 08/03/2014

Bangladesh’s women still cannot make critical healthcare decisions on which their lives and future depend, experts say.

They also say lacks of effective policy twined with insensitiveness of the men towards their health concerns are widening the gender gap that has fatally deprived women of access to healthcare.

An ICDDR,B qualitative study found mothers at the bottom of the family priority list for healthcare. Daughter is just ahead of them while sons and husbands top the list.

Pregnant mothers are often too late in seeing doctors with pregnancy-related complications because they need to wait for their husbands or in-laws to make decisions.

On top of that, they have far less access to mass media than men, according to Bangladesh Demographic and Health Survey (BDHS). It means women have relatively less knowledge about serious diseases like tuberculosis, HIV, and cancer and family planning.

Some 45 percent women have no regular access to mass media compared to only 20 percent of men, the findings showed.

“Women are marginalized in the men-dominated social structure,” said Ruchira Tabassum Naved, head of ICDDR,B’s Gender, Health and Human Rights Program.

She told the problem was so ingrained in Bangladeshi society that things would not change for the better if the social structure was overhauled.

“It’s a mindset problem too.”

Samia Afrin, project manager of Naripokkho that works on women’s health and rights, said a woman cannot receive health care because norms in her community prevent her from travelling alone to a hospital.

Such social norms keep women inside home even during childbirth. The latest Maternal Mortality Survey 2010 showed about 75 percent mothers deliver at home, a fact that increases the risk of complications and deaths.

“They need permission from their husbands who always have a final say over everything,” she said, adding but they (husbands) often don’t know what their wives feel.

Rahima (not real name) of central Narshinghdi was one of them. She told a research team that she could not go for vital antenatal check-up during pregnancy since her husband forbade.

“Inequality in decision-making, limited access to health services in rural areas and lack of information on health were among the factors that cause women’s sufferings,” Afrin observed.

Citing instances, she added, even women sometimes cannot spend her income on her treatment.

Jesmine of southern Patuakhali’s Badarpur union is one of those less fortunate women. An NGO worker, she died on December 3 last year, two days after giving birth.

She knew she was undernourished but could not take enough food during pregnancy as she had to run a family comprising paralyzed father-in-law and jobless husband with her petty income.

“Jesmine died of bleeding after delivery,” Afrin said, adding that views of society should be changed to bring an end of such disparity.

Cancer epidemiologist Habibullah Talukder said delay in seeking treatment kills many women with curable cancers.

“Women mostly suffer breast cancer as well as cervical cancer, most of which can be cured if detected early.” He said most women know little about early cancer detection.

But the good news is that gender norms and values are not set for eternity. According to World Health Organization, they evolve over time, vary substantially from place to place, and are subject to change.

So, the poor health consequences resulting from gender differences and gender inequalities are not static either; they can be changed.

“Proper policy and concerted effort of all with the government’s stewardship can put an end to such inequity,” Faruque Ahmed, who directs BRAC Health program, told